July 04, 2013
Where to Shoot a Deer for One-Shot Kills - 6
To kill an animal with a single shot is the goal of every responsible hunter. Most of us were taught to put a bullet in the “boiler room,” the heart and lungs. But should we be aiming elsewhere? We asked a number of deer cullers, those sharpshooters whose job requires them to kill deer quickly, for their perspectives on bullet placement. Their advice, detailed below, is: “It depends.” On distance, bullet type, shooting ability, and even meat retention.
When you sharpshoot deer for a living, as Grant Woods did for 21 years, “you can’t afford misses or wounded deer running around,” he says. Both cost you time and money—especially a wounded, bleeding deer, running for its life and spooking other deer.
How do you guarantee a drop-it-where-it-stands shot? For Anthony DeNicola, owner of White Buffalo, a top deer-control operation, it’s all about the brain.
“Draw a line from tear duct to tear duct, then go 2.5 to 2.75 inches above that line, centered,” says DeNicola. “That’s where you want to place your bullet—first and best option.”
A bullet in the brain instantly incapacitates the animal; death follows in seconds. Of course, DeNicola and his team have an advantage over hunters: They shoot at night with infrared optics, from raised, mobile platforms, over bait, at known distances (usually 50 to 60 yards), and (where legal) with suppressed rifles.
DeNicola uses .223-caliber rifles, firing 50- to 55-grain frangible varmint projectiles that expend all their energy into the brainpan. In the urban and suburban environments in which he works, DeNicola can’t afford to have a round exiting an animal.
Second option: A brain shot from the side. Third: A shot just below the back of the skull in the first four cervical vertebrae of the spine.
“The deer drop immediately,” DeNicola says of the vertebrae shot. “Heart and lung functions will cease. They lose consciousness and die in eight to 12 seconds.”
The Double-Shoulder Shot
“If you watch slow-motion video of a deer being shot this way, its whole body flexes when the bullet hits,” says Woods. “That snaps the spine. That deer’s never going to move again.”
What does all this mean for hunters? Well, forget the head shot, advises Chad Stewart, a deer biologist for the Indiana Department of Natural Resources who worked for two deer-control operations and sees plenty of hunter-killed deer in his job.
“If a deer is facing you and you’re on the ground and aiming for the brain cavity,” says Stewart, “a half inch too low and you’re going to hit the nose. A half inch too high will be over its head.”
Stewart recommends the placement most of us grew up learning, the boiler-room shot, through the heart-lung area with the deer standing broadside. Even if you’re a couple of inches off, you still hit vital organs. But even with a solid hit, a decent percentage of deer will run off, requiring that hunters follow a blood trail to recover the animal.
For his own recreational deer hunting, Woods still likes the double-shoulder shot and the larger target it provides. It can damage more meat than the heart-lung approach, “but you’re much more likely to recover your deer with that double-shoulder shot,” Woods says. “You’re not saving any meat if you lose the deer.”
Where to Shoot