We firmly believe a shot in the boiler room is almost always best.
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 would not need to write for a living. You likely have similar experiences with your buddies talking endlessly about how they threaded the needle on a quartering away shot on that big buck through a bunch of brush. Or how many deer they have dropped in their tracks using a high shoulder shot or neck shot. It seems like every time I watch a hunting video, especially one involving bowhunting, the hunter in the video is going for the heart shot. I suspect it is to get that high kick many deer do on video when an arrow hits that area. It probably helps sell more DVDs and archery gear when you can put that in the trailer.
Nothing drives a debate at deer hunting camp quite like a discussion on shot placement. Every hunter has their own preferred shot for mule and whitetail deer. Most of us base our decision on past experiences with wounded deer and our skill level.
My favorite vital area to aim on a deer is the lungs and today I’m going to explain why the pros of trying for a lung hit far outweigh the cons no matter your experience level in deer hunting.
The pros of a lung shot.
Just so we are clear, I am not saying the heart or high shoulder are not 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, shotgun, compound, or crossbow in hand. I do not have the time to practice every single day of the year and it is unlikely most average hunters do either. Most of us are not going to shoot like an Olympian and that is fine. You should feel no shame in taking the high percentage shot in that case. And the lungs provide your best odds because these organs take up so much of the body cavity. By placing those crosshairs just behind the should blade I can feel confident I’m going to hit vital organs, rupture some blood vessels, and get some serious blood loss going from the chest cavity. The neck is such a small target area that I have never been comfortable with aiming there.
On a broadside shot, even if my shot is low and back slightly, the odds of a double lung shot are still high. Even if it is back from that, you are likely to get a liver shot which should still be fatal. That margin of error is what gives me confidence every time I line up a shot on a deer. I know a lot of bowhunters swear by the heart shot. Plenty of others aim nowhere else but the high shoulder with a gun. Usually because they do not like tracking a deer. However, as we all know, in hunting sometimes things do not go as planned. And while the scenarios I am about to describe could happen on any shot, the problems seem to double or triple when going for a more precision shot. All it takes is one unseen branch to change the shot angle of an arrow aimed at the heart directly into the dirt grazing the deer’s brisket. Nothing is quite as frustrating than checking your arrow and finding a pile of hairs. The flip side is a deer that jumps the string causing your shot. The flip side of that scenario is a deer that jumps the string, driving your broadhead into either a front leg or the shoulder blade, causing little to no penetration.
Another pro is the blood trails. 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. 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 further 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. There is simply no comparison when it comes to shots that are easy to track.
That blood loss is a positive for another reason, humane kills. Most deer hit in the lungs never know what hit them. It knocks the wind out of them and the blood loss is so quick, they do not really have a chance to feel any pain. That has always been an important factor in my decision to take lung shots. The loss of meat is usually minimal too when compared to a deer hit in the shoulder.
Cons of the 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. It looks like he drilled that buck in the boiler room only to realize his arrow got zero penetration.
Probably the biggest con of a lung shot is you have no idea how far the deer will run after being hit there. I have had a big mature buck go 30 yards and plop over. I have also had a big buck run 150 yards into the nastiest, thickest brush possible before finally expiring. 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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