View Full Version : Shot Placement

July 27, 2005, 10:32 PM
What are the best areas to shoot a deer or coyote sized animal, so that you bring it down cleanly and quickly???

July 28, 2005, 12:07 AM
There are many different opinions on this subject. The three most common areas to shoot are the head, neck, and heart/lungs. Each target has its strong and weak points. And there are other ideas. I have a good friend, who is in all ways an ethical hunter, who will tell you that the best place to shoot for is the femoral artery. You might want to do a search on the various "zone x vs zone y" threads.

July 28, 2005, 03:50 AM
Also be a good idea to study the internal anatomy of the animals you intend to hunt and learn to visualize them in 3-D. Thus you can plan on sending bullets on the paths through your chosen vital target inside the animal from various angles and elevations.

Art Eatman
July 28, 2005, 12:06 PM
Coyote? With a .22 rimfire, head shots only, and not beyond, say, 50 yards. .243 or more? Head, neck, chest; pretty much out to the limit of your skill.

I've had quick, one-shot kills with a .223 to 100 yards. Chest shot.


July 28, 2005, 12:44 PM
Was hunting with a friend in the Rockies around Dillon Colo a few years back and a nice medium/large mule deer buck came out into a clear-cut above us. He took the shot with his 7mm mag and off ran the Muley. Ran probably 50 yards through the clear cut and into the woods. My buddy was perplexed saying he knew he made the shot. We found the spot where the deer went into the woods and looked around and about another 50 yards in we found it. On field dressing we found out that he had made a perfect heart/lung shot. After that I figured the only way to drop a Muley on the spot is with a lucky spine shot.........or a rocket propelled grenade :)

July 28, 2005, 12:47 PM
To bring something down clean and quick, I'd say headshots, toward the base of the ear. For the most part they drop or you missed. I have heard of people missing and putting the bullet into the snout, and that just aint good. Practice, know the anatomy, and practice.

July 28, 2005, 08:32 PM
I think you'll find that the ideal target spots for a deer will be slightly different that for a coyote. Although they're both quadripeds, the details of anatomy will differ. At the end of the day though the idea is the same.

To get a quick, clean kill you need to disrupt the central nervous system such that functions essential for life are shut down, or you need to cause rapid bleeding such that the central nervous system is denied blood and functions essential for life are shut down.

The quickest way to achieve neural disruption is a brain shot BUT the brain in a deer (or coyote for that matter) is not a large target and is highly mobile. A misjudgement in aim or if the deer moves its head as the shot is taken or while the bullet is in flight and you will most probably inflict a horribly mutilating injury which will allow the animal to escape and will cause a long slow death for the animal. Most people aim in the wrong place for a brain shot with deer ... the aim point is ABOVE the eyes and should only be attempted at short range by a rifleman who is very confident about his ability to place his bullet accurately in the correct location.

A neck shot will allow for a greater range in bullet trajetory and is therefore better as a longer range target. Shock from the bullet will be transferred to the central nervous system through bone and cerebral spinal fluid and will result in instant coma, during which essential functions such as breathing and heart regulation will cease ...... the deer will never recover its conciousness (i.e Dead Right There).

The other target area is the front area of the lungs. This portion of the lungs is richly supplied with blood. If a bullet passes through the front portion of the lungs it not only destroys lung tissue essential for oxygenating blood, it ruptures arteries which, together with the animals efforts to breathe, fill the lungs with blood. The animal both suffocates because the blood stops air from getting into the lungs and bleeds out because the blood is being pumped by the heart into the lungs. Blood pressure rapidly drops, blood is no longer supplied to the brain, the animal looses conciousness and dies rapidly (within 30 yards of where it was hit).

Do not make the mistake of thinking a heart shot will kill an animal quickly. If you make a perfect heart shot and destroy the heart completely, there will be some lung damage but minimal bleeding into the lungs. The brain will still have a supply of oxygen, the muscles will still have a supply of energy, the animal will bolt without leaving a blood trail (no blood pumping remember) and it will be able to cover upwards of 100 yards or more before the central nervous system fails. 100 yards in heavy cover with no blood trail can mean a lost animal ...... dead, but the hunter may never be able to find it.

The hilar zone (the front part of the lungs, the major arteries feeding the lungs and a plexus of nerves supplying the lungs and heart) is in the lower front chest area protected to a large degree by the shoulder joint. A shot into this area can achieve disruption of the locomotor system (break one or both shoulders), rapid bleeding assisted by blood pressure and breathing action, suffocation by blood displacing the air in the lungs and preventing any air from entering the lungs, and some neural disruption to the vital cardio-pulmonary system. This is a very safe target zone which will always result in a rapid death.

A shot which ruptures an artery such as the femoral will result in death, BUT, arteries are flexible and resistant, to a degree, to pressure (they have to be to handle blood under pressure form the heart). A direct or nearly direct hit on the artery is essential to guarantee arterial bleeding. The artery is a small target with nothing to distinguish its location externally. In the time it takes the animal to bleed out via a femoral arterial bleed it may well have travelled a considerable distance. I refer you to a book by Matt and Bruce Grant* where Matt Grant relays:

I once wounded a deer in the hind leg at considerable range and lost the trail after a mile of diligent tracking. Two days later I found him dead 3 miles from where he had been wounded. I found that the bullet had cut the femoral artery, the large artery on the inside of the thigh. This is possibly the fastest bleeding muscular artery, yet that deer had travelled 3 miles.

