Shooting at Deer from Different Angles

Shooting at Deer from Different Angles

At the end of every hunting season, we hear stories from hunters who lament that they hit a deer “right behind the shoulder” only to have the animal run off and not be recovered. Oftentimes, these hunters begin doubting their rifle or their choice of caliber. If you are one of these fellows, before you run off to the gun shop, let’s consider one possibility of why that deer escaped.

Every hunter has some idea of where to aim on a deer – usually it’s right behind the shoulder about one third to one half of the way up the side. If you have another favorite spot, I won’t argue the point (of aim), at least not here, but even if you do, the principles and ideas that I am about to illustrate will also apply to you.

One thing that is rarely considered in aiming at a deer, even by writers in the popular hunting journals, is just how much the aiming point changes as the shooting angle changes. The true broadside shot is the most desirable and most often represented on deer targets and anatomy diagrams. Unfortunately, that is not the angle at which all, or even most, deer are encountered. Hunters who keep aiming right behind the shoulder, regardless of their shooting angle to the deer, are the ones who may be unnecessarily spending a lot of money to replace rifles because a wounded deer escaped. Anyway, there are much better reasons to buy a new rifle – ones that you don’t have to be embarrassed to tell your hunting buddies or to your non-hunting friends.

The shooting angle is measured between the overhead nose-to-tail body line down the center of a deer as compared to the path of the bullet. In a true broadside shot, that intersection would make a 90 degree angle. An illustration of this angle would look like a T with the horizontal top line representing the deer and the vertical line representing the bullet path.

The aiming point would be the exact place on the side of the deer where the hunter would like the bullet to strike.

Another term that we need to define before we continue is what can be referred to as the kill zone. Even though we aim our rifle/bullet at a very specific spot on the deer, there does exist a larger area around that spot which, if struck by the bullet, will still result in a very-dead-very-fast animal. This kill zone allows for a little margin for error (from a little wind, or a twitch by the deer, etc.) that results in a difference between where the hunter aims and where the bullet actually strikes the deer. Lots of hunters talk of putting all their shots at one hundred yards into a
“pie plate” which usually has a nine inch diameter. If a hunter can consistently hit that plate, he is considered to be a pretty good marksman and ready to take a shot at a deer at a one hundred yard distance. But shooting at a deer is not that simple.

The diagrams below will help illustrate the effect that various shooting angles have on the aiming point. The deer profile at the top of the first two diagrams shows the deer from a broadside view and where the hunter has aimed the shots from the various shooting angles and positions. The lower profile in each of these first two diagram shows the deer from above and what the bullets actually hit as they penetrate the deer‘s body. The blue circles represent the kill zone.

The shooting positions are represented by the letters A, B, C, D and TBS which stands for a True Broadside Shot. Shots are being taken from the ground level.

The red lines in the first diagram represent bad hits that may eventually kill the deer (or not) that, mostly likely, will result in a wounded that may not be recovered. The green lines in the second diagram show correct killing shots that hit the kill zone from every shooting position.

The letters on the side of the deer in the first two diagrams show where the bullets were aimed from the shooting positions with the corresponding letters. It is important to note that where each bullet first impacts on the outside of the deer from the different angles does not correspond to where the bullet strikes as it penetrates the deer’s body, except in the case of a TBS.

In the diagram below, every bullet from every angle strikes the deer right behind the shoulder, but as they penetrate the deer’s body, every one of them misses the kill zone. This hunter is about to swear that he needs a bigger caliber and rifle combination. “I hit him right behind the shoulder, for sure!” And so he did.

Aiming point not adjusted for shooting angle.

The largest mule deer buck I ever killed, officially scored at 176 points net, had been shot through the front shoulder by another hunter using a 30/06, but the bullet did not hit the kill zone. The deer ran at least 600 yards before I finished him. When we skinned the deer, the shattered bones of its upper leg fell out in lots of tiny pieces!

In the next diagram, every shot hits the center of the kill zone as it penetrates the body of the deer, but only one (the TBS) impacts the deer right behind the shoulder. Notice that the aiming point changes as the shooting angle decreases. The more forward the shooting position, the more forward the aiming point, and vice versa.

Aiming point adjusted for shooting angle.

Shooting positions B and C represent just a 45 degree change from TBS, but the aiming points for B and C have moved almost eight inches forward or rearward.

Also note that the distances that the bullets travel through the body of the deer from the impact points A, B, TBS, C and D to the center of the kill zone vary a great deal. This is an important reason for using a well-constructed bullet and a caliber that is appropriate for the size of game animal that is
being hunted.

IMPORTANT: Please be aware that the top deer profile in both the RED and GREEN diagrams above represents the correct view that the hunter would have of the deer only in the case of a true broadside shot. At the various angles, the deer’s body would appear to be foreshortened to the front or back. In other words, the aiming points A, B, C and D, as they appear in the top profile of the GREEN diagram, would not be recommended if the deer were actually viewed as shown and, with the exception of B, would result in a very bad hit or gut-shot deer. (To illustrate the true view seen from each of the positions, I would have to draw four more pictures, and I’m not that good an artist!)

The problem with only thinking about what happens on the outside of a deer has other problems. If the shooter is looking at a pie plate that has been set up at one hundred yards, that plate has most likely been tacked up flatly on the target and is a TBS view. Now, imagine what happens to the view of this plate as the angle at which it is being seen begins to decrease. The illustration below will help.

The shrinking pie plate

From a TBS, the nine inch pie plate appears to have a full nine inch diameter. When the angle decreases to 45 degrees, as seen from the “C” position, the diameter of the plate appears to have shrunk to a little over four inches. From Position “A”, the view of plate shrinks to slightly over two inches. This means that, at one hundred yards, the hunter shooting at the deer from the “C” position, must now be able to put his bullets into a four inch circle to be considered prepared for that distance, and from position “A” must be able to hit a circle that is a mere two plus inches!

Shooting a deer at various angles is not the same as shooting a pie plate in lots of ways. Hunters who keep a cool head at the moment of truth and who factor in the effect of their shooting angle to the deer will have a much better chance of dropping the deer in its tracks than those who stubbornly aim “right behind the shoulder” for all their shots. Remember: it’s not where the bullets hits the deer on the outside that counts, but what the bullet does, and where it goes, on the inside.

Good luck, good shooting and great hunting!

Chuck (Onehorse) Tarinelli

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Chuck Tarinelli

Chuck Tarinelli

Born and raised in Bridgeport, Connecticut, Chuck Tarinelli started out as a real city boy without much opportunity to hunt. As a kid, he discovered the writings of Elmer Keith and Jack O’Connor. The first real hunting Chuck did as a young man was with his English setter for the pheasants and ruffed grouse of New England. Later, he started pursuing deer and bear in the Green Mountains of Vermont. In 1993, Chuck and his wife, Linda, moved to Montana just for the outdoors activities that can be found in Big Sky country… and he hasn’t been disappointed one bit! Along with hunting, Chuck spends as much time as he can with Linda riding their horses in the mountains.

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