[Post-jump images Not Safe for Non-Hunters] As long has I have been hunting, “experts” have been telling me to shoot whitetail deer by aiming for the large area behind the shoulder. A shoulder shot won’t to ruin the hide and the deer’s heart and lungs occupy a relatively large, easy to hit area. If you’re a trophy hunter, agreed, take the heart shot. Your taxidermist thanks you. If you’re like me, if you hunt for meat, aim for the neck or head . . .

As any zombie can tell you, the head is full of delicious brainssssss. Good for them! Everything forward of the shoulders on a Texas Whitetail deer will never find its way onto my plates. Whatever meat you can scrounge from this area is tough and sinewy. It’s about as tasty as a Bridgestone Dueller. Given those factors, the neck/head area makes a compelling case for well-placed shots.

My go-to hunting rig is a Ruger M77 Mark II chambered in .243 Winchester shooting 95 gr. Winchester Ballistic SilverTip rounds. I will be the first to tell you that the SilverTip round is not a good round for those that aim behind the shoulders. It is prone to fragmentation and massive tissue damage. It is these qualities that make it the perfect round for the neck shot. They tell you that a photo is worth a thousand words. I will let the following photos speak for themselves.

This is a smaller Whitetail doe taken at 100 yards using the aforementioned round. All of the useable meat is intact, there is a massive wound channel, and death was instant. As an ethical hunter, you cannot ask for much more. And yes, a hacksaw makes an excellent field-dressing tool.

A mature buck taken with the same gun/ammo setup at roughly the same distance. With a bit more flesh, the neck shows less damage, but an equally deadly wound.

Evidence here of what can happen when a bonded bullet does not stay bonded. This buck was shot behind the shoulder at less than 75 yards with a 7 mm Magnum. The bullet disintegrated internally and ruined a prime cut of meat.

The axis buck on the right was taken with a neck shot at 100 yards. He dropped immediately at was dead on arrival. The same cannot be said for the buck on the left. The first shot taken by my 7 mm toting friend was placed squarely behind the shoulder. The second shot was taken on the run without enough lead and destroyed the stomach The third shot (from 10 yards to the head) finally put him down. Pay no attention to the rip in the crotch of my pants.

Again, if you are trophy hunting, take the shot behind the shoulder. You’ll preserve a good cape for your taxidermist. Assuming that your bullet stays bonded and you made a clean shot, you’ll have a good portion of meat to bring to the table. If you are hunting/harvesting, give the neck shot some consideration. If you miss, you’ll miss big. If you score a hit, it will be a devastating one. You’ll save good meat, and be making ethical kills in the process.

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32 Responses to Hunting: On Shot Placement [NSFNH]

    • Special emphasis on “aspiring chef”

      I normally chicken fry backstrap with eggs for breakfast. If I have whole cuts of meat, I’ll slow cook them in my crockpot. I normally get a good amount of meat ground up and I use it in casseroles, spaghetti, and for burgers.

      -Tyler

  1. I have hunted for 40+ yrs. the neck shot is good, but so are neck roasts. I hunt the shotgun area of Michigan and the slug to the lungs is a great shot. if you get the shoulder blade they are down right there. problem with head neck is that you don’t have to be off more than a couple of inches and you have a wounded deer to chase. If you go forcentral heart lung area , theres a 4 inch leeway in any direction and its still a good shot. Deer can move as you shoot, wind can be gusty, a lot can happen that you cannot control . Now , we want recipies.

  2. For deer and hogs I put the bullet right behind the ear. Most shots are at 100 yds. To me the trophy is a full cooler. If I do keep a head I do European mounts so I don’t have to worry about the cape. Plus, if I decide to use the deer hide for raw hide or buckskin I don’t have holes in the middle. Wild meat makes up about 80% or better of our meat consumption and we eat a meat heavy diet. Excellent article in defense of neck shots. It does call for knowing your rifle and having it sighted in better than some folks I have come across.

  3. I have always prefered the headshot because I don’t like finishing the job at close range. I hunt to help manage wildlife and feed the needy, not to hang a head on the wall.

    • If we were to hunt, it would be for the meat and the hide. Neither of us wants a head on the wall. *shudder* As one of the others said, my trophy is a full cooler (well, freezer.)

      • Tyler – I totally agree – these “shoulder” shots I keep reading about drive me crazy. Head shot is the only way to do it – I don’t care what the game is. Thanks for a good article.

  4. I personally prefer the neck shot. Pretty much you are going to hit something vital. Artery, Vein, Spine, Throat, at the very least the muscles that keep the head up. All of them will stop an animal pretty much 99% of the time. Head shots are great but margin of error less. Once I shot a lower jaw off, was a nasty feeling.

