The Skinny on Shot Placement: Part 2

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Bowhunting combines several skill sets into one practice. One of the most important skills is understanding and executing proper shot placement. To do so, you need to conduct a situational analysis of an animal’s body position and anatomy.

In Part 1 of this series, we discussed shot placement from different angles. In Part 2, we’ll take a deep dive into deer anatomy, shot angles and shooting practice.

Study Deer Anatomy

The biggest barrier to penetration is the shoulder blade. It is very close to the target area and will greatly reduce an arrow’s penetration. Pay close attention to the shoulder blade position. Photo Credit: Ryan Kirby

Becoming a student of your quarry’s anatomy will make you an effective hunter and help you visualize shot placement. As you’ll remember from Part 1, our intended target is the lungs and heart. Be sure to study their location carefully.

It’s also important to study the location of bones, which prevent your arrow from reaching the vitals. The shoulder blade is the biggest barrier to penetration. It is very close to the target area and will greatly reduce arrow penetration. To avoid hitting this barrier, study its location carefully in the photo above.

You can study deer anatomy by checking out diagrams and photos or buying a target that shows a deer’s vitals. These anatomically correct targets are available as paper and 3-D targets, and can be purchased at an archery shop while you pick up your broadheads and get your bow tuned for the season.

Practice Shot Placement

When shooting from a treestand or when taking a downhill shot remember to visualize the exit. Your aiming point should be higher in the chest so that the arrow will hit both lungs, but if you aim too high you will hit the spine. Photo Credit: Tyler Ridenour

Once you purchase your practice targets and have learned to visualize a deer’s vitals like you have x-ray vision, practice shooting in realistic hunting scenarios. If you plan to hunt from a ground blind,  find a spot to sit and shoot at your 3-D target from various angles and distances.

If you’re hunting from a treestand, try shooting from a higher elevation, such as a deck, steep hill or your actual treestand. When shooting from a treestand or when taking a downhill shot, remember to visualize the exit. Your aiming point should be higher in the chest so that the arrow will hit both lungs. Be careful not to aim too high so you don’t hit the spine.

A deer hit in the spine might drop as if hit by lightning, but this is not a fatal shot and should never be taken on purpose. If you happen to spine a deer, collect yourself and prepare to take another shot.

Taking Tough Shots

In Part 1 of this series, we discussed how the quartering-away angle provides a favorable shot opportunity. This is true but only to a certain extent because you might find yourself shooting from an angle that is too extreme. A good indicator of an extreme quartering angle is needing to place your arrow behind the last rib of the deer.

In an extreme quartering angle, your arrow will enter behind the lungs into the liver or stomach. These are not ideal shot locations, because as your arrow continues through the chest cavity it may only hit one lung. Deer can live a long time on one lung, so it’s not an effective killing shot. Studying an animal’s position and practicing shooting targets at angles will greatly improve your success in the field.

Ethics of Shot Placement

Your moral or ethic code is the voice inside you that reminds you to be patient and wait for the right shot opportunity. We owe it to the creatures that provide us with sustenance to harvest them quickly and humanely. Photo Credit: John Hafner.

While the law regulates certain aspects of hunting, other decisions fall into jurisdiction of a hunter’s moral code. For example, there is no law against poor shot placement, but carelessness should weigh heavy on your conscience. Listen to that voice inside your head reminding you to be patient and wait for the right shot opportunity. We owe a quick and humane harvest to the creatures that provide us with sustenance.

Responsible hunting practices are part of the hunter’s ethical code. Practice with your bow, ensure your equipment is accurate and study shot placement. With those items in check, you’ll be ready to head into the woods and procure delicious wild game.


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