Part of what makes crossbow hunting for whitetails so exciting but what can also be a bit frustrating is that anything can happen. What I mean is that hunting is a game of probabilities and not of absolute certainties, especially when it comes to deciding when to take a shot and where to aim with your crossbow on a whitetail. As an ethical hunter, it is your responsibility to take the shot that has the highest probability for the deer to expire quickly and that results in the greatest likelihood that you will recover it. By choosing your shot placement carefully, you will greatly increase your chances for harvest and recovery success this fall.
The graphics below show the proper shot placement on whitetail deer from different angles that you will encounter in the field – broadside, quartering away, and quartering towards you. Taking your shot when the deer is in one of these three positions allows you to inflict the most damage to the deer’s heart and lungs, which should always be the primary target of any ethical crossbow hunter.
The broadside shot is the most desired by the most crossbow hunters because you have the widest view of the deer’s vitals area when the deer is standing sideways to you. If your shot is slightly off by an inch or two in any direction, your crossbow arrow will still hit in the vitals area and inflict lethal organ damage. Shooting a deer in this position yields a high likelihood that you will damage the heart and/or both lungs which will result in very rapid expiration. The faster the deer expires, the shorter the distance you will have to track the deer. The broadside shot ultimately yields the highest probability for harvest and recovery success.
To find your aimpoint on a broadside shot, line up your vertical scope reticle with the center of the deer’s front leg and align the horizontal reticle or dot approximately one-third to one-half way up the deer’s body.
The quartering away shot is the second most desired by crossbow hunters next to the broadside shot, because this angle still gives you access to the large vitals area of the deer and allows for maximum heart and/or double-lung damage. However, if you are considering a quartering away shot, keep in mind that the window for you to shoot into the vitals area shrinks as the deer’s angle away from you increases. If the deer’s angle is greater than 45-degrees from you, the probability for a lethal shot decreases because your shot window becomes significantly smaller and the chance for you to take a glancing shot that will result in a wounded, unrecovered deer increases.
To find your aimpoint on a quartering away shot, line up your vertical reticle with the off-side leg or shoulder of the deer and hold the horizontal reticle or dot approximately one-third to one-half way up the deer’s body.
The quartering towards shot can yield lethal results, but you are much more limited in your shot window. This shot should only be taken if conditions are right and if you feel confident that you can shoot with extreme accuracy. When a deer is quartering to you, the near-side shoulder blade blocks some of the vitals, and, if your shot is not perfectly placed, it can prevent your arrow from penetrating the chest cavity altogether and can deflect the arrow into a non-vital area of the deer’s body. This crossbow shot should only be attempted if the deer’s angle to you is slight, as your shot window and the chances for hitting vital organs significantly decrease when the deer’s angle is less acute. When taking this shot, you also risk hitting the sternum, which can result in poor penetration, or you might hit the deer in the brisket, which will not damage any vital organs and will only result in a wounded deer. You should only attempt a quartering towards shot if you are left with no other options and if you do not think the deer will move to present you with a broadside or quartering away shot.
To find your aimpoint on a quartering towards shot, line up your vertical reticle with the inside edge of the near-side leg and hold the horizontal reticle or dot approximately one-third to one-half way up the deer’s body.
The graphics presented here primarily represent shot placement if you are hunting from the same level as the deer. If you are hunting from an elevated position, be aware that your point-of-impact may be higher than your point-of-aim due to the downward angle of the shot. Typically, the steeper the angle, the higher your point-of-impact will be. Also, keep in mind that the wound channel created will have an angled orientation and will not travel horizontally through the deer’s vitals. When hunting from an elevated position, you must take these two factors into account when determining your point-of-aim. I recommend that you purchase an anatomically correct 3-D deer target that shows the deer’s vitals and practice shooting your crossbow at that target from the same angles you will be shooting from your elevated position when hunting.
The greatest piece of advice I can give you when choosing your shot placement is not to take the shot if you do not feel confident that it will result in lethal damage to the vital organs. Be patient and wait for the deer to move into a position that presents a better shot angle. After all you have done to prepare for crossbow hunting season, you owe it to yourself and the deer to take the shot that yields the highest chances for success.
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