Where to Shoot a Deer: Achieving One Shot Kills

Every responsible hunter understands just how important it is to respect their prey, doing everything in their power to make sure that they kill their prey as humanely as possible – ideally dropping their target with no more than a single shot or a single arrow.  Key to this is understanding is where to shoot a deer.

Some new hunters are surprised to learn that it’s possible to drop even some of the largest prey animals with just a single shot, chalking it up to miraculous marksmanship or superhuman accuracy. Not true!

Where to Shoot a Deer

In fact, EVERY hunter should be able to achieve one shot kills when using their chosen firearm or bow. If they aren’t comfortable achieving one shot kills just yet, they should be not out in the woods, but should instead be spending time on the practice range until they can reliably put their projectile downrange exactly where they want it to end up.

Of course, another big piece of the puzzle is knowing exactly where you want to aim to achieve that one shot kill. This is especially important when you’re hunting deer (and other large game). A spotting scope can make your life much easier.

Careless shooting inevitably ends up with animals that try and escape, bounding all over the woods in the wilderness while suffering every step of the way. Some hunters never end up finding the animal that they shot but didn’t kill right away, and the animal spends hours – maybe a day or more – bleeding out needlessly.

A perfectly placed shot to a handful of vital spots on the body of a deer will practically guarantee that they drop right where you shot them, or only just a few steps away.

This quick guide is going to show you EXACTLY where you should be placing your shots whenever possible, giving you a couple of different options so that you are always able to take a perfect kill shot regardless of the terrain, the range, or the set up of the deer that you are looking to take.

Let’s dig right in!

One Shot Kills On Deer Are A Lot Easier Than Many People Think

One of the most popular game animals to hunt in America today, almost every hunter has at least a handful of deer hunting stories in their back pocket.

Hunting deer for game or sport is a major part of the conservation effort. Deer populations that skyrocket out of control and are left unchecked inevitably wreak havoc on a local ecosystem.

Sure, it sounds a little bit contradictory but when you talk about conservation and saving deer by sending hunters out to kill them, but unless the population is artificially kept in check the food sources in a local area will become scarcer and scarcer, young deer will die off faster, and those that make it will be underweight or sickly – and the population will be devastated.

A decent sized animal, a lot of people that just get into deer hunting are under the impression that it’s going to take more than a single bullet, a single slug, or a single arrow to drop something off this size.

Nothing could be further from the truth.

A single well-placed projectile can drop your deer almost dead in its tracks, providing them with a humane death and also guaranteeing that you’re able to find your kill so that you can dress and pack it out of the woods.

A misplaced shot will only a deer. Because of their speed and agility – as well as the adrenaline that will be pumping their veins after being shot – they might get miles away for the end up collapsing and dying, or even worse may end up with a festering that doesn’t kill them all for days or weeks while they suffer every step of the way.

By targeting a handful of very specific areas on a deer’s body, you’ll be able to drop it with a single shot from your firearm or your bow without much difficulty. Below we highlight all of the difference you’re going to want to target, choosing the spot that you have the highest probability of hitting depending upon the specific situation of your hunt.

The Brain

It should go without saying that a shot to the brain will kill your deer instantly, dropping them right in where they stand and ceasing ALL life functions immediately.

A deer that has been shot through the brain won’t feel any pain at all, will lose consciousness immediately, and likely will not have even heard the shot that killed them. It would be as if one second they were there and the next second they were not.

Sometimes called a knockdown shot, it’s not at all uncommon to watch your deer literally drop as if they were hit with a sledgehammer – dead before they hit the ground. They aren’t going to bounce or bound away, you aren’t going to waste or spoil any of the meat, and a follow-up shot is never necessary when you are right on target.  But that’s the point.

This is perhaps the most humane way to put down a deer, but it’s also one of the most challenging shots to pull off with any real consistency. Professional hunters go for this shot more often than not (especially when they are using light and frangible bullets), but that’s because most of them shoot hundreds of rounds each week to hone in their accuracy skills and they feel comfortable aiming at a target as small as a deer’s brain.

If you’re not comfortable targeting this ridiculously small spot on a deer, it isn’t the kind of shot you ever want to take. Even if this is the only deer, you see during the season.

Those shooting arrows aren’t going to want to aim for the brain in most circumstances. The skull is super hard, and the antlers inevitably get in the way. You’ll end up wounding the animal or missing your target completely, spooking the only chance you might have had that season to bag your limit.

