Where To Shoot Deer With A Crossbow

If you are fortunate enough to live in a location where there are a lot of wild deer, you will surely have a great experience hunting them. Unlike smaller targets, deer require an experienced hunter, a good aim and an incredible amount of skill to kill.

However, one of the most common mistakes that new hunters make is that they do not hit the deer in a place that will quickly and effectively take them down. Just because we are hunting animals, it does not mean to say that we want them to suffer and by killing them quickly, we can make the shot as humane as possible.

In this guide, we will be showing you where to shoot deer with a crossbow and giving you some great tips for getting the most out of hunting these amazing creatures.

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Are Crossbows Good For Hunting Deer?

A lot of modern archers like to use a crossbow over any other type and there is good reason for this. These are incredibly powerful and robust pieces of equipment that can deliver a very effective kill shot.

However, there remains the question of whether these bows are any good for shooting large game like deers. In truth, any bow will serve well as a hunting tool provided that you have the right kind of arrows, typically broadheads but a crossbow would serve you particularly well.

If you are looking for a crossbow that would be effective for deer hunting then one of the things that you need to think about is the weight of the bow. Generally speaking, a crossbow with a draw weight of between 150-175lbs will be best for this type of archery. However, some hunters prefer to go up to 200lbs, and this is better for when you are shooting larger animals.

On top of the bow that you are using, you will also need to think about the distance from which you shoot. Now, it is important to keep in mind that some of the most powerful and impressive modern crossbows are able to fire arrows up to 500 yards; but of course, this isn’t going to be great when you are looking to hit a target.

For very experienced archers with a great level of skill, you might be able to hit a deer from 80 yards, although in the main, we would recommend standing at a maximum of 60 yards. For beginners, this distance should be halved with archers taking aim from between 30 and 35 yards.

You might feel that you want to go for longer distances from the off but there are two problems with this. Firstly, if you do not have the shooting experience, you are likely to make the hunt much more challenging than it needs to be.

Moreover, you will be extremely unlikely to hit your target from too great a distance and that defeats the entire point of the exercise.

Where To Shoot A Deer

Many rifle hunters make the common mistake of hitting the deer on the shoulder, thinking that this will be sufficient enough to take them down instantly. But this is not the case, the vitals are located beyond this and if you are looking for a quick kill, you need to ensure that you inflict one of two injuries on the animal.

The first is causing massive blood loss, this will quickly kill the deer after it falls. The second way is by suffocating the animal which again, will be a very quick way for it to die.

But there are many things to consider before you take your shot, so let’s take a look at these to ensure that you always get the best kill.

Always Try To Get A Broadside Shot

If you want to ensure that you are going to get a successful hit that almost never fails, you should try to shoot on the broadside. Doing this gives you a much clearer aim at the vitals and just makes the entire experience a whole lot easier.

The reason that it is crucial to get the vitals is because this will cause the most blood loss and cause the deer to die quickly. But we will look at this in more detail later.

Don’t Go For The Shoulder Blades

As we mentioned earlier, there is a common misconception among some hunters that hitting the shoulder blade will produce an effective kill but this could not be further from the truth.

Most hunters use broadhead arrows and while these are incredibly sharp and strong, they are not strong enough to fully penetrate through bone.

They may go part way through and maim the deer but it is extremely unlikely that the arrow will pass through and kill the deer. If it is left injured, you then have the responsibility of finishing it off in a way that you may not have wished for when you set out on your hunting trip.

Don’t Shoot Head On

One of the key aspects to shooting deer is to have patience. Many hunters make the mistake of getting trigger happy, so to speak, and this can cause them to make a premature shot, spooking the deer and going home empty-handed.

While it can be extremely tempting to go in for the kill when you spot a random deer in prime position, you must ensure that you get into the correct position, even if this means stalking the deer and taking your time.

Even if you manage to hit the deer, it is extremely unlikely, unless by some miracle, that your arrow will make enough of a blood trail to effectively kill the animal. What is more likely to happen is that the deer will bolt with a significant injury that will cause it days of suffering before it finally succumbs to death.

Going For The Vitals

You may have heard the saying about going for the vitals and it is likely that this idiom can be traced back to hunting techniques. Hitting the vital organs of any animal is the quickest, most humane and most effective way to take it down without a fuss.

Arrows can cause a significant amount of damage and they do this by creating what is known as a blood trail. This essentially means that they will puncture anything in their path resulting in massive bleeding that cannot be controlled, eventually causing death. Hitting vital organs that cannot function without a good blood supply is the best way to kill.

The best vital organs to go for in a deer are the lungs, this is simply because they are the largest and give hunters a lot of room for error. Furthermore, they do not have a huge amount of protection. Yes, they are covered by the rib cage, but this is certainly not significant enough to resist an incoming arrow, particularly a high-quality broadhead.

In deer, the lungs can be found behind the shoulder and they run from here all the way down to the other end of the deer’s body. Even if you’re a terrible shot, you’re unlikely to miss these huge organs.

Alternatively, you can go for the heart, which is a little trickier but will produce excellent results. The heart is below the lungs and if you want to hit multiple organs, you can also penetrate the liver which lies beyond the heart.

A bigger deer will naturally have bigger lungs so if you are taking aim at a smaller deer then you must keep in mind that your target area instantly becomes smaller too. In particular, the lungs can each be as small as a human head, which doesn’t give you a lot of room for error at all. Conversely, the lungs of a fully grown stag might be twice the size.