  5. I’ve taken my share of successful neck shots and I agree they are very efficient. I will say that it pays to be flexible and have a good knowledge of the animal’s anatomy because the shot is many times dictated by the animal itself. I’m not great big on waiting for the ideal profile but rather take a more immediate response to an opportunity when presented.
    Where the neck meets the head is my favorite shot bar none but I certainly don’t limit myself to it. Drops a deer like the hammer of Thor.

  6. Neck or head shot always. I was just a little Cujo when I took my first deer, running right at me, with a .22lr. I think my grandfather was planning to just humor me, while teaching me how to hunt. The .22 took out the throat enough to drop it w/in a few yards.

  7. I always preferred the lung/heart shot because it has a better margin of error. A deer can raise or lower its head relatively quickly, but it has a harder time moving its chest out of the way of a bullet. I concede that it will ruin a bit of meat, but it’s more ethical than having a head shot go wrong and maiming an animal that escapes, only to die later because of a broken jaw.

    It also kills the animal pretty quickly. I’ve seen plenty of venison attributed to a single shot from a 30-30 through both lungs.

    • I can agree for distant shots. I’ve always stalked out in the swamp and been in very close range. My last deer was put down with a Mossberg pistol grip pump, with a 3” #4 buck round. It took the top of it’s head off. I was 10 yards away.

  8. Extremely poor advice. IF all you have is a head/neck shot, then that’s what you have. But, the head and neck move more and are much smaller than any other vital area, making those low-percentage shots. Even if you’re a perfect shot, and you aren’t, you can’t be confident, much less certain, that the deer won’t move before the bullet gets there. The heart/lung area moves a lot less, and it’s a lot bigger. There’s a LOT of head and neck area that’s not occupied by vital organs, and many times those shots result in a lost animal that dies much later. Brain or spine shots are pretty certain, but that’s a very small target compared to the heart/lung, which is just as certain. But, miss the brain by just a few inches and you get a horribly disfigured, suffering , and lost animal, as even one of the previous neck shot proponents admits. If you are depending on “explosive” bullets to hit vital areas a regular expanding deer bullet wouldn’t hit, then you need to learn to shoot rather than throw grenades. We are better than that. Besides, there’s a lot more good roast in the neck than in the ribs, and the heart/lung area (or the shoulder, for that matter) does not contain any “prime cuts.”

    • I respect your opinion and I thank you for replying. Maybe I should clarify that I hunt Hill Country Texas whitetail and axis which are not nearly as robust as their counterparts in the midwest or in other areas of the south.

      I clearly advocate for the neck shot as well having taken the lower jaw off a doe a few years ago. I don’t go for the headshot unless the zombie horde is approaching. My whole argument was that if you hit in the neck, you have a kill shot. If you miss, your deer runs off to see another day. The same cannot be said for a chest shot. Forward and behind that vital area are non critical areas (brisket to the front and stomach/digestive to the back) that will bleed out slowly or not at all. Missing your target with that shot doesn’t necessarily mean that your deer can go on to live another day. I have helped far too many friends track wounded/suffering animals that took a bullet to the stomach and died a miserable death.

      In addition, I would hardly call a 95 gr .243 bullet a grenade. That round does fine work on a piece of meat that I don’t eat.

      -Tyler

  9. I have been hunting since I was 14(am now 39) and I was taught to shoot neck shots by my stepdad. I have used the same gun, Marlin 336 30-30, and have never had a deer move more than 10-15 feet. Great article.

    My favorite recipe for steaks is to soak in APPLE CIDER (not apple juice) over night. Drain and pat dry, then place back into a bowl and drown in Hickory BBQ Sauce for 4 hours. Wrap in Hickory Bacon, place on steel skewers and grill. ALL of my friends love it. Even the ones who have said they don’t like venison.

  10. I always thought the point of shooting behind the shoulder into the heart/lung area was for the same purpose as shooting the same area on a person is self defense. A large area, in the center of mass, that moves a lot less than the smaller more mobile head.

  11. Umm, this is terrible advice. You admit to taking the jaw off a deer (the very thing that those of us who OPPOSE aiming for the head warn about), yet you continue to do it and advocate others to do the same?

    Having killed 2 dozen deer in my 13 years of deer hunting, I have never aimed for the head except on a wounded animal at close distance.The only ethical way to hunt deer is to aim for the vitals directly behind the front shoulder, which provides for a much greater margin of error than a head or neck shot while killing the animal virtually instantly.

    When a deer is shot in the vitals, about half the time it will take off running (the other half of the time it will drop in its tracks). Running is the normal flight response that occurs in deer when their adrenaline drops, and it merely speeds up the process of death.

