Debatable Shot Angles

What determines your shoot or don’t shoot decisions? Consider these debatable shot angles — what would you do?

Debatable Shot Angles

I reached full draw as the whitetail buck ceased a friendly sparring match with his 8-point companion. With forked G2s and solid mass, the bull-bodied 14-pointer was meandering top-pin close. Just before the shot opportunity unfolded below me, he spun and walked toward me. 

I held at full draw for more than a minute as the brute was face-deep in lush September alfalfa. Though the buck was calm, close and in the open, I knew the quartering-toward angle could result in a painstaking all-night tracking foray. I gambled and eased the bowstring to rest.

Minutes felt like hours. Finally, still munching on succulent alfalfa shoots, the buck slowly began turning broadside, and I fluidly drew back a second time. With a textbook 18-yard broadside shot, my carbon flashed through both lungs and drove into the dirt. Just a few seconds later, a loud crash signaled his fate. Trusting my gut and waiting for a high-percentage angle paid off big.

Some people, by nature, push limits. However, there are no acceptable excuses for dismissing ethics and respect in attempting low-odds shots.

Let’s explore the debatable shot angles you’ll likely encounter in the whitetail woods, and how to decide if shooting is the ethical thing to do.

Quartering Toward

Perhaps the most debatable shot is the quartering-toward angle. This shot’s lethality hinges on the angle’s severity. On an ever-so-slight angle, a skilled bowhunter can tuck the arrow tight behind the shoulder, clipping both lungs and maybe liver.

On a more severe angle, as shown in the photo below, placing your arrow behind the shoulder could mean a very marginal liver/gut hit. Of course, a skilled bowhunter could consider placing an arrow between the shoulder and the neck, missing the clavicle and shoulder and entering the vitals. However, this shot has no room for error. Miss by even an inch or two and you could hit dense, impenetrable bone. This shot should be reserved for highly proficient bowhunters at ultra-close ranges. Even then, it’s advisable to wait for a higher-percentage angle.

Severe quartering-toward shots such as the one shown here are tempting but should be avoided, especially from a treestand. The chance of your broadhead penetrating only one lung is high.
Severe quartering-toward shots such as the one shown here are tempting but should be avoided, especially from a treestand. The chance of your broadhead penetrating only one lung is high.

Head On

The facing shot is as deadly as any other with proper arrow placement. However, ethical opportunities to attempt this shot rarely materialize. It has become an accepted angle among elk hunters. If done correctly, it kills quickly.

Consider: Elk are primarily hunted from the ground, and whitetails are most commonly hunted from treestands. Therefore, you rarely hear about bowhunters taking whitetails with frontal shots. Think about it: The angle at which your arrow travels when you’re 20 feet airborne renders the frontal shot unethical and unfeasible, at least in my eyes.

Get on the ground, however, and it’s a different story. I have a friend who hunts with some partners all across the Midwest, and they exclusively hunt on the ground. They’ve taken numerous deer with frontal shots, and it proves absolutely deadly when executed correctly.

Like the quartering-toward angle, this one leaves no room for error — your target is the size of a baseball, no bigger. It’s located dead center where the chest meets the neck. Hit right or left, and you’ll hit bone and meat. Hit low, and you’ll miss the goods. Hit high, and the outcome is questionable, unless you clip the jugular.

Once again, only the skilled should attempt this and only at ultra-close ranges. However, if a broadside or quartering-away angle is likely to unfold, hold your fire.

Severely Quartering Away

The quartering-away shot is perhaps the highest-percentage shot angle. However, a severely quartering deer opens up a can of worms for consideration. A good rule is that if you can plainly see the offside front leg protruding beneath the chest, then it’s an ethical shot angle.

Something to consider, though, is the broadhead type you’re using. With an over-the-top (aka, jackknife) expandable, it’s possible the severe angle could result in a glance on impact. In other words, one blade deploys on impact and causes the arrow to glance rather than penetrate. Unfortunately, this happened to me on a fat doe early in my bowhunting career, and I’m sad to say I didn’t recover the animal.

As far as where to aim, a good rule is to draw a line up to the center of the chest using the deer’s offside leg. The goal here is to punch the offside shoulder, which results in a double-lung hit with heart potential. If you cannot see the offside leg, don’t shoot because the angle is too severe.

Texas Heart Shot

Shooting a deer that’s facing directly away is unethical by every stretch of the word. If you sever the femoral artery, the deer will bleed out in less than a minute. If not, you likely won’t recover the animal, and if you do, the follow-up won’t be pretty. Wait for a better shot angle. 

Straight Down

I know this shot can be deadly, but I personally dislike it. I’ve never been an advocate of spine shots, though they anchor the animal instantly. It never ends without a struggle and usually requires a follow-up shot.

Send one to either side of the spine, and it could be a one-lung hit. Deer have been known to live with one lung, and though most won’t live indefinitely, some do. Others can survive for several hours and even days. And, if your arrow doesn’t create an exit wound, the blood trail will be spotty, at best.

I should mention that, even though it’s close, the straight-down shot is difficult to execute. If you’ve practiced it from a treestand in your yard, you understand what I mean. Many hunters fail to bend at the waist, and therefore fudge their anchor point and either slap their sleeve with the bowstring or simply shoot over or under the animal. 

It’s also possible that your arrow could lift off your rest once you acquire the angle due to nock pinching in the D-loop. In many cases, a better angle is coming when you’re looking at a deer straight beneath your stand.

Release the arrow only if you’re sure you can make the shot. Your goal should always be double-lung hits.
Release the arrow only if you’re sure you can make the shot. Your goal should always be double-lung hits.

Last Thoughts

You must develop a tendency for reading the animal. Many hunters suggest taking the first good shot opportunity that presents. I agree, but only to an extent. It all hinges on what the deer is doing. If it is walking briskly, you might get only one good chance. But, deer feeding leisurely will often present a better angle.

When it comes to debatable shot angles, let ethics and common sense be your guide, each time considering your skills and what’s best for the animal.

Deer photos by Darron McDougal; hunter image courtesy of Howard Communications

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