Most hunters take killing an animal very seriously. A well-placed shot that puts the animal down quickly and painlessly is what every good hunter strives for. And to do that, you need a good shot placement that will kill the animal in one fell swoop.
That is why if you’re new to this hobby, you need to know where to shoot a deer with a rifle. Here is what you need to know:
Before You Shoot
Why a Good Shot Placement Is Important
A good shot is when the bullet is accurately guided through vital organs and instantly puts down the animal. The animal should drop immediately without pain or suffering. It isn’t just the ethical way of taking down an animal, it also saves you time and effort, too. You don’t have to chase after it when it flees in pain.
The shot should preserve the animal and make it easy to recover the carcass.
The Trick to Taking a Good Shot: Deer Aren’t 2D Objects
Most novice hunters make the mistake of imaging the target as a 2D object, similar to a paper target on the range. The bullet won’t go cleanly through the deer. Instead, it has to pass through bones, sinuses, and organs. All of these things can interfere with the “quality” of your shot.
If you’re going for a shoulder shot, for example, make sure that your rifle’s caliber is high. A small slug won’t be able to penetrate the thick muscle of the deer’s shoulder.
Additionally, because the deer is a 3D target, there’s more than just the lungs and the heart that you can take out with a single bullet. The more vital organs you destroy, the quicker it is for the deer to expire. If the angle aligns well, make a shot that can take out the most amount of vital organs.
Understand the characteristics of your rifle, your cartridge, as well as the deer’s anatomy and you’ll be able to consistently take clean shots.
Caliber and Shot Angles
Your rifle’s caliber decides how effective the bullet is at penetrating the animal. Larger caliber ammunition can dig deeper, hit more vital organs, and impart a lot more hydrostatic shock. Which is why, if you shoot a deer with something like a 300 Remington Ultra Mag, the deer will drop so long as you hit something vital.
A shot using the 300 Remington Ultra Mag through the rear end, with the deer facing away from you will kill. The bullet is powerful enough to punch its way through the entire length of the deer. It will cut through bones and muscles like butter, coming out on the other side. This isn’t something that’s possible with a small caliber rifle.
But aside from the caliber of the rifle, you also have to take the shot angle into consideration.
Once again, let’s take the previous example and say that you shot the deer through the rear. But now, instead of the deer facing away from you, it is standing with its flank to you. The bullet will simply travel through its rump without hitting anything significant. It will break bones, but the deer will be able to limp away.
Best Places to Shoot a Deer
A good shot will be able to destroy one or more of these organs: heart, lungs, spinal cord, liver, or brain. If you manage to sever one or more of the major arteries (aorta, jugular, and so on), the deer will pass quickly, too.
Lungs - Heart Shot (Behind the Shoulder Shot)
Also called the “boiler room”, the chest cavity where the lungs and the heart of the deer are situated is typically where most novice hunters will aim for when they first start. The hit area is quite large, so it affords the hunter with a greater margin of error.
Use this shot if the deer is standing with its sides facing you.
Aim behind the front shoulder, around ⅓ the way up from its belly. The shot will cut through both of its lungs. The deer will jolt and run a short distance, but it will collapse when whatever oxygen that remains in its body runs out.
Shift your aim slightly to the right, toward the head and the bullet will hit the heart. This is an instantaneous light-out and the deer will typically drop on the spot.
A shoulder shot is recommended if you have a rifle that chambers a larger caliber than .25. Similar to the lungs - heart shot, use this shot when the deer is standing with its sides to you.
Aim ⅓ the way up from the belly, right below the front shoulder. If the bullet is penetrative enough, it will cut through the shoulder and across the heart, killing the deer instantly.
It is a tough area to shoot. You will need to be relatively close to the deer so that the bullet maintains enough kinetic energy to cut through the thick shoulder. You will also need an excellent angle, too.
Quartering away means the deer is facing diagonally away from you, its head a quarter turn from your rifle’s sight-line. This angle complicates things quite a lot.
If the angle is quite shallow and you’re presented with a good portion of the deer’s flank, aim behind the shoulder, ⅓ the way up from the belly. The bullet will punch through the lungs and the heart, dropping the deer.
However, if the angle is steep and you don’t have a very good sight picture of its flank, aim at the shoulder that’s farthest away. This means shooting right behind the ribs. The bullet will travel through the deer’s stomach, through its lungs and heart, and out through the other farthest shoulder.
Be careful, however, since the shot angle is so extreme, the bullet has to travel through a lot more flesh and bones than a broadside shot. You will need a high-caliber rifle for this. If your slug is too small, wait for the deer to move so that you have a better targeting solution.
This is the exact same as quartering away, but the difference here is that the deer is facing toward you, instead. Aim at the sternum of the deer. The bullet will travel through vitals from there.
Never use a lungs - heart shot (behind the shoulder) on a quartering-toward deer. It will simply run through its body without hitting anything important, causing unnecessary pain.
This is exactly what it sounds like: the deer has its head facing directly at you. Aim at the intersection point between the deer’s head and chest. This will cut through its aorta, dropping it quickly. A lower shot that’s ⅓ the way up from its belly through the sternum will hit its heart, which will just be as effective as hitting the aorta.
If the deer has its head down, covering its chest area, wait for it to bring its head up. Don’t shoot right through the head (we’ll tell you more about why you shouldn’t later).
This is the opposite of head on. Straight away means the deer has its rump towards you. This isn’t an ideal shooting angle, especially for small caliber rifles. But if you have a high-caliber one that chambers something like a .300 Win Mag, the shot is possible.
Aim at the area below its tail. If the bullet is powerful enough, it will pass through the deer’s whole body to reach its chest cavity and puncture the lungs and heart.
However, if the bullet’s too weak, it will make a right mess of your deer. If you’re not confident about your rifle, wait for a better targeting solution.
For a lot of people, this is the only shooting angle that’s afforded to them. Yes, we’re talking about those who love shooting from tree stands. If you’re part of this group, mastering this shot is crucial.
If the deer’s side is towards you, ensure that the bullet enters higher on the deer. The angle should permit the bullet to pass through the heart and lungs to knock it out.
On the other hand, if it’s head on or straight away, aim through the center of the body, right between the shoulder blades. The bullet will sever the spine as well as hitting the heart and lungs.
We do not recommend using a head shot unless you know what you’re doing. A head shot is trickier than it looks than what the movies show you.
Yes, if successful, a head shot can knock the animal clean out. However, if you failed, there would be a huge mess on your hands.
Too high and the bullet will simply rattle its brain and knock it out. Too low, and the bullet will enter and destroy the deer’s jaw portion, which is not immediately lethal. The deer will run off, but will suffer a slow death from either starvation or infection later.
So, it’s best that you avoid this type of shot altogether. But if you decide to make it anyway, make sure that the shot is accurate with a bipod. Here is our selection of the best bipod for AR15 to improve your accuracy.
Learning where to shoot a deer with a rifle isn’t enough. You have to consistently practice, too, if you want to produce a clean shot every time you pull the trigger. So, get to it!