Whitetail Shot Placement With a Rifle: Is Broadside Best?

Of all the possible shot angles when rifle hunting for whitetails, the author’s favorites are quartering away and quartering toward.

Whitetail Shot Placement With a Rifle: Is Broadside Best?

The author’s son anchored his first South Dakota whitetail in its tracks with a perfectly placed quartering-away shot that took out the deer’s far-side front leg as the bullet exited.

Most of the time rifle hunters don’t have the luxury of waiting for the perfect shot angle on a whitetail. A buck or doe steps into a narrow shooting lane, and the hunter must take the shot — now! — or pass.

There are times, however, when a deer is relaxed and feeding in the open, and it presents several possible shot angles. In this scenario, is broadside best? I don’t think so.

Certainly a broadside opportunity is always good, and if necessary I’ll take it every time. The only downside to broadside is it’s nearly impossible to combine a heart/lung shot with one that also takes out the leg bone or shoulder (scapula), which will anchor a deer in its tracks. 

Look at the 3-D archery target below, with correctly shows a deer’s anatomy. The upper portion of the leg bone is slightly below the heart, and it runs on an angle along the deer’s neck until it meets the scapula, which is above the lungs. Sure, a bullet through the leg bone or base of the scapula will anchor the deer, and bone or bullet fragments are likely to penetrate the heart or lungs, but a follow-up shot could be required.

The Anatomy Deer 3-D target from Rinehart shows the correct position of a deer’s leg bone, which connects to the scapula. In the author’s opinion, aiming for the leg bone or scapula on a broadside deer is a risky move.
The Anatomy Deer 3-D target from Rinehart shows the correct position of a deer’s leg bone, which connects to the scapula. In the author’s opinion, aiming for the leg bone or scapula on a broadside deer is a risky move.

With broadside deer, I aim over the front leg and under the scapula, which basically means center of the lungs. This is my point of aim with gun or bow. Such a shot kills a deer 100 percent of the time, and does so quickly (probably less than 15 seconds), but a fleeing whitetail can cover a substantial distance in 15 seconds. If nearby cover is thick, and blood-trailing conditions are less than ideal (low light for example, or during a light rain), finding the animal can be a bit challenging.

In my opinion, and this is based on 43 years of pursuing whitetails and other big game with a rifle, you can’t beat quartering-away or quartering away opportunities. With a quartering-away angle, which is also best for bowhunters, the bullet can drive through both lungs and then take out the far-side leg bone just before exiting, which results in the deer falling in its tracks. Similarly, on a quartering-toward opportunity, the bullet can take out the near-side leg bone as it enters the animal, then penetrate both lungs before exiting near the diaphragm. Again, the deer will likely fall in its tracks.

For these reasons, if I think a broadside deer will turn to quartering-toward or quartering-away if I wait a few seconds while it feeds, then I’ll take my time, watch the deer in my scope, and increase my chances of dropping the animal in its tracks.

The author tagged this cold-weather Saskatchewan non-typical by waiting for it to turn quartering away as it fed. He anchored the Alabama buck on a green field with a quartering-toward shot.
The author tagged this cold-weather Saskatchewan non-typical by waiting for it to turn quartering away as it fed. He anchored the Alabama buck on a green field with a quartering-toward shot.
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