Basic Deer Anatomy to Help Understand Shot Placement

Anatomy of a Shooter Buck

By Will Bowen | PUBLISHED October 27th, 2023

Deer season is in full swing and tags are being punched all around the country, so I figured it would be a great time to review basic deer anatomy, shot placement, and helpful tools. Hopefully everybody out there had a hunting mentor of some type to show them how to put down a deer efficiently. If you haven’t had that I would encourage you to seek one out or to do your best in terms of research to make sure that you can harvest a deer correctly. The goal is always a quick and efficient kill. Obviously, things happen when you are a hunter, but we should always have the attitude to settle for nothing less. 

Okayest Anatomy Lesson

I can remember being a kid sitting in the living room with my dad talking about shot placement on deer. I was just excited to get into the woods and take my first animal, so the idea of deer anatomy and shot placement was secondary in my mind. But yet my dad still spent many nights trying to teach me. I can remember him setting down a stack of hunting magazines and a pen in front of me at the kitchen table. “Okay son, now every time you see a picture of a deer, put a dot where you would shoot it.” I bet I killed 1000 magazine deer as a kid. While this exercise seemed fun to me as a child, it really is a great exercise for those getting into the sport. 

Before setting me free on my magazine scribbles, my dad would sit down with me and discuss why we aim where we aim. He emphasized vital shots and quick, ethical kills. Because of this, at the age of 7 I had a pretty good grasp of what it meant to make a lung shot or a heart shot. This is so important to a hunter, but as I’ve hunted and studied more, I’ve learned it goes deeper than just making a good shot. It’s important to know what’s in there. So here is my attempt at an Okayest Anatomy Lesson: 

  • All of the deer’s vitals sit inside the ribcage. The diaphragm creates a wall at the back of the last rib (just forward of the middle of the body) and everything you want to aim for sits between there and the front of the shoulder blade. 
  • From the outside, the shoulder crease of the deer is a good reference point for all shots. Behind it sits the heart (below the midline), the arterial trunk (midline to slightly below), and the lungs (slightly below midline to slightly above midline). 
  • From the shoulder crease the vitals vary on how back they extend. The heart only sets within the first rib or two from the shoulder crease, its comparable in size to a misshapen softball. The lungs however extend backwards through the majority of the ribcage but do not quite reach the last one. They are larger than the heart, comparable to the size of an oblong dinner plate. 
  • Finally, we get to the liver which sits between the lungs and diaphragm. It’s often your last chance at vitals on a marginal, far back shot. 
  • Vasculature runs all throughout the animal, especially in the torso. Slicing an artery anywhere could put the deer down very quickly. So don’t discount a bad shot. Always do your due diligence and check out the situation. 

Shot Placement Tips

  • Only take broadside or quartering away shots for the highest efficiency.
  • Always aim for your exit, the entry is important but not as important as the exit.
  • Know your broadhead and penetration potential, don’t ask your equipment to do something it wasn’t designed to do.
  • When bowhunting, always aim for the heart. Most errant shots go high, so if you aim at the heart, you will still have several inches of buffer zone in the vitals.

  • Helpful Tools

    In my studies on shot placement I have come across a couple really good tools that I’d like to share with you: 

    Drury Outdoors’ DeerCast Track: Besides all of the other useful tools on the DeerCast app, the tracking feature is very intuitive and helpful. It presents a 3D model for you to select various shot locations. The app then breaks down what you hit, proper wait time, and gives you many real-life examples. The only downside is this version of the app is not free, but it’s well worth the price. 

    Mossy Oak Shot Placement Guide: Mossy Oak has developed a quick reference, shot placement guide that is perfect for that quick, refresher course. It discusses different angles and weapon types in order to give you a comprehensive view of shot placement. 

    OnX Hunt Shot Placement Guide: OnX has worked hard to provide a free shot placement guide that includes a ton of features. It gives brief anatomy lessons and also takes you through different angles and shot processes. When it comes to a comprehensive guide, this one would be hard to beat. 

    Leave a comment

    Please note, comments must be approved before they are published