A crossbow hunter sitting in a blind waiting.
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Where to Shoot Deer With a Crossbow for a Clean, Ethical Harvest


What is the ideal shot placement with a crossbow?

More states than ever are legalizing the use of crossbows for all hunters to use during the regular archery deer seasons. This means more people are getting out and hunting earlier in the year than ever before. We know that's controversial and even hated by many die-hard bowhunters, but make no mistake, using one of these weapons does not guarantee a kill of a mule or whitetail deer. Just like any other form of hunting, the placement of your shot on a deer's body is always going to be key.

Because for hunters who are not careful, those 350+ fps speeds and all that kinetic energy mean nothing if your shot placement is off and you put a bolt in a non-vital area, resulting in a wounded deer.

Today we'll go over some of the best shots you can take while crossbow hunting for deer. Most of this should be simply a refresher for seasoned hunters whether you use a firearm, recurve, or compound.

What is the best place to shoot a deer with a crossbow?

Where to Shoot a Deer With an Arrow

Travis Smola

Just like with a compound bow, rifle, or shotgun, the best place to aim on any deer is going to be the vital organs of either the heart or lungs. Shots to these parts of the chest cavity just behind the front leg are going to give you the best chance of a pass through and the usually the heaviest blood trail possible. Crossbow shots that hit either or both organs are also going to be the most ethical one you can take. Odds are the animal won't even know what hit it. The shock and sudden blood loss will cause the animal to expire as quickly and humanely as possible.


Most deer hunters agree that a completely broadside deer is the best shot possible because it exposes the largest part of the heart and lungs without worrying as much about the deer's shoulder blade getting in the way. As powerful as crossbows are, a bolt that strikes the blade has a good chance of deflecting your shot and the deer living with just a minor flesh wound. Some crossbow hunters prefer a quartering away shot to a broadside shot. Simply because it takes more of that front shoulder out of the equation. Plus, there's a slightly better chance you get both the heart and lungs for a nearly guaranteed kill shot.

Where to Shoot a Deer With an Arrow

Travis Smola

There is this huge misconception out there that makes many hunters think a crossbow is a near guaranteed kill no matter where you hit the animal, but that's simply not the case. The best crossbow in the world isn't going to help if your shot is errant and blows completely through the animal just back from the lungs and high in "no man's land." Unless you get lucky and nick an artery or something, there's a chance the blood trail will be poor, and the deer will survive a shot like that.

It's a good idea to practice with an anatomical 3D target, and to make sure you practice the types of shot angles you intend on using in the field. If you're hunting from a ground blind, practice your shots at eye level. If you are hunting from a treestand, it's a good idea to do some practicing from up high, and to adjust your aim point accordingly. It really doesn't matter what type of weapon you are using to hunt deer. Practice is always going to make perfect.

Shots you should probably avoid

While many big game hunters can get away with a quartering to shot with a rifle or shotgun, it's not advisable with a crossbow. We know that it has likely been done at some point, but unless that deer is about to bolt, it's best to wait for a better shot opportunity. Simply because even the fastest crossbows on Earth aren't going to provide the kinetic energy necessary to get good penetration at that tougher angle. There's a much smaller margin of error with a quartering to shot, and there's a lot of bones that could knock your shot off track.


The same goes for a head-on or walking directly away shot. Your odds of hitting the vitals from these angles is not good. You want to leave some room for error because weird things can and do happen. Maybe a slight breeze blows your bolt off course. Maybe you strike an unseen limb. If those things happen on a shot with an extremely narrow window, you are more likely to maim and cause pain for the deer than you are to ethically harvest it.

How far can you shoot a deer with a crossbow?

We should talk a little about the effective range of a crossbow. Because there's a lot of wild talk on the Internet. There's a lot of rumors out there about crossbows being deadly out to 100 yards. It gets a little tiring to hear crossbows are "as deadly as a rifle." There is simply no comparison. Most rifle bullets are traveling at speeds between 1,300 and 2,500 fps depending on caliber and type of rifle. And some can hit with thousands of foot pounds of energy. By comparison, most crossbows are going to be shooting in that 250-350 fps speed range, and they might hit with 30 to 60-foot pounds of energy at most. There is simply no comparison. Remember that most forms of archery, be they crossbow, recurve, longbow, whatever, kill animals by the cutting of the broadheads more than the power of the bow.

Hunters have harvested deer at distances out to 100 yards with a crossbow before. Heck, it's been done with a compound bow before. However, it's simply not advisable, or likely ethical either. There are so many more things that can go wrong at that great of a distance. Also, you're less likely to get a pass through the further back you shoot from. That means you might not cut into as many vital organs, and there's a better chance of your blood trail not being as good as it could.

Most experts recommend keeping your shots inside of 50 yards at most. In fact, most will advise you keep it even closer than that, at not more than 35 to 40 yards. Even then, you should never head into the field with a crossbow you've only shot a few times and try to pull off a shot like that.


We know we're sounding like a broken record talking about practice at this point, but it's vital. It doesn't matter what weapon you use. Hunters should only shoot at ranges they have practiced and feel confident in taking the shot at. "Hail Mary" shots at distances you've never shot before can easily result in a wounded deer, and the loss of an expensive bolt or arrow. We advise starting at distances between 15 to 20 yards, and then working on longer ranges once you become efficient at those.

Crossbows are a highly effective hunting tool, but at the end of the day, their effectiveness is only as good as the person wielding the weapon. If you put in the time and effort, a crossbow will fill your freezer season after season.

For more outdoor content from Travis Smola, be sure to follow him on Twitter and check out his Geocaching and Outdoors with Travis YouTube channels




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