Study: Drop deer in their tracks with a shoulder shot

Deer are powerful animals, and their will to live sometimes seems to defy the laws of nature and physics.

Most of us veteran deer hunters have seen fatally shot deer run 100 yards or even more. These animals are literally dead on their feet, but still they move. And this instinctive survival mode creates two problems.

First, it forces us hunters to track the deer, sometimes in the dark and sometimes in swamps, thickets or other extreme terrain. If the shot is a bit off, the trail may go for a mile or more. Occasionally, the blood trail runs out and the deer is lost, which is unfortunate for everyone.

Second, some landowners are not receptive to other hunters on their land, even if they are attempting to retrieve a mortally wounded deer. I’ve never understood why a landowner would not want a wounded or even dead deer on their property to be recovered and utilized, but I do know some landowners may want that deer for themselves.

A friend of mine from Oshkosh has this recurring problem with a neighbor, even though the neighbor is himself a hunter. That neighbor simply refuses to allow anyone on his property to retrieve a deer, and has even hung one of my friend’s bucks in his own tree! At the time, it was the biggest buck my friend had ever shot. In a great twist of fate, my friend then shot an even bigger buck that afternoon, and that one stayed on the right side of the fence.

This season, I was lucky enough to harvest three deer. The last two were shot with a muzzleloading rifle and a simple lead conical bullet. Both dropped in their tracks. I was surprised, because I normally go for a double-lung shot (right behind the front leg, as we’ve been taught for decades), and a deer successfully lung shot with bow, crossbow, rifle or shotgun slug will run 30 to 100 yards.

Do we need a little more horsepower in our bullets? Many hunters try to up their game and switch from a traditional .270 or .30-06 to a 7mm Remington Magnum or 300 Winchester Magnum, for example.

This is the route my friend is taking. He was asking me about the best possible bullets for a quick kill, and I talked about bonded bullets that both mushroom and stay together, in premium loads made by Hornady, Swift, Federal and others.

These are big-game bullet designs originally created for Cape buffalo, elephants and other dangerous game. They seem overkill on soft-skinned whitetails, but they certainly come in handy if your neighbor won’t let you retrieve your deer.

But maybe there’s another option. How did two 240-grain solid lead projectiles with no partitions, copper jackets or plastic tips and propelled by 100 grains of White Hots powder drop two big does like they were electrocuted? Is there a magic spot on a deer’s anatomy that makes such shots routine?

An archery pro-shop owner in Milan, IL, once advised me to head-shoot does with a bow if I wanted no blood trailing and perfect meat. “You’ll miss clean or make a killing shot,” he said. I thought it was a bit gruesome, but I once had a shot through thick brush at a button buck and could only see the deer’s forehead. The 12-gauge slug again flipped the switch and it was the cleanest animal I’d ever dressed.

I recalled a story I’d read in an outdoors magazine years ago about a magic spot on deer and other big game that was like flipping a switch when hit.

A few clicks on the internet revealed a story from called “The Insiders’ Guide to the Dakotas and upper Midwest.” The author revealed a magic spot on a deer that drops them instantly and frequently limits their movement to 3 yards or less!

That spot is the scapula, or shoulder blade. This 3-inch target works so well because behind it (in addition to the lungs) is the brachial plexus, a “network of veins, nerves, tendons and muscles” that is part of the deer’s central nervous system. The story explains that a shot here “knocks the animal out and it never regains consciousness.” This is what all ethical hunters strive for.

The story also explains that there’s really not a lot of meat on the shoulder and a quick, humane kill is worth any slight loss of meat anyway.

A South Carolina study of 493 deer kills found the shoulder shot the most lethal shot, regardless of caliber. A shot slightly high often results in a spine shot and a shot slightly to the right (right-facing deer) results in a neck shot.

Note: this shoulder shot is only good with firearms, not bows or crossbows. Please keep aiming for the lungs with the latter weapons.

You can read the full story at

I’d love to hear from rifle hunters who aim for the shoulder or perhaps have another thought on the topic.

Ross Bielema is a freelance writer from New London and owner of Wolf River Concealed Carry LLC. Contact him at