Deer shot placements /reactions

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The aim of this guide is to provide information on the anatomy of deer and the consequences of bullet damage, to enable shots to be placed which:

  • Achieve rapid death;
  • Minimise suffering
  • Avoid carcass contamination


  • Be familiar with the relative positions of the heart, lungs, rumen, spinal column, bones of the shoulder, upper foreleg and brain.
  • Consider the angle from which the shot is being taken. The body is a dynamic, three-dimensional structure and the relationship of an internal organ to the external features can vary depending on the posture of the deer.

‘Time to death’ following shooting

Rapid death is caused by the combination of the temporary and permanent track wounds* of the bullet causing rapid loss of circulation leading to rapid loss of consciousness and death. A well-placed shot, with an appropriate bullet in the recommended target areas, will result in death in less than five minutes in most cases.
Slow’ death can result from badly placed shots, (e.g. those rupturing the stomach or intestines), leading to only a gradual loss of circulation.
Consequential’ death may follow after a non-fatal wound, such as a jaw injury, which leads to starvation or secondary infection.

Red areas indicate the vital zones referred to in the text. The yellow star indicates the preferred aim point for a chest shot. The shooting “clock” on next page together with Table llustrates how the chest aim point must vary according to how the animal is presented

Minimising Suffering

The quicker a deer loses consciousness following shooting, the less likely it is to suffer. Loss of consciousness from bullet damage is generally achieved through loss of blood circulation-either through the heart being destroyed or through blood-loss. Instantaneous loss of consciousness can only be achieved if the bullet destroys vital areas of the brain (for example when carrying out humane dispatch at close quarters ).
The aim of good bullet placement should be to induce maximum blood loss and induce unconsciousness as swiftly as technically possible, rendering the animal insensitive to pain. Care should be taken to ensure the animal remains unconscious until there is a complete loss of brain responsiveness due to lack of blood circulation or blood loss.

Current knowledge on the onset of pain indicates that if death occurs within 5 minutes then the likelihood of the animal experiencing pain could be reduced.1 The five-minute period should allow adequate time for the stalker to take any further action necessary.

1: shoulder blade; 2: spine; 3: lungs; 4: heart (note that it sits low in body; 5: any line of shot taken away from 90 degree broadside must consider bullet entry point and the angle of the path of the bullet through the body

Species and Size of Deer

The disparity in size between large and small deer has a significant influence on shot placement. In general, in small deer (either species or calf/fawn) the angle of oblique shots becomes more critical if the heart, lungs and large blood vessels in the chest are to be hit.

Bullet placement

Head shots Unless at close range, a small movement in the head of the deer is likely to result in a misplaced bullet which can cause serious and unnecessary suffering.  Head shots, due to the small target of the brain, should only, if ever, be considered at close range, and then only as a second follow-up shot.

Neck shots are discouraged.  Stalkers should be aware that a neck-shot deer may be paralysed but fully conscious. Not all neck shots break the spine. A non-fatal wound can be caused to the windpipe or food pipe and the animal run off.

Bullet injuries to the abdomen are likely to cause fatal injury but the time-to-death interval is unacceptable. Bullet injuries that rupture the stomach also increase the risk of carcass contamination.

Bullet injuries to limbs, while usually non-fatal, may result in consequential death and will lead to significant suffering.

Chest shots As a result of all these factors, Best Practice recommends that in order to:

  • Achieve rapid death;
  • Minimise suffering
  • Avoid carcass contamination

the broadside chest is the best target area for optimum bullet placement, (that is half way up the body and just behind the line of the foreleg).

1 & 5: do not attempt these chest shots; 2: a 45 degree shot; 3: broadside; 4: a thirty five degree shot

note how the heart is very narrow from frontal aspect, while from the rear it is hidden completely behind intestines. Also note that a 4 inch radius of scatter must be allowed for as a result of rifle innaccuracy, human error, or simply a light cross-wind

Bullet path and damage

The point at which the bullet enters the body and the subsequent path taken by the bullet through the body may affect the degree to which an animal suffers and the degree of carcass contamination caused by bullet damage.

Angles of Bullet PathMinimising SufferingMinimising Carcass Contamination
BroadsideThe recommended shot as it presents the largest target area involving the heart and other vital structures in the chest.The recommended shot as the bullet path through the body is unlikely to burst the stomach.
Frontal and frontal obliqueThe diagrams overleaf illustrate that the target area decreases as the deer moves away from the broadside position. In addition, practitioners should be aware that target area appears smaller with distance and will require a greater degree of accuracy to position the shot.The diagrams show that as shots become more angled from the broadside position the possibility of the bullet bursting the stomach and causing contamination and/or damaging the haunches or shoulder is significantly increased. There is no substantial difference in right or left fronal oblique shots.
Left / right rear oblique shotsLeft and right posterior oblique shots are not identical. Right rear oblique shots may pass through the liver before entering the chest. This causes substantial liver damage and extensive haemorrhage.Left and right posterior oblique shots are not identical. The rumen occupies a large area on the left side of the abdomen and this influences the angle at which the target area in the chest can be approached. It is likely that the bullet will burst the stomach as shots become more angled from the rear, particularly with left rear oblique shots. In addition, the greater the angle of the shot, the greater the risk of bullet damage to the haunches.
Shots uphill or downhillShooting deer from above or below will have an effect on the direction of the bullet path through the body. Consideration must be given to the point of aim on the deer to ensure that the angled bullet path causes fatal damage to the main organs in the target area (see illustration to above).The bullet path of a broadside shot from above or below is unlikely to burst the stomach. Shots taken from above or
below but at an oblique angle, however,
will be subject to the same considerations as above for horizontal oblique shots.

