12 Unethical Shots You Shouldn’t Take on Deer

By author of Brow Tines and Backstrap

Should you pull the trigger or wait for a better angle? Some shot opportunities are trickier than others

Running Shots

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1 | Running Shots

Ethical Shot with a Bow: No

Ethical Shot with a Gun: No

Some people believe the running shot is an ethical one to take. I don’t think it's easy — no matter how skilled of a marksman you are. Too much can go wrong on a moving deer that could change direction at any second. Wounding a deer isn't worth it. 

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Image by Shutterstock / Tom Reichner

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Long Shots

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2 | Long Shots

Ethical Shot with a Bow: Varies

Ethical Shot with a Gun: Varies

This all depends on skill, weapon, and conditions. If you have the skill to take a “longer” shot, do it. But make sure you're up to the task, your weapon is capable, and the conditions are good. Those things make the distinction on whether or not the shot you take is considered ethical or not.

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Image by Shutterstock / Tony Campbell

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Head Shots

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3 | Head Shots

Ethical Shot with a Bow: No

Ethical Shot with a Gun: No

Under no circumstance should you ever take a head shot on a deer — with gun or bow. I oftentimes hear people brag about how they head-shot a deer and dropped it instantly. Well, sure, if you hit the brain the deer is dead, no doubt. But you’re aiming at a baseball-sized object. And that leaves a lot of room for error. Miss the brain and the result is a wounded deer with a long road of pain and suffering.

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Image by Shutterstock / Tom Reichner

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Neck Shots

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4 | Neck Shots

Ethical Shot with a Bow: No

Ethical Shot with a Gun: Yes

Neck shots also leave little room for error, but under the right circumstances, are considered to be ethical shot opportunities with a rifle. Never take that shot with a bow, though. It can lead to a wounded and unrecoverable deer.

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Image by Shutterstock / Critterbiz

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Gut Shots

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5 | Gut Shots

Ethical Shot with a Bow: No

Ethical Shot with a Gun: No

I don’t know why anyone would ever advocate taking a gut shot, but I’ve seen it done. Don't aim for the pauch. It can take a deer 8 to 11 hours to die from a gut shot, and they may not leave much of a blood trail, making recovery difficult. 

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Image by Shutterstock / Tony Campbell

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Straight-On Shots

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6 | Straight-On Shots

Ethical Shot with a Bow: No

Ethical Shot with a Gun: Varies

Straight-on shots are often taken by gun hunters. I personally prefer not to take this shot with a gun or bow. I’d rather wait for a broadside or quartering-shot opportunity. That said, for those hunting with a large-caliber gun, it is a lethal shot. But there’s a lot of room for error. Best to wait for a better opportunity.

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Image by Shutterstock / Jim Cumming

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Quartering-To Shots

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7 | Quartering-To Shots

Ethical Shot with a Bow: No

Ethical Shot with a Gun: Yes

This is another iffy one. As long as you understand correct shot placement, it’s an ethical shot opportunity with a gun. I’d advise against this with a bow, though. The shoulder presents too much of a problem for bowhunters to risk taking it.

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Image by Shutterstock / Jim Cumming

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Straight-Away Shots

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8 | Straight-Away Shots

Ethical Shot with a Bow: No

Ethical Shot with a Gun: No

No Texas heart shots here. Don’t take this one. I don’t care if you’re using a gun, bow, cannon, or slingshot. This shot is completely irresponsible, so just don't do it. 

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Image by Shutterstock / Critterbiz

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Straight-Down Shots

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9 | Straight-Down Shots

Ethical Shot with a Bow: No

Ethical Shot with a Gun: No

This one can be deceiving because the deer is so close. But it’s extremely difficult to double-lung a deer from this angle, and aiming for the heart and lungs from above can be harder than you think. People frequently hit farther back than they intend to. Wait for the deer to take a few steps away from your stand, and chances are you'll have a perfect quartering-away shot angle. 

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Image by Shutterstock / BG Smith

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Bedded-Deer Shots

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10 | Bedded-Deer Shots

Ethical Shot with a Bow: Varies

Ethical Shot with a Gun: Varies

I’m not a fan of taking shots on bedded deer. The vital picture is different than on a standing deer, and parts of the heart and lungs can be obscured. Still, some like bedded shots because the target isn't moving. I won't go so far as to call it unethical, but practice up and educate yourself on deer anatomy before taking this shot angle. 

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Image by Shutterstock / Tony Campbell

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Sky-Lined Shots

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11 | Sky-Lined Shots

Ethical Shot with a Bow: No

Ethical Shot with a Gun: No

This is a shot you should never take. Always have a safe backdrop behind your target. It's Hunter Ed 101, and it doesn’t matter what weapon you use. If the deer is on the horizon with no solid ground behind it, don’t take the shot.

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Image by Shutterstock / Tom Reichner

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Stacked Shots

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12 | Stacked Shots

Ethical Shot with a Bow: No

Ethical Shot with a Gun: No

And never take the shot when there are other deer beyond the one that’s in your sights. It’s too easy for your bullet or arrow to pass through the intended target and strike another. Wait until all deer have cleared in the background before pulling the trigger.

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Image by Shutterstock / Kevin M. McCarthy

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Wait for him to stop. Let him turn broadside. Are you steady? Are you on him? Don’t take the shot unless you feel completely comfortable. That was the advice from my mentors when I first got into hunting. And I’ve said the same to people I've mentored myself. 

Careful shot placement is one of the most important things for any deer hunter to learn. It could be said that the subject of what's an ethical shot and what isn't should be left to the individual. I agree with that, but only to a point. Some things are variable; one person's effective range can be farther than another's. Others, like heavy bone that's difficult to penetrate, don't change. So, with only a few minor exceptions, I’m a firm believer that the following 12 scenarios should be shots that you pass in hopes of a better angle, especially for bowhunters.