Any bowhunter education instructor will tell you the broadside, double-lung
shot is hard to beat on deer. As an official mentor for the National Bowhunter
Education Foundation (NBEF), I certainly agree. There is a wealth of accurate
anatomy illustration available through the NBEF, state game departments,
and archery companies like Easton. Nobody today can justify not knowing
where heart, lungs, paunch, and major arteries are located in game.
But aiming at animals is more complex than simply studying a chart.
For example, I actually prefer shots at critters quartering away. If
you aim directly at the far shoulder, in line with the off leg and about
halfway up the body, the entire chest cavity is exposed for the largest
possible soft-tissue target. On an average whitetail deer, this means a
kill zone almost 12 inches wide and 8 inches deep.
The quartering shot allows room for error in other important ways. A
deer, elk or caribou can see clearly in a full circle, so if you?re behind
a bit you can better move without being seen. If the animal moves ahead
during arrow flight, your broadhead is still likely to penetrate the off
lung?even if it enters the paunch first.
A quartering animal is your best shooting chance of all.
Dead broadside is nearly as good, but the front of the lung cavity is
shielded by leg bone and shoulder. On a deer-sized animal, aim about four
inches directly above the front ?elbow? of the leg. This will place the
arrow in the triangular pocket rearward from the point where shoulder and
upper leg bone meet.
You can aim an inch or two behind the line of the leg on North American
game, because the diaphragm (rear wall of the chest cavity) lies several
inches behind the leg. But beware of doing this on African game. Popular
species like wildebeest and sable have heart/lung zones more closely crowded
behind the protective shoulder blades. Aim even two inches behind the front
leg on a wildebeest, and you are likely to score a gut shot.
It is painfully easy to aim for the middle of a broadside deer?even
if you know anatomy and have some experience shooting 3-D animal targets.
In the heart of shooting action, center-body can seem natural because you?re
focused on the largest possible target. But center-body broadside will
hit the liver or paunch every time. You cannot realistically expect to
hit the finger-sized pyloric artery that courses through lower paunch?that
almost never happens.
Center-body is actually the shot to take on a deer directly below you,
because the length of the neck changes your perspective on where the vitals
lie. If you aim for the frontal third of a deer viewed from above, you?ll
probably hit neck tissue and very little else.
Gut-hit game seldom travels more than half a mile if left alone, but
blood trails can be skimpy or nonexistent, animal death a matter of several
hours, and recovery extremely tough. Liver hits work better, but not nearly
as well as the five-second, 75-yard dash of an average deer drilled through
heart or lungs. Liver-hit game is often alive an hour or more, even when
shaving-sharp broadheads are used.
Animals quartering toward you dramatically increase the chance of a
troublesome paunch hit. If you aim behind the shoulder, the arrow will
at best catch one lung, and might lodge in the paunch or hip for almost
no blood trail. If you crowd the shoulder too closely, you run a high risk
of hitting solid, arrow-stopping bone.
As many readers know, I do not completely rule out the frontal chest
shot, because on certain species a good archer can pull it off. Calm, fairly
large animals like caribou present a soft spot between shoulder blade and
brisket about six inches in diameter. If the animal is quartering toward
you, at fairly close range, this is a feasible place to aim.
But I do not believe frontal chest shots should ever be taken on high-strung,
fast-footed species like whitetail deer and pronghorn antelope. There?s
too much chance you?ll be seen or heard as you shoot, and it?s nothing
for such a critter to shift 12 or 15 inches before the arrow arrives.
Butt shots have been controversial for as long as I?ve been in archery.
Experienced old-timers like Fred Bear, Jack Howard and Howard Gillelan
favored ham hits on deer-sized game, and I can personally say I?ve never
lost an animal hit solidly in the rear.
But I do not blanketly recommend butt shots for two reasons. First,
it?s usually possible to wait and get a broadside or quartering angle on
the chest. Second, some modern arrow setups do not penetrate well enough
to drive deep into the ham every time. I truly believe that Fred Bear with
his heavy arrows and Razorhead broadheads had a better chance with a butt
hit than a high-tech guy with tiny carbon shafts and expandable broadheads.
For all the positive equipment strides modern archery has made, arrow penetration
in some cases is worse today.
Here?s what you should remember about butt shots. If you hit a deer
in the rear, don?t despair. The blood trail might not be great if your
arrow has passed into the paunch, but be persistent in your recovery. Leave
the animal an hour or two, then track, trail, or grid-search with confidence.
In all my years? bowhunting, I?ve only seen two neck-shot and two head-shot
animals expire. These are very bad arrow placements. Sure, you can get
lucky and hit the carotid artery or jugular vein in the neck for a quick
kill. Sure, you can smack a deer in the side of the head and drop him in
But 99 times out of 100, you?ll hit non-vital or slow-kill tissue on
these areas, and we owe the animals much more than that.
When aiming at game, a bowhunter must never forget time-tested do?s
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