Aiming In The Right Spot

Now that we know that it is essential to aim for the vital organs, we need to know where on the exterior of the animal is the correct place to shoot. It can be tempting to give yourself a large target area, but this could be problematic.

If you give yourself a smaller target area, any misses that you make will also be small. The same can be said in reverse when we are talking about a larger target area.

While it might seem intimidating, the best way to aim is to find a very small spot on the deer, around the area of the vitals and line your arrow up with this. Some hunters focus on something as small as a hair or a small shadow that is falling on the deer; in short, the smaller, the better.

The best way to compare this is to imagine shooting at a huge wall, you would almost certainly hit your target but it would be almost impossible to hit a small ½ inch area precisely. If you aim for that ½ inch area, you might not fall exactly inside it, but it would be very close.

The reason that we must be so specific about aiming correctly when shooting deer is because if you are just a tiny amount out, this can completely mess up your kill; resulting in no kill at all.

For example, if you were to miss your target by as little as half an inch towards the deer’s leg, this would injure it, but not even touch the vitals. For this reason, a lot of expert hunters will tell you that aiming for a spot that is four inches clear of the front leg, just behind the shoulder will yield the best results.

As you take your shot, you must take your time and trying to picture exactly where the heart and lungs are will give you the best chance. When choosing where to aim on the lungs, you should go for somewhere in the middle as this will allow your arrow to puncture the lung and then pass through to the other one, rapidly killing the animal.

Shooting From A Tree Stand

There are some hunters who like to get an aerial view of their target and for the most part, you can expect to be up to twenty feet above the deer as you take your aim. Of course, this will mean taking a different approach to hunting although your aim will still be to hit the vital organs.

One of the great things about aiming from a tree stand is that you have the power of gravity on your side. An arrow that is travelling with a downward momentum will create a much more significant blood trail than an arrow that is flying horizontally. This is something that hunters can use to their advantage, but you must remember to aim behind the leg.

We talked about avoiding hitting the shoulder blade and in deer, this runs the length of the top of the body so you will need to take extra care to avoid this. If you hit it, all you will succeed in doing is breaking the bone, spooking the deer and not having a successful hunt.

Tips For Shooting A Deer

You can have all the knowledge in the world when it comes to knowing where to aim but there is a lot more to taking down one of these majestic creatures than just hitting them in the right spot.

If you want to make each shot count, it is important that you take your time and plan your kill meticulously. Otherwise you may find yourself with a wounded deer and nothing to show for your outing.

Try To Use Both Hands

There are not many genuinely ambidextrous people in the world and when it comes to archery, attempting to work with your less dominant hand can often end in disaster. Fortunately, most modern crossbows are designed for both left and right-handed people but this isn’t always a good thing.

If you limit yourself to shooting only with your dominant hand, this will also limit you to how far you can turn your body when hunting. If you want to be able to follow your target in all directions, one of the best ways of doing that is by learning to shoot with both hands.

Of course, this can take a lot of practice but in the long run, it could benefit you when using a tree stand.

The First Shot

Cocking a crossbow can make quite a lot of noise and this can easily spook the deer. A lot of hunters will cock their crossbow before getting to the setting but this means that you only have one shot; and you will need to make it count.

This is another aspect of deer hunting that takes a significant amount of patience. You cannot merely expect to head out into the field, stumble upon a deer, line up your shot and be home in time for lunch. Nature simply doesn’t work that way.

If you are planning a hunt, it is a good idea to dedicate the entire day, because, while you may be lucky to get a kill pretty quickly, it could go the other way.

Furthermore, you should think about the distance from which you are shooting. If you want to make the kill with the first shot then you will typically need to be much closer to your target. Some archers don’t like the idea of this and it can be pride damaging to take a shot from 35 yards when you know you have the ability to aim from 60.

However, if you want to get it right the first time, this is a crucial consideration and will almost always yield a good result.

Practice Makes Perfect

It can be all too easy to get into the mindset of ‘I’ve been hunting for years, I don’t need to practice.’ But even the most skilled and highly experienced archers need to maintain their practice in order to remain skilled.

Bow shooting is not something that you can pick up and drop as you feel like it, it is a way of life and requires archers to pick up their bows on a regular basis.

What’s more, target shooting and bowhunting are two extremely different things. With hunting, you are out to make a kill and that requires a lot more preparation and knowledge of the animals you are hunting. For example, hunting a deer will be hugely different from stalking wild fowl.

Hunting season for deer in the USA runs between August and January but this may vary slightly depending on what state you live in. However, while you can get out and enjoy hunting during this time, for the rest of the year, you will need to keep up the hard work and practice.

One of the best ways to practice is to invest in a 3D target, several if you can. There are those that are shaped just like a deer and this gives you the best opportunity to practice before going out into the field.

You should treat your target as if it is a real animal and plan out the exact same strategies and aims as you would when shooting in the field.

The great thing about these targets is that they can be moved around your outdoor space (be sure to check your local laws on backyard archery) and you can take aim from various positions. You might set up hunting platforms around the yard which is great if you intend on using a tree stand while you are out.


Hunting deer is an extremely rewarding experience and the icing on the cake for many bowhunters is shooting a magnificent buck. However, in order to make an effective kill, hunters using a crossbow must be sure to hit the deer in the right place.

Typically, this means aiming for the vital organs which are located just behind the shoulder. You are best to aim for the lungs as these can be quickly punctured and your arrow will create a blood trail that will rapidly kill the deer.

However, you should also keep in mind that this aim is not the only important factor when hunting deer and you must also make sure to be patient and prepared.

About Brad Harris