The Neck

The back of a deer’s neck is another almost always instant kill kind of shot, especially if you are able to sever the spinal cord with your round.

Deer will lose consciousness nearly immediately (though not as quick as they would with a brain shot), and because their spinal cord has been severed, they won’t be able to run away, either. Little (if any) damage will be done to the meat of a deer, leaving plenty to be dressed and packed out, making it an excellent shot for those looking to haul more than just a set of trophy antlers.

Neck shots can be a little bit tricky, though.

Again, we’re talking about a super small target here. Hitting it with a rifle or a slug is probably no big deal (if you’re accurate, confident and have a quality sight), but hitting this target with an arrow can be tough, too. The neck muscles are always tough and rock hard, and some arrows will glance off or be redirected.

The big problem here is always a miss, no matter what you’re shooting. You miss the spinal cord in the back of the neck, even by just an inch or so, and your deer is going to take off. It probably won’t get very far, but depending on the terrain and the “juice” that deer has in it, you may never see it again – and they’ll suffer until the end.

The Heart

This is where 99.99% of hunters – with rifles, shotguns, and bows – are going to want to aim to bring down a deer in a hurry (and as humanely as possible).

A shot to the heart is going to be a clean kill all the time, and you’ll have the added bonus of ripping right through the lungs as well. This will punch a deer out in no time flat, causing a whirlwind of damage to critical organs and killing the animal almost as quickly as a shot to the brain.

Best of all, you won’t have to worry about hitting a tiny little target, either. The animal will almost always present a solid heart shot on target that isn’t standing head-on or backside away, giving you ample time to take aim and really zero in on this area. You’ll want to do your best to hit the heart dead center, as this will guarantee that double lung shot that drops them where they stand.

Miss a little bit and you might only get a single lung. This will still kill the deer, though not as quickly, and you might have a little bit of tracking to do. Usually, the massive blood trail from this kind of shot makes tracking easy, but again the terrain, time of day, and spirit of the deer running will make all the difference between finding your kill and losing it forever.

The Double Lung

Bow hunters are going to want to look for a double lung shot at every chance.

This is a quick, painless, and almost always instant kill for bow hunters, just because of the slower speed and “punch” that arrows have over faster projectiles like bullets and slugs. Where bullets can zip right through a deer, an arrow is going to punch in and stay – making it impossible for your deer to keep breathing after you’ve shot them.

Almost as effective as a heart shot, a deer that has been double lung shot is going to drop almost immediately. From time to time they’ll take a couple of steps, but a deer that cannot breathe is a dead deer walking for sure.

You’ll always want to make sure you aim for a spot just a bit higher than the 10 ring on a deer when you’re after a double lung shot. This guarantees you won’t just hit one lung and have a real chase and track on your hands.

The Shoulders

This is never a shot that a bow hunter, or even a shotgunner, is going to want to take if they’re serious about respecting the deer and dropping it as quickly and as cleanly as possible – but it does work wonders for those with high powered rifles.

We’re talking about guys and gals running a .308 or stronger, something with a lot of pop, a lot of punch, and a lot of force behind the blow. A .223 just doesn’t have enough gas behind it to get the job done with this kind of shot.

The goal here is to clip a shoulder blade, turning the bullet down into the chest cavity and wreaking as much havoc on the internals of the deer as possible. This results in not only a quick kill, but it also busts up the front legs of a deer on impact. They won’t be able to run and will instead die right where you shot them.

Shoulders always present a significant and obvious target that is tough to miss from a reasonable range, but there is one big downside here. When you hit the shoulder with a round strong enough to blow all of the vitals up, you’re also ripping through a whole lot of top quality meat as well.

It’s a tradeoff you’ll have to be comfortable with, or you’ll need to settle for a little more patience to line up a better shot that doesn’t cause as much damage across the board.

Wrapping Things Up

At the end of the day, a whole bunch of things is going to go into your choice for the right shot to drop your deer as quickly, as painlessly, and as spoil free as possible.

You’ll need to think about your weapon of choice, your confidence pulling off a shot, the terrain, the way your target is set up and what’s behind it, the time of day and daylight you may or may not have left to track, and a myriad of other things that change on a minute by minute basis.

But when you take aim at the areas we’ve highlighted above, your odds of a good clean kill shoot through the roof. Practice, practice, practice on these kinds of shots, and you’ll never again have to worry about clipping a deer but not killing them – or coming home empty handed during the always too short deer season.