The behavioural and physiological response of a deer to being shot will vary depending on the physical and behavioural condition of the animal and where the bullet has struck it in the body. The aim of this guide is to provide information to assist the deer manager in identifying and recognising these responses, in order to assess whether a second shot may be required. The guide also describes procedures to follow after the initial shot has been taken. The Shot Placement should be regarded as an essential introduction to this topic. Where the use of a dog is prescribed refer to Use of Dogs from our deer dog training section


Shooting, following Best Practice should result in the aim of the majority of shot deer immediately dead or with in less than 5 minutes.


  • After the shot is taken watch for any signs of impact and the reaction of the deer through the telescopic sight and be prepared to take a second shot.
  • Never assume that a deer that you have shot at has run off has been been missed. Always check where the animal was standing for evidence of a strike.
  • When a deer is wounded follow-up until all chance of finding it or signs of a hit have been exhausted.
  • Ensure that a trained dog is present in woodland and when shooting at night.

Immediately after the shot

  • Try to see bullet strike and initial reaction.
  • Reload, and stay in the aim position, observing through the telescopic sight. Only target a new deer when you are satisfied that either no follow-up action is required or that follow-up action being taken by someone else has been confirmed.
  • If you suspect the deer is wounded, shoot again, moving to another safe firing position if necessary for a clear line of fire. Specifically when the deer:
    a) begins to move off out of sight;
    b) remains standing for more than 10 seconds after being shot (however in woodland you should shoot as soon as possible);
    c) lies down after showing signs of being hit, rather than falls down, or
    d) falls, but then raises its head or struggles to rise.
  • Using features such as trees, rocks and other vegetation, mark where you were when the shot was fired and mark the spot where the deer was standing when shot, and where it was last seen.
  • Before moving forward, allow enough time to account for suspected shot placement and ensure the rifle has a bullet chambered with the safety on, ready for use.

Reaction to Shot

The reaction of a deer to being shot will differ depending on where it is hit. Other factors include the calibre and type of bullet, the range and angle of the shot and the condition of the deer. As a general guide, the reactions or signs outlined in the following tables may help to assess where the bullet has struck. Refer to the Procedures section overleaf for the correct steps to follow-up to ensure deer are dispatched in a timely and humane manner.

 Collapses immediately. Jerky/ twitchy movement may indicate head, high neck or spine shot =  Head, Neck, Shoulders

 Collapses immediately but attempting to sit up. If the deer has been paralysed, the point at which the bullet has damaged the spinal column will determine the extent of movement in the head, neck and upper body = Saddle, Upper haunch

 Moves a short distance before collapsing. Moves in uncoordinated way. lunges forward from back legs = chest, lungs and heart shot

 kicks out back legs , Stands with body hunched, or may walk off slowly with a stilted gait. The animal may, if undisturbed, lie down after a short period. = Stomach, intestines, liver

 May collapse initially, but gets up and runs off immediately. = Mid haunch, back leg, front leg, brisket, outer neck and head


Follow-up Procedure 1.

  • Remain concealed and wait for any other deer in the vicinity to depart.
  • Move downwind of the deer to the spot where the deer dropped and approach quietly.
    Be prepared to shoot again if the deer shows signs of rising-follow Procedure 2.
  • When closer, check at intervals with binoculars for signs of life.
  • If it is suspected that the deer is wounded, shoot from a position giving the clearest possible shot, taking care to avoid disturbing the deer in the process and taking care that the backstop is safe.
  • Where there are no obvious signs of life ascertain death by testing for blink reflex in the eye. If necessary  dispatch humanely .

Follow-up Procedure 2.

  • When possible, if safe to do so, the deer should immediately be shot, even if it is moving.
  • When it is not possible to shoot again, if a dog is present which is capable of securing the deer, then have it do so immediately .
  • Where dog is not capable of securing the deer, or where a dog is not present, allow the deer time (15 to 30 mins) to lie down and settle.
  • If the deer has moved out of sight, approach the point where the deer was shot. Assess for signs of hit/strike (see Additional Physical Evidence below) and follow any clear blood trail. If no obvious trail use a trained dog to locate the deer.
  • In open country, remain out of sight while keeping the deer in view until it slows up or lies down and can be stalked again.
  • If not possible to use a firearm to dispatch a wounded deer then consider using other methods.

Additional Physical Evidence

The presence of the following may help confirm shot placement

  • Blood:
    • Light red frothy blood may indicate lungs;
    • Dark thick blood may indicate liver/guts.
  • Gut Contents.
  • Tissue (i.e. light coloured spongy tissue may indicate lungs).
  • Hair (clumps with skin and muscle possibly attached).
  • Bone fragments.

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