Shot Placement

I realize I am sticking my neck out with this topic but nonetheless, I intend to delve into the subject.  All that follows will be my personal observations sprinkled with the logic of my thoughts.  I want to warn my gentle readers that if you are offended by bloody descriptions, you better stop now.

Let me also preface this story by saying I have been reloading my own centerfire cartridges since I was in junior high.  I have always had a keen interest in how the different bullets I have used performed terminally upon impact.  I have used Hornady, Sierra, Speer, Nosler and Barnes reloads.  I have used Remington, Winchester and Federal factory bullets as well.  Bullet weights from 50 grains to 200 grains in all type configurations from spritzer, boat tail, round nose, hollow point, flat points, ballistic tips, spire points, bronze points, silvertips, solids and partitions.  I was and still am observant and curious about where the bullet went, what it did while passing through the animal and why it did what it did.  I always factor in distance and speed of the bullet in all of my examinations.

I am convinced the best shot placement for deer or any wild game ungulate (elk, moose, pronghorn, sheep, African antelope, etc.) is for the bullet to pass through the animals lungs on a more or less broadside animal just over the animal’s heart.  Have you ever paid attention or taken interest in examining the organs of a dead deer?  The heart is topped with several very large veins and arteries the size of your thumb.  Sever these without actually hitting the heart, and there is immediate and massive hemorrhaging resulting in an extremely quick blood pressure drop and an almost immediate loss of consciousness due to lack of oxygen to the brain.  The circulatory system of the animal is basically drained.  You want the heart to remain intact to continue pumping so the shot cannot be too low.

The animal will usually hop/jump/lunge when hit.  Sometimes the deer will kick then take off.  Usually the death run will be a lope or struggling gate if one of the shoulder or leg bones are broken on a slight angle shot.  If you observe these mortally wounded deer through their entire death run in open country, the last few yards will often be a semicircle or the animal will stagger as if it was drunk.  At that point, the animal is basically running blind and its momentum and reflexes are the only thing keeping it in gear.  Always, when you approach a deer hit solidly as I described above, it will be stone dead with glazed eyes by the time you reach it.

On a perfectly broadside animal, an angle where you are seeing both front legs as one leg – perfectly aligned at a right angle to your view, the bullet should impact tight behind the shoulder and about 1” to 2” below the center point or halfway distance between the deer’s back and brisket.  On an animal like that, I like to align my vertical cross hair along the back edge of its front leg.  It gets a little trickier when the deer is standing at an angle, which they normally are.  With that, you have to be able to envision what the organs look like in the deer’s chest.  Always attempt to get the bullet to pass through both lungs and as close to the top of the heart as possible – therein lye the concentration of major veins and arteries.  If a deer is positioned at a severe angle almost facing you are quartering away, I will wait for a better presentation.


Great-nephew Oliver with his first kill. Perfect behind the shoulder shot!
Great-nephew Oliver with his first kill. Perfect behind the shoulder shot!


I know.  I know.  At least half if not more of the people reading this will pooh, pooh my opinion thinking, “The neck and head shot is best for a quick kill!”  Not so and here’s why…………………..  Keep in mind I have shot plenty of deer in the neck so have ample comparisons.  Let’s look at what happens through a more scientific lens.  I am not a veterinarian but have taken my fair share of biology courses.

What happens when a bullet crashes into a deer’s neck vertebrae?   The spine is usually severed by either the bullet or fragments of bone.  The deer is paralyzed and drops in its tracks.  I have no answer for this but for some reason, when a deer is neck shot, the hindquarters drop a split second before the front of the animal).   A severed spinal cord cuts off the message the brain sends to lower muscles and organs such as the heart. An animal’s heart beats because the brain is sending a pulse signal to the heart unconsciously.  No animal “makes” its heart beat by thinking about it.  It beats all day, every day and night as long as it gets the signal.  So, the heart stops.  At that point, blood quits moving but unlike an animal shot near the heart where the blood gushes out of the circulatory system, draining blood from all organs, a neck shot deer has blood pooled in all of its organs and muscle.  The only blood leaving a neck shot deer where the spine has been severed is due to gravity.  This pooled blood remaining in the animal contains enough oxygen to keep the brain functioning for a longer time than a deer shot through the lungs.  The deer dies more slowly.

Every lung shot deer I approach is dead.  At least half of the neck- shot deer I have approached had their mouths agape and looking at me with terrified eyes.  You get a knife to cut their juggler vein and no blood escapes because the heart has stopped.  You sometimes get a stout stick to club them to speed the death along.  I have put neck shot deer in the back of my truck for transporting to a cleaning station and they have been kicking tools and coolers in the bed of my truck half way to the camp house.  You tell me which is more humane.

Now I want to throw ice water on the neck shot is best clan when they argue, “Yea, but at least with the neck shot you get cleaner meat!”  I want to make this challenge.  Shoot a deer through the lungs, near but not through the heart.  Shoot a deer in the neck.  Clean both and hang them side by side.  I will bet you $10.00 to a donut the lung shot deer will have the “prettiest” meat.  The deer shot though the lungs will have pink meat.  The deer shot through the head or neck will have meat almost maroon-like color.  The neck shot deer has the darker meat due to pooled blood in all of the muscle tissue.

Lastly, the neck shot promoters often say they either hit or miss, no wounded animals like a flubbed body shot.  Wrong again.  A deer facing sideways can have its trachea torn and run off as if completely missed.  No blood but a seriously hurt animal.  A deer facing towards a hunter can have an ice cream sized scoop of muscle gouged off the side of its neck if the bullet is not center punched.

The head shot is the absolute worst in the business.   I cannot not stand that and speak from experience.  Advocates of head shots often brag the fact trying I suppose to impress upon their camp fire buddies at a hunting camp how accurate a sniper they are.  I have shot two deer in the head, wounding them hideously when I was young.  Both had their nose and mouth shot off and ran away with half their faces hanging like a limp glove.  Never found them.  That experience cured me.  I once killed a mature buck that was a walking skeleton.  Envision the black and white movies of the Nazi prison camps of WWII.  The buck was in pitiful condition of skin and bones.  The animal was staggering along with its lower jaw torn off.  It had been wounded by a neighboring hunter. I put him out of its misery near a pond.  It obviously could not eat but was attempting to drink water by putting what remained of its face, all the way up to its eyes, under water and sucking down some moisture.  Do not shoot for the head.  Thank you.