Sponsored by: Whitetail University, Atsko Products 

Reprinted from bowhunting.net: Nov 2009

By: Wade Nolan bowhunting biologist

How many times have you heard a buddy say, “Hit him just a little far back”? Fact is I have been in deer camps where half the time was spent looking for hit deer. Most were recovered or the hit was not fatal… but the same pitfall seems to apply. Surprisingly many bowhunters fail to intimately learn a deer’s anatomy and they exploit their knowledge. So where do you shoot em’?

This is especially difficult for a new bowhunter to grasp. Mike Olson, my protege learned the lesson by using a few tools that are readily available to all bowhunters. The first strategy is to get away from that foam block as soon as possible and start shooting at a deer target. It will be much more concrete when the real time arrives if Mike has been shooting at a foam deer for a couple of months. Mike took a hunter ed class and got a little bit of info there on shot placement but most of that related to rifle hunting.

The other strategy is to study a deer anatomy chart distributed by the bowhunter education foundation.  This chart is wonderful and is made of pictures layered with transparent layovers. You can see the deer with skin….peel back a layer and see the muscles, then the bones and finally the internal organs.

Most adult bowhunters can’t point to where the diaphragm separates the lungs from the guts. Is it at the midpoint of the deer? Or is it at the 6th rib….or does the diaphragm angle backwards or frontwards. Do the ribs ever cover the intestines? Where is the heart? you can learn this and more by looking at the chart. It’s a wonderful tool.

What about the bones? Does the shoulder blade cover most of the lungs in the area just above the front leg? Is the liver a fatal hit? What is this quartering shot I hear about and why is it a winner?

Mike had a lot of great questions. Here are some answers.


  •     Where does the diaphragm separate the guts from the lungs? The diaphragm is a muscle that aids mammals in breathing by bowing in and out. It is a partition between the vital organs and the digestive system. It is just forward the midpoint of a broadside deer. The diaphragm angles forward. Knowing the position of the diaphragm can lead to success because the circulatory system and the respiratory system lay forward of the diaphragm. Your arrow must transect the deer’s body in front of the diaphragm.
  •     Do the ribs ever cover the guts? Yes, at the rear of the ribs and low the ribs overlap some intestines in a standing broadside deer.
  •     Where is the heart? The heart is easy to find as it lays just above the front leg…about 3 inches.  Its main plumbing runs north out of the heart and if you shoot a little high you still win big with a quick kill.
  •     Isn’t there a bone in the way from the side…shoulder blade or something? No, there is a window there that I call the “Deadly V”. The humerus and the scapula make up this sideways V which looks like a ‘greater than’ sign with the opening facing to the rear. This is where you want to put your arrow on a broadside deer. Hit him here and you get heart/lungs and the deer won’t ever take another breath this side of freezer wrap.
  •     Where is the liver and is that a fatal hit? The liver is located immediately behind the diaphragm. It is full of some really big arteries and veins.  This is not the preferred shot but a liver hit (midway on a deer) will kill him in a matter of minutes.
  •     What is this quartering away shot about? If a deer is quartering away it opens up a greater angle for an arrow to get to his vitals. It is a great shot for two reasons. First, it allows the bones of the front leg to be totally out of the way and secondly, the deer’s eyes won’t be as likely to spot you drawing of he’s looking away from you.
  •     How do you aim with a quartering shot? This is where understanding anatomy is important. I like to aim for the exit hole. Think about where you want the arrow to exit and adjust accordingly. The key is to aim for just above the far leg. To do this you will have to choose an entry point that is actually just o at the front of the guts…even entering just behind the diaphragm and angling forward.


  •     What about a treestand shot from above…now where do I aim? Great question Mike, the answer is that you have to raise your entry point for the arrow above the midline of the deer when viewed from the side. The closer the deer the higher you need to aim. If a deer is only 15 feet from the base of your tree you may need to aim so the arrow enters at 3/4 of the way up the deer’s side. I suggest practicing at a foam deer target at these angles and pay attention where the angle of the arrow will take the broadhead.

So there you have it, the inside story on bones, broadheads and  shot angle.

Teach the basic shooting skills to your new bowhunter and build confidence. Mike is almost ready.

Next time we will discuss broadhead selection and deer recovery.

Sponsored by: Whitetail University, Atsko Products 

For more from Atsko go to : Scent Control and be sure to get more information on:  Wade Nolan