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Ask The Biologist: Where Should I Shoot?

Back To "Ask The Biologist?"QUESTION: I need your help to settle a debate between my friends and me. Is there any truth to the so-called sweet spot in a deer’s chest where an arrow can pass through without killing the deer? — Bill, Iola, Wis.

ANSWER: That’s one of the oldest and most debated issues in the deer hunting community.

Ask The Biologist
Photo by: Tim H. Martin

Countless articles have been written on the subject, and I’ve even seen several rather involved (albeit non-scientific) studies on deer physiology. The unconfirmed belief of some is that there’s a pocket or space above the lungs and below the spine where an arrow could conceivably pass through without inflicting a mortal wound. However, most of the hard evidence, scientific and otherwise, concludes that it’s not possible for an arrow (or bullet) to pass completely through the chest cavity without penetrating at least one lung and/or the heart. Whether that results in a fatality depends on several variables, not the least of which is shot angle.

Having said all that, one of the most valuable lessons I received as a wildlife biology student was from a professor who to told us “when what you observe in nature differs from what the text books tell you, nature is right.” I have observed several examples of deer shot through the chest cavity that escaped and were never recovered. I could easily pass it off as misjudgment on the archer’s part with regard to where they thought they hit and where they actually hit, were it not for two very striking examples I observed on a bowhunt at Adobe Lodge in San Angelo.

Bowhunters at Adobe hunt from ground blinds, so shot angle is less of an issue. In one morning, two hunters shot deer that they did not immediately recover. Both claimed they were broadside shots made at close range, and both claimed to have made perfect shots, though one admitted he hit about an inch to the right of where he was aiming. Naturally, the rest of us were a tad skeptical, and attributed the deer’s escape to misjudgment about their marksmanship.

Their claims likely would have gone unsubstantiated, and their deer unrecoverable were it not for the tracking dogs Adobe uses. Both deer were located considerable distances (over 1/4 mile) from where they were shot. And more than four hours later, both were still quite healthy when the dogs jumped them from their beds. The dogs literally had to run down the deer.

After recovering the deer and checking both entry and exit wounds we all agreed that both hunters could not have made a better shot. Both deer were hit in the “20 ring,” and both shots should have been double-lung pass-through shots. We never confirmed, as Adobe bones all their deer without opening the body cavity.

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