    Your poorly thought out and admittedly failed advice would never succeed on the prairie or in the mountains where shots are typically 200 yards away and in some cases as far as 300 yards. And it would never work on a running deer (yes, we shoot running deer on the prairie). In fact, two years ago I shot a mule deer doe on a dead run down a hill at approximately 200 yards. A 5 foot lead on the animal put my 120 grain .25-06 caliber bullet directly into the vitals and dropped the animal in its tracks. It was dead in seconds. How do you think your advice would hold up in a situation like that?
    Terrible advice; just terrible. Nobody listen to this man.

  12. p.s. why don’t you post a picture of the deer whose jaw you mangled next to pictures of your supposed successes. That way people could make a fair assessment of whether your advice is good or bad.

  13. Just one update.. I just shot a doe at 150+ yards on a dead run (35 mph). Heart shot, no damaged meat. In fact I damaged less meat than this guy does with his neck shots. That’s the advantage of aiming for the vitals (although in this case I aimed several feet in front of the vitals). People, do NOT attempt head/neck shots.

  14. Son you ain’t got a clue who your talking to, take your advise and your cocky ass attitude somewhere else. 500 yds wind blowing or not, I will destroy your ass. Running, standing still, hiding, anything you can think of. Stretch it to 800 yds and my .308 will own you. Adrenaline does not drop when an animal or person is shot it kicks in and that is what accelerates the death process. Heart speeds up, bleeding out ensues. Learn what you are talking about before you speak.

    In 13 years you have killed 24 deer? Sounds like you need a new bragging right. I have hunted in mountains and the prairie. Standing still, I take neck shots at acceptable ranges. Running I shot vitals. Your advise is terrible and you are the one who does not know what they are talking about. Own a precision firearm and you will understand.

    Now, you got anything to say?

    • I own a precision firearm, fool. And I will shoot you under the table any day.
      “Adrenaline drop” is a colloquialism meaning adrenaline increasing in the bloodstream. It’s when the adrenaline glands release adrenaline, you moron.

      I mock you heavily. You are half as smart as you think you are and twice as stupid.

      How many deer have you shot at 800 yards? oh.. that’s right.. none.

  15. Oh and colloquialism means a “common phrase rather than a scientific one.” I knew you wouldn’t understand it so I thought I would post the definition just to keep your head from spinning 🙂 Have fun not shooting deer at 800 yards, dingus

  16. I never said I shot a deer at 800 yds. I took your comment on adrenaline drop as meaning little to no adrenaline was going into the animals system. I appologize and understand your meaning now. I assure you I am neither a moron or fool. I simply misunderstood your comment. Now, I have never attempted or would I try an 800 yd shot on a deer. I am a benchrest shooter and was in the military. I realized from your response that I approached you in a negative ovetone and should have expected nothing less from you. My apologizes once again. Good day.

  17. I came at you pretty hard, too. My apologies. In this anti-gun climate, we hunters and gun enthusiasts need to stick together! good day to you and happy hunting

  18. Terrible advise – Sounds like a little ego talking to me. You’re weak sauce for being proud of youself. Even though I’m absolutley capable – I do not do this. Truth is most hunters do not have the consistent capability to ethically kill animals that way… and you my friend have just gotten away with poor behaviors thus far. Sooner or later you’ll wound enough animals (or your buddy who can’t shoot) to where you’ll stop. You don’t damage THAT much meat with a heart/lung shot… and the margin of error is so much bigger with a heart/lung shot. Is 3 pounds of meat worth even the slightest risk of shooting the jaw off a deer? If you love the animals you hunt – I’d encourage you to re-think your methods.

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  20. When a deer finally steps out – and your adrenalin is pumping, you’re breathing heavy, you’re shaking with excitement – that’s not the time to try for a precision neck or head shot. Even a good shooter isn’t going to be so great in this situation. This is the time for a sensible lung shot. Lots of room for error, and believe me, there will be a margin of error. Do yourself and your deer a favour and shoot for the lungs. Keep the “head and neck” shots for the range bench.

    I’ve done both and there’s no worse feeling then seeing a beautiful buck run off with his smashed jaw flopping around. Luckily I was able to kill him with a hail-Mary shot from behind as he ran away. I’ll NEVER try that again! Be patient and wait for a lung shot. It ruins very little meat and is the ethical choice. Remember that bring a good hunter is not just being a good shot, it’s also knowing when not to shoot.

  21. I am laughing at the comments here. Anyone taking a head shot at a deer more than 50 yards away and I mean with a zeroed scope, is not only silly but unethical (and probably tells a lot of stories about the one that got away). LOL. Shoulder shot. Plants them in their tracks.

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