The best target will vary on the range to the animal and its presentation (standing broadside, angling toward or away from you, head up, head down, etc) and the abilities of the person making the shot. I would always advise attempting a hilar zone shot as a first priority target. There is reasonable margin for error and will result in a rapid death. You should be aiming for the off side shoulder about one third of the way up the chest. If the deer is angling toward you you'll be aiming roughly where the lower neck joins the chest (and projecting through to the offside shoulder), if the animal is angling away from you you'll be aiming somewhere just behind the nearest front leg (and projecting through to the offside shoulder). At extreme angles away from you, you may end up aiming at the rear ribcage (and projecting through to the offside shoulder .... all at around one third of the way up the chest.

If you are more confident about your field accuracy (your ability to place a shot under field conditions on a living breathing target can be very different to your ability to group holes in paper under perfect conditions) and your knowledge of the animal's anatomy then a neck or spine shot might be preferably. If you're very confident, you know exactly where to aim and the range is short (within 25 yards) you might try a brain shot.


* "The Sharp Shooter: How to get the best out of rifles and ammunition", Matt & Bruce Grant, AH & AW Reed (publ), 1972

July 28, 2005, 08:48 PM
Spinner my friend,
As we say in the South Damn son, ya done good! :D

Yeah seems turn about is fair play - I recommended to you some works, and now you recommend [again] to me. Hell I'm still drooling over the book you sent me from NZ.


Humm...how does one tote a critter with a Ferrari?
Or is that something we don't tell the wifey? :D

July 28, 2005, 09:27 PM
Hey SM

I finally find a subject where my biology skills can help and I can pay back/forward with some useful info.

As for toting deer with sports cars, heheheheh .... well, ya just strap the critter over the engine cover in the middle of the car. A long enough drive will have the meat barbequed by the time ya get home. ;)


July 29, 2005, 12:02 AM
Well done Spinner! I do not believe I have ever read a better, more informative single post or article. It should be made into a sticky.

July 29, 2005, 03:08 PM
I realize this thread is about deer and coyotes - but I was wondering if the same basic rules apply to fowl?

Also for Spinner - check out this link and see if you can explain this little quirk of anatomy:


(I get such a kick out of the story of "Mike" :) )

July 29, 2005, 04:55 PM
The anatomy and physiology of birds is quite different to mammals. In general the same principles apply .... shut down the nervous system or the circulatory system for a quick kill. That's pretty hard to do consistently with moving targets - even with a shotgun that's throwing a bunch of projectiles.

Birds are built differently because they're evolved or built for flight. Even the ones that don't fly much (e.g. chickens) still have the bone structures and anatomy which makes flight possible. Birds have large and powerful chest muscles nessecary to operate the wings. Those large muscles protect to a large extent the vital organs in the chest. The chest muscles on birds are so large and heavy that vets are taught never to turn a bird on its back and keep it there for too long because the weight of the flight muscles will prevent the bird from drawing breath and it will suffocate.

Birds have a relatively large heart, but because they're small critters the target isn't very big at all and its buried under that mass of flight muscle. The long neck and head are vulnerable and I believe they're the primary targets on a turkey - a tightly choked, dense mass of a lot of pellets moving quickly (sorry, I may be off-base here, I've never hunted wild turkeys).

Birds lungs work differently to mammals. Mammals expand the chest creating a small vacuum in the lungs which draws air in. Then we contract the chest and push the air out. Birds rather than having a tidal system of respiration use a through flow of air which is assisted by their flight muscles when they're in flight.

As far as Mike the Headless chicken goes, yeah, I've heard of that before. Mike must have had enough of his brainstem left to control autonomous function like heart and breathing. Birds are much simpler animals than mammals and they don't have anything like the brain ... Mike must have been left with enough brain to allow function. I dare say you could remove most of the brain of many politicians, leaving only the brainstem, and notice absolutely no change in behaviour or rhetoric ;)

Actually in the 1800s a railroad worker in America, called Phineas Gage, was tamping explosives into a hole with a large steel crowbar. The explosives went off and drove the steel crowbar up through the top of his eye socket and out the top of his head. He survived despite the destruction of most of the frontal lobe of his brain and the most noticeable effect was a personality change. Its a famous example used in psychology to teach and advocate for frontal lobotomies.

Trivia for the day. :D

July 30, 2005, 12:05 PM
Thanks Spinner, very well researched, I'm sure this information would help a lot of hunters, young and old if it were presented when they got their hunting license!

July 30, 2005, 04:22 PM
Brain shot is definitely the most reliable stop, but is a relatively small target. Cervical spine will work just as well, but is even a smaller target. Heart, lungs and shoulder are all still vital, and together represent a large target area, and so are generally the recommended targeting area.

