When talking to fellow bowhunters and asking the question, where should you place the shot, the answer will often be “behind the shoulder” or “in the pocket” or something similar. But what does this really mean? Let’s take a closer look at deer and elk anatomy and try to really understand where all the important parts are.
How to kill an animal with an arrow and broadhead
One of the most important things to understand is how arrows and broadheads kill. They do NOT kill an animal the same way a bullet shot from a gun does. Bullets have much, much more kinetic energy than an arrow because of their much higher velocity. When a bullet hits an animal, it sends a shock wave through the animals body that can cause trauma to a much larger area than just the path of the bullet. Generally speaking, bullets are also designed to mushroom and/or fragment to cause greater destruction and to expend all of their energy in the animal. It is true that the actual hole(s) that a bullet creates can contribute to killing an animal, but by and large, the actual hole itself is not the main cause of death.
Arrows and broadheads are very different; they rely solely on the hole they create to cause damage and ultimately death to the animal. The vast majority of the kinetic energy of the arrow is not used to cause shock and trauma, but rather is spent in cutting through the animal. Damage to animal skin, tissue and organs caused by the broadhead leads to bleeding and failure of organs. Arteries are cut, hearts sliced and lungs collapsed when a broadhead passes through them. Loss of blood and suffocation are most often what cause the quickest death in arrow shot game.
Anatomy of Cervids (deer, elk, moose)
I do not claim to be an anatomy expert and expect this article to improve as I continue to do research and to have input from others. What is presented here is done through research and personal observation of animal anatomy through dissection.
Pictured above is a diagram of a deer with the vital areas hunters should be concerned about. At this time, we are not concerned with risky/lucky shots that involve the spine, neck, head or veins/arteries.
Yellow: stomach, intestines, other
Orange/Brown: shoulder bones
I believe most people would agree that the ideal shot with an arrow would got somewhere in the area where the heart and lungs overlap. This causes damage and massive bleeding through the heart and has the potential to collapse both lungs, robbing the animal of the ability to run very far. A solid liver hit will almost certainly lead to death, though somewhat slower. Anything in the stomach/intestine area can also be deadly, but will generally take much longer since not nearly as much bleeding will occur.
My research and observations have led me to believe that collapsing both lungs is the single fastest method to put an animal on the ground. With out air, the animal is unable to travel far and massive bleeding is also certain. Hitting in the mid to low heart will definitely kill an animal in short order, but may not collapse the lungs thus allowing the animal to travel farther. A high lung shot is also deadly, but once again, may not fully collapse both lungs and gives the animal a few more moments.
What is most surprising when I ask people about where to hit an animal is how little is understood about where the leg bones and shoulder blade are located. In the diagram above, the bones colored dark brown are those that are fairly solid and can severely deflect and arrow. The main section of the shoulder blade is much thinner and an arrow will usually penetrate fine, though hitting at an angle can have adverse affects.
Depending on the position of the leg and orientation of the animal, the thicker, tougher leg bones cover very little vital area. Most hits that solidly hit the bone and don’t penetrate far would not be killing shots anyhow. Because of the angles of the bones and shoulder, the vital area is left mainly in the open. I cringe whenever I hear something like “if I hadn’t hit the shoulder, it would be dead!” You shouldn’t hitting, let alone aiming at the shoulder area at all!
It is very possible to shoot though the bright orange area that is the shoulder blade in diagram above, especially when shooting at steep angles such as out of a treestand, and score a fatal, double-lung shot. Shooting through the dark brown area of the solid bone will rarely allow for a fatal shot and may result in very minimal penetration.
There probably is not a more controversial subject among bowhunters and where to shoot than the “void.” What is claimed as the “void” is an area under the spine where it is possible to pass an arrow without hitting any internal organs. I personally do not believe in the void and I back that up with my own experience of dissecting animals along with those of others. There simply is not a space between the organs, including the lungs, under the spine.
However, I do believe it is possible to pass an arrow under and close to the spine without inflicting a mortal wound. Arrows that clip the lungs on the outer edges will not necessarily cause the lungs to fatally collapse. Hitting farther back than the lungs will result in damage to the intestines and possibly a high liver shot, allowing the animal to live for quite some time and travel significant distances.
Other posts you may enjoy:
- Penetration Testing: Why You Should NOT Use Foam for Comparing Hunting Penetration
- Friction and Penetration in Archery: target vs. animal penetration
- Bow Efficiency and Why You Should Care
- Arrow Kinetic Energy and Momentum: what they mean to the archer
- Kinetic Energy, Momentum and Arrows: a Simplified Approach