If I had a dollar for every time I have heard a hunter bragging about a shot he or she made on a deer, I certainly wouldn't need to write for a living. You can likely relate to this scenario with similar experiences of your own, as surely one of your hunting buddies went on and on about threading the needle on a quartering away shot through some thick brush. Surely you've heard some story centered around that big buck that dropped in its tracks from a perfectly placed high shoulder shot or neck shot. However, the majority of hunting videos out there seemingly feature a hunter who wants to land that perfect heart shot, probably with the hope of getting that classic high kick that follows said shot, as it simply makes for a better watch.
Nothing drives a debate at deer hunting camp quite like a discussion on shot placement, as most hunters have a strategy they live by when the moment finally presents itself. They're typically either a product of past experiences in which they succeeded or failed as a result of shot placement. For me, though, the best place to aim on a deer is the lungs, as there's no greater imbalance of pros and cons when it comes to vital areas, regardless of your hunting experience.
Benefits of a lung shot
Just so we are clear, I am not saying the heart or high shoulder aren't good shots. Most of those can result in one-shot kills and deer run very little after nailing one. However, I consider myself a decent shot at best. I'm not terrible, but I'm not likely to be winning any shooting competitions anytime soon either. And if we are being realistic here, most deer hunters probably have shooting skills that closely match my own, no matter if it is a rifle, a shotgun, a compound bow, or crossbow in hand. I don't have the time to practice that many of those advanced hunters have, and I'd expect your average hunter finds themself in the same boat. For that reason, none of us should feel any kind of shame in taking high percentage shots, as it's ultimately better for both the hunter and the deer to be conservative anyways. The lungs provide the best odds, as they take up so much more space in the body cavity than do the other vital organs. The neck and heart are just much harder shots that require much better aim.
On a broadside shot, even if my shot is slightly low and behind, I still have pretty good odds of executing a double lung shot, or at least a liver shot, which would still be fatal. The confidence gained from that increased margin of error is enough to improve my shot when I line up on a deer, as attempting a heart or neck shot would likely stir my nerves. Many rifle hunters exclusively aim for high shoulder because they don't want to track a deer, but things don't always go as planned. An undetected branch could alter the angle of an arrow on any precision shot and send into a bad spot or into the ground on a heart shot. There isn't any greater feeling of defeat than finding your arrow next to a pile of hairs. Just as common is the case of a deer jumping the string taking your broadhead in the front leg or shoulder blade, causing little to no penetration.
Blood trails are actually a strong pro. My first lung-shot deer was a young 7-pointer that left behind a trail that looked like someone had run through the woods with a bucket of red paint. We probably could have followed that trail in the dark via moonlight. Then just a few years ago, I shot a nice buck with my shotgun where the slug clipped the backs of both lungs. Even though the shot was a little farther back than I wanted, the trail was extremely heavy, especially when compared when I have shot deer in the shoulder or gut shot deer I have helped track. While you might have to cover some more distance when following a blood trail, at least you have something to follow. And, blood loss produces humane kills, as most deer hit in the lungs don't even know what hit them, but rather just feel like they had the wind knocked out of them. And finally, the amount of meat loss is usually minimal in comparison to a high shoulder shot.
Drawbacks of a lung shot
I will admit there are some things about lung shots that are not ideal. There is always the chance a shot could strike a rib and deflect, especially with an arrow. Maybe a mechanical broadhead does not deploy correctly. Maybe you are just at a weird angle in the treestand. Sometimes things happen. The video above of Michael Waddell watching his arrow bounce off a giant buck is a good example, as even though it appeared to be a great shot, his arrow didn't penetrate at all.
However, arguably the biggest drawback of a lung shot is the uncertainty of how far the deer will run after being hit. I have had a big run 30 yards and another run as far as 150 yards into horribly thick brush before finally plopping over. There seems to be no rhyme or reason to it. Every deer is going to react differently to being hit in this area. I will fully admit that the blood trailing is the most frustrating part of hitting a deer there.
Even though the deer may run, you will not likely need a second shot on a deer hit in the lungs. The pros of the lung shot far outweigh the cons for us in almost every aspect. It may not be the fanciest shot to take on a deer, but it puts venison in the freezer. And at the end of the day, that is what matters most to us.
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