August 4, 2005, 01:37 PM
Shot a 150 lb buck in the head last season at 30-40 yds with a 73 gr. 223. The bullet struck a half-inch above the classic "between the eyes" shot and was dead-center. The deer dropped immediately, but randomly firing nerves in the CNS kept it kicking for five minutes.

August 4, 2005, 03:56 PM
A bullet that hits a deer "between the eyes" is likely to pass beneath the ethmoid bone missing the brain completely and will mutilate the upper nostrils of the deer. The animal will be in great pain and will be snorting blood and shaking their head - its unlikely you'll get a second shot at the brain. A brain shot from the side that is too low will destroy the deer's jaw and the animal will escape and probably die of starvation and in great pain. You are then faced with shooting at a running deer and/or trailing a hyped up animal in pain. Shooting at moving targets with a rifle is generally not very successful because most people rarely practice it. If you botch a brain shot its very distressing for the animal and for the hunter and its certainly not the quick kill you were intending it to be.

From the rear the brain shot has a greater margin for error. If the bullet goes too low it will hit the upper cervical spine, too high and its a clean miss or minor superficial wound. If you run your hand over the back of your skull to where your neck joins you can feel an indentation. As you nod your head you can feel the skull articulating on the top of the neck - on the atlas and axis bones. At that point the skull is most vulnerable. This is the area where the spinal column meets the brain and there is the least bony protection (there's a hole in the skull called the foramen magnum - which is Latin for "big hole"). On a quadriped the skull sits on the neck a little differently and the articulation point is more toward the back of the skull rather than underneath the skull but the principle is the same. A well aimed .22 at that point will drop a deer just as easily as a 30.06.

When done correctly the brain shot or upper cervical spine shot causes immediate death. Its the ideal coup de grace shot but unless you're close and the animal is calm its not always going to be an available option.

August 6, 2005, 06:39 PM
All I know is that the buck didn't take another step---it was dead. Probably wouldn't try it again though.

August 6, 2005, 09:18 PM
It wouldn't be an anatomy lesson without pictures. Click the buttons its way cool. ;) :)
Deer Anatomy (http://home.mn.rr.com/deerfever/Anatomy.html)

August 8, 2005, 01:48 PM
After this past season, I am not a real fan of head shots for Whitetail deer. Here's what happened: I was pulling back in my yard with my brother riding with me coming back from registering my trophy buck that I shot that morning when an injured adult doe came running dead at my pickup right down my driveway. In MN, we can't transport loaded weapons, so I was in no position to take care of her as she veered off into a swamp and disappeared. As she ran by, I could see that her bottom jaw was just hanging on by skin and tissue, and she was making an ungodly sound in which I don't care to explain or to ever hear again. It was evident that she was victim to a head shot gone bad. When I got to the house, I grabbed the shot gun and loaded it up with some buck shot and went after the wounded doe. I never located a blood trail, so I just kept circuling around the swamp that she ran to coming up with nothing. It seemes she was still traveling pretty good and kept running as she passed through my property. Later last winter, my dogs drug home what I believe was her carcuss. Now the area that I live in is a shotgun and pistol zone, and I guess someone was stupid enough to attempt this shot with a shotgun slug. I went back the direction that the deer came from looking for the self proclaimed marksman that wasted this deer but found nobody. They probably realized what they had done, and took off to save the embarassment.

Incedentally, the buck I registered that morning I shot with a Thompson Contender chambered in a 35 Remington. The bullet exploded the heart and the front of the lungs. It made no exit wound as it broke a rib on the far side of the animal and stopped right there. The was no blood trail just like Spinner says with a blown up heart. I only found 2 dime sized drips of blood in 20 yards and the buck expired in 50 yards in some deep swamp grass. I guess that this reinforces the fact that a heart shot usually won't drop a deer in it's tracks, but it will produce a reliable kill shot. I guess if you want the in the tracks kill, I would shoot for the neck, but NEVER the head unless you are quite a real sharp shooter and not like the guy by me thinks he is.

This buck I shot is one of a handfull of deer of the 40 or so I have killed in my life that wasn't at a dead run. The style of hunting that we did in the past was the driver and poster method, which requires you to shoot a running deer more often than not. We did practice and got good at it. In 1998 I shot a wall hanger at 100 yards running cross ways to me in the woods. I hit him twice, the first shot was in the femoral artery (a bit off on my lead), and the 2nd shot was in the heart, as he rolled down into a pot hole. I guess my point is, is that you can get good at any shot if you practice. For moving target practice, we strung a cable down a hill and hung a 4'x4' sheet of plywood on pulleys then hung a deer silouette on that. It humbled many and made better hunter out of all of us. I can definately say it helped my shooting skills.

Have fun and shoot straight,


August 8, 2005, 02:44 PM
/* It was evident that she was victim to a head shot gone bad*/

How do you know that? If a shoulder shot goes 10" back, it becomes a gut shot, if it goes 10" the other way it could hit the head.

Anyhow, a poorly executed shot that is not followed up is bad news for the animal, regardless if it is head, neck, shoulder, or heart/lungs.

BTW, you need to start getting an exit hole with that Contender.