7 Bad Archery Shots Not to Take on a Deer and What to Expect If You Do

By author of Brow Tines and Backstrap

Some Are Lethal. Others Aren't. All Are Bad Shots.

The Liver ShotThe Paunch (Gut) ShotThe Ham ShotThe Shoulder ShotThe Spine ShotThe Head or Neck ShotThe Leg Shot

1 | The Liver Shot

Lethal Shot: Yes (Follow-Up Shot Advised)

The initial reaction will be similar to that of a lung-shot deer, but the whitetail will likely slow to a walk after running a short distance. This deer may travel a quarter mile before bedding down, although 200 yards is more common.

Your arrow will be soaked with dark red blood. There will be a decent blood trail initially, but it will typically decline in quality as the trail goes on. Blood will be a deep red, and will be found in droplets, rather than spray. 

Wait three to five hours before taking up the trail, and don’t give up if the blood gets sparse. This is to be expected with a liver shot, but a deer hit here will not survive.

Hint: It’s paramount not to push a liver-hit deer. It is much easier to find a whitetail in its first bed than its second or third.

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2 | The Paunch (Gut) Shot

Lethal Shot: Yes (Follow-Up Shot Advised)

The initial reaction is obvious. The deer will typically run a few yards, arch its back, tightly tuck its tail and walk or slowly trot away. You might see the deer bed down. If there is an opportunity for another shot from where you’re sitting, take it. If the deer beds down within sight but out of range, wait as long as possible before moving.

Your arrow will have a little brownish red blood on it, and much more greenish stomach matter. It will have a rank odor from passing through the stomach. Expect a sparse blood trail, with as much stomach matter left behind as actual blood. 

Wait at least 10 hours before pursuing. A deer hit through the guts generally won’t run far before bedding down, but the harsh truth is it takes a long time to succumb to this hit. You can expect to find your deer in this initial bed unless it’s jumped. If that happens, odds of recovery plummet. 

Hint: If you lose the blood trail, look near water sources. Mortally wounded and injured whitetails usually seek out water.

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3 | The Ham Shot

Lethal Shot: Sometimes (Follow-Up Shot Advised)

The initial reaction will be similar to that of a gut-shot deer. If the shot is forward, the arrow will slide through the ham and paunch. If the hit is back, you’ll hit heavy muscle and maybe bone.

Your arrow will probably be covered with blood and will often break if it centers the ham. The blood trail will typically be substantial, and even profuse if you struck a major artery. Keep your fingers crossed. 

Wait two to three hours and hope you hit one of those arteries. 

Hint: The carotid artery branches into the femoral artery on either side of the deer’s hind leg. If you sever this, you will probably see blood spraying from the deer as it runs away. Although no one aims for the butt, this shot actually has high odds of easy recovery.

4 | The Shoulder Shot

Lethal Shot: Sometimes (Follow-Up Shot Advised)

The initial reaction will seem promising. As long as you hit low and far enough back, you’ll get the vitals. If you hit high, in the scapula, all bets are off. The scapula is meant for one thing — to protect the vitals. Penetrating it with even a heavy bow can be difficult.

Your arrow will likely be broken if it squarely hits the shoulder. Blood on the remainder of the shaft will be a bright red color. Decent blood may be present at the site of the hit and a little way beyond, but it will fade fast. 

If hit low enough to penetrate the vitals, the wait is short. But if the animal is hit high in the shoulder with minimal penetration, follow up immediately. This is a superficial wound, and your best chance at recovery is with a second arrow.

Hint: You can often tell as much about a shoulder shot from what you hear as from what you see. The slap of an arrow hitting the scapula is quite loud.

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5 | The Spine Shot

Lethal Shot: No (Follow-Up Shot Required)

The initial reaction will be obvious. A whitetail that is spine shot will drop in its tracks. But it usually requires a follow-up shot.

Your arrow will likely lodge in heavy bone and break. 

Wait only the amount of time it takes to make a follow up shot. Keep your cool and don’t hesitate. Get an arrow into the deer’s chest cavity from any available angle. And if it takes two more arrows, do it. 

Hint: Your arrow will break off, leaving the broadhead lodged in heavy bone in all but the rarest of instances. If you value your fingers, don’t forget about that broadhead when removing the deer’s backstraps.

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6 | The Head or Neck Shot

Lethal Shot: Sometimes (Follow-Up Shot Advised)

Hit a deer in the head with an arrow, and the odds are overwhelmingly high that it will escape with a severe wound. Most bows simply do not have the energy to reliably penetrate the skull. And even if they did, a deer’s brain is a tiny target. If you purposely try to shoot a deer in the head with a bow, you don’t belong in the woods.

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7 | The Leg Shot

Lethal Shot: No (Follow-Up Shot Required)

Misjudged your yardage, eh? Hit a deer in the leg with a gun and you’ll often be able to kill it with a second shot. The same isn’t true with a bow. Your broadhead could center the bone and break it. If it does, follow up immediately with a second arrow. More often, the heavy bone will simply deflect your arrow, causing a glancing blow, a big cut and one seriously spooked – but not seriously injured – whitetail.

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Photo credit: Ryan Kirby / Shutterstock /  DRogatnev

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