Here is where to shoot a deer for the cleanest kill possible.
You could ask a hundred different hunters and you'll likely find their answers on the perfect kill zone vary from person to person.
So, for this piece, we'll highlight some of the more popular shots for both gun and bowhunters.
We'll go over the pros and cons, what vital organs they could hit, what kind of blood trails they produce and how much meat loss comes with each shot type.
This is one of the most popular shots for deer hunters today for both whitetails and mule deer. The heart does present a small target, but there is margin for error in aiming here. Because a well-placed shot can also hit the lungs or disrupt others major arteries or parts of the circulatory system in this area. The aiming point is behind the front shoulder, slightly low.
You will generally want to wait for a broadside shot on this one. You can hit it quartering to, but for archery hunting especially, a broadside deer leaves more margin for error in case something goes wrong.
In either case, a heart shot deer is almost always a dead deer with just a single shot.
Personally, I believe the lung shot is the best shot for a hunter to take for many reasons. One, I'm nowhere near the greatest shot in the world, and not proficient enough to consistently hit heart-sized targets.
The lungs are the perfect kill zone because they present a huge target area. Deer shot here will most definitely die. In my experience, the distance they travel varies greatly. They may go 30 yards and plop over. They may go 200 yards while spewing more blood than the elevator scene in the movie "The Shining."
To me, the distance they run doesn't matter because a deer hit in the lungs is almost always a dead deer. They don't tend to suffer much and rarely require a second shot.
This is a high percentage shot for bow hunting because it avoids the front leg and shoulder blade. A quartering away shot just makes the lung area larger in this scenario.
Odds are that one shot to this vital area will be enough. The aim point is the large area immediately behind the shoulder.
One thing to keep in mind with both a lung and heart shot is that there will be some edible venison loss, but it is usually minimal.
I personally haven't purposefully tried this one, or done it unintentionally. It makes me a little bit too nervous. But I can't deny that it seems like a good shot for hunting deer. I've seen plenty of videos where it has worked.
One thing we should mention is that this should be a firearm-only shot. There are just too many things that can go wrong with a bow or crossbow. Stick to the first two shots I highlighted above if you're using one of those.
The basic idea behind the high shoulder is to limit how far the deer runs. The aim point is slightly higher and more forward than the lung shot. Properly placed, you should still catch a bit of lung and some of the same blood vessels, but you'll also likely break the scapula and possibly catch the spinal cord, which will prevent the deer from going anywhere.
This does do some damage to the venison game meat, but if you don't want the wounded animal to go anywhere and you're confident in your ability to hit the shoulder shot, it's an option for gun hunters.
I've only killed one deer with a neck shot and it wasn't on purpose. I once had a muzzleloader bullet go wildly errant when I was aiming for the chest cavity. I still don't know what happened there. It was simply one of those odd things that happens while hunting sometimes.
One thing is for sure, the doe crumpled like a house of cards and there was minimal meat loss, which is one reason many hunters take this shot. (Note that for the image above, we used a photo of a deer with another in the background. You should never shoot with another deer behind your target animal. We simply used this photo for demonstrative purposes.)
With a neck shot you're looking to either sever the spinal cord or any of the number of major arteries or jugular running through the neck. If you hit them, you will most likely have a dead deer on your hands. Most won't go anywhere, so no need for blood trailing.
The downside is a deer's neck is a small target and is constantly in motion. We recommend a lot of time at the shooting range. We also do NOT recommend this shot for bowhunters ever.
Other shots we don't recommend
We should take a moment to mention some of the other shots we've seen some articles and videos advocating out there. This includes stuff like brain shots, which I personally believe are highly irresponsible for deer hunters to even consider.
With a brain shot, there is a great chance of either blinding or causing the deer to go deaf without killing it. Or worse yet, blowing the animal's jaw clean off. This will lead to a slow, agonizing death by starvation. It's just not a high percentage shot, or an ethical one.
I've also seen some hunters who advocate for spinal shots. But again, I feel there's a bit too much that can go wrong there. Too high and you miss the animal completely. Too low and too far back and you hit a completely non-vital area. The deer lives, gets smarter, harder to kill, and your freezer will stay bare.
If you're a newer hunter, we recommend shooting the prime target areas of the lungs and heart to start off. As you gain experience, you can try the neck or high shoulder shot. More than anything, we advocate using the shot you're most comfortable with.
Remember, your goal should be to humanely and quickly take down the animal with your first shot every time.