Learn where to aim on white-tailed deer for an ethical shot. Photo Credit: ATA

Shot Placement 101: Part 1

  Scott Einsmann   FeaturedBowhuntingVideo   August 24, 2020

The most important factor in achieving an effective killing shot is placing your arrow in the vitals. Shot placement combines angles and anatomy to determine where to aim at a deer.

If done correctly, your arrow will go through the vital area – the lungs and the heart – for a quick and humane kill.

The vitals are located in the chest cavity, which provides a large target. Depending on how the deer presents, you can adjust your shot for a kill. With a few principles and some knowledge of deer anatomy, you can master excellent shot placement for a successful hunt.


You will have full access to the deer’s vital organs when they are turned broadside. Photo Credit: ATA

In a perfect world, deer would stand broadside at a close distance. This is the shot you hope for, and it’s ideal because it presents a large target. The vitals are completely exposed in a broadside shot; an arrow placed a few inches behind the shoulder will result in a double-lung hit.

Before you draw and release, make sure the deer’s shoulders are in the forward position. If one leg is back, the shoulder will block a large portion of the vital area. Wait patiently for the leg to move forward, and seize the opportunity.


It’s not uncommon to have an animal walk toward you and present a straight-on shot. For the new bowhunter, this is not an option. The straight-on position only allows a small vital area, and the animal will likely spook when you draw or shoot. Wait patiently for the animal to turn into a broadside or a quartering-away position.

Quartering Toward

This shot placement succeeds when the deer is facing you, but their body is turned away. Photo Credit: ATA

In a quartering-to shot, a deer is facing slightly toward you. This tricky shot leaves very little room for error, because you need to place the arrow tight to the front shoulder. A slight miss left or right will result in a wounded deer. Due to the low margin of error, this is a shot best left to experienced archers who are confident in their abilities and anatomy knowledge.

Quartering Away

This shot placement succeeds when the deer is facing away from you, but their body is turned toward you. Photo Credit: ATA

A great option for shot placement is the quartering-away shot. This presents a forgiving vital area, and because the deer is facing away, it likely won’t notice you draw your bow.

Instead of placing your arrow right behind the shoulder, visualize the path of the arrow through the deer. Find the spot that allows the arrow to exit behind the far side shoulder. This will give you an aiming point further back in the ribs. Always visualize the exit point of the arrow; ideally, the arrow should pass completely through.

Achieving the Kill

An arrow kills from massive blood loss, and an arrow that passes completely through a deer causes more bleeding. A pass-through creates two holes for blood to flow, with no arrow to plug the holes. This scenario contributes to better blood trails and a more humane harvest.

Accurate shooting is an important part of proper shot placement. To achieve accuracy, you’ll need the skills and gear for the job. Start by bringing your bow to an archery shop for preseason tuning. Then, take a refresher archery lesson to reinforce the fundamentals of proper shooting. Practice those skills and shot placement on 3-D targets at a range or in your backyard. After all that, it’s up to you to make that critical shot.

Stay tuned for “The Skinny on Shot Placement: Part 2” for more shooting tips.

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