Archery Talk: Proper Arrow Placement

DEPT_archerytalkArrow Placement: Let the air out of them, and game will hit the ground fast! Miss your mark and you could be in for a rodeo.

Earlier in the day my wife, Heather, had taken a nice buck. At 18 metres, a flinch sent the arrow through the buck’s shoulder. Nose diving into the ground, it quickly disappeared under cover. Cautiously taking up the trail a half-hour later, we were pleasantly surprised to see her deer had toppled only 60 metres away. It did require a finishing shot, but it wasn’t going anywhere. The fixed blade G5 Montec had broken the left shoulder and lodged in the right shoulder. Only one lung had been struck, but marginally; otherwise all other vitals were intact.

Later that evening it was my turn to hunt. A short while after climbing into the stand, some does showed up.  With an extra antlerless tag in my pocket, I opted to let an arrow fly. Standing in a sharp quartering away posture and, considering where the arrow would exit behind the far side shoulder, I released. In over 20-some years of bow hunting I’ve learned this can be one of the highest percentage shots, and as the deer sprinted for cover I watched it immediately slow to a careful walk and bed down 40 metres away. Worst-case scenario, I had hit the liver. Best case, my arrow passed through the liver and lungs. Waiting, just in case, I crawled down out of my stand an hour later and walked up to my deer. It was stone dead.

Archery hunting involves a reliance on haemorrhaging so understanding anatomy is a top priority for bow hunters. Arrow placement involves precise aim with the end goal being a kill shot. In many instances, there is a fine line between bow hunting success and failure. In fact, it often takes new bow hunters some time to understand the real differences between how a bullet kills and how a broadhead kills. While bullets cause damage, it is the shock that compounds the killing power. Conversely, a broadhead only cuts. With only blades inflicting damage, it is imperative that they penetrate, and ideally pass through vital organs.

Every Shot is Different

Every archery kill is different and no two bow-shot animals respond the same; sometimes similar yes, but the same, no. Each situation is influenced by a multitude of variables. Most animals will race away after being shot with an arrow, but some will literally stand still or slowly walk away and fall over when their system collapses.

Certain shots may bring a similar response along with a foreseeable outcome. For instance, a solid double-lung hit will commonly be followed by a jump, back leg kick, and a sprint; ultimately causing the animal to collapse anywhere from 40 to 60 metres from the point of impact. Dare I say a gut-shot deer for instance, will most often race away, belly to the ground, and they may not bed for a considerable distance. Even worse, it could take days for them to expire. In the end, experienced bow hunters know that when hemorrhaging is the goal, a good many variables influence how fast an animal expires. I once arrowed a massive whitetail square in the chest. He traveled nearly a kilometre, bedded a dozen times, bled profusely the entire time, and ultimately died a stone’s throw from the stand where I shot him. If I hadn’t seen it myself, I would have never believed it. Bottom line — only by causing massive bleeding or paralysis, can we put game down quickly. While taking out the central nervous system (e.g., the spine), thereby causing paralysis, is arguably an effective means of dropping an animal on the spot, it should never be an intended target with a bow. Should an animal be spined or otherwise shot in the central nervous system shot, it will typically require another well-placed arrow to finish it off.


Hemorrhaging is bleeding. As bow hunters we aim to inflict a fatal wound to maximize hemorrhaging. By sending an arrow into, and ideally through the chest, an archer collapses the lungs, letting the air out of the target animal. Physically the animal can no longer breathe as their lungs collapse and they bleed out.

The lungs generally present the largest and most reliable target. Aside from the heart and liver, they are the most vital of organs. The heart is of course the “pump,” serving to circulate blood throughout the body. Likewise, the body cannot function without the liver. Penetrate any of these and your chances of retrieval are nearly 100 per cent. Why do I say nearly? Bow hunt long enough and you will witness different scenarios. I’ve seen moose shot square in the chest that have bled profusely and survived the trauma. Heart shots will guarantee a kill, and generally speaking so will a solid double-lung shot. Conversely, a single lung shot may or may not terminate the animal. If the liver is taken out, it too will result in death. The uncertainty is how fast the animal will die. Most heart and double lung-shot game will go down within 30 seconds, but there are always exceptions. High lung hits can prolong expiration. Lower lung shots will generally result in a more expedient kill. Liver hits on the other hand result in extreme trauma, but they take more time. A liver hit ultimately causes the body to shut down. As a rule, if a liver hit is suspected, bow hunters are always wise to wait at least 45 minutes and maybe longer, before following up.

Think Exit

Aiming for a complete pass through, experienced archers know that this doesn’t always happen. As a rule, always think “exit;” in other words, where you will have to aim to cause the broadhead to penetrate, ideally pass through the most vital part of the body, and exit to allow maximum hemorrhaging.

Theoretically, broadside or quartering away shots present the highest odds for accurate arrow placement with a greater margin for error. When shooting from the ground (i.e., on a level plain), the goal should be to tuck the arrow in tight to, and just behind the shoulder, while aiming for the top of the bottom one-third of the chest.

Alternatively, when hunting from an elevated position like a tree stand, several variables should be considered; namely the height (or angle) and the shot distance. A steep angle at a close distance for instance will often demand pinpoint accuracy as penetrating both lungs allows little room for error. Conversely a longer shot-range at a lower elevation may afford a marginally greater target window. Regardless, the end goal still focuses on where the broadhead will exit, inflicting the most trauma.

I took my first buck with an unorthodox shot, as the deer stood quartering hard toward me. To reiterate, it is not a recommended shot, but it did take him down quickly. Racing in to a rattling and grunting sequence, the buck stood 10 metres from my stand defiantly challenging my gestures. I took careful aim and let fly. The arrow buried deep in to his chest between the brisket and shoulder bone. As the arrow buried deep into his chest, I heard the air burst from his lungs. The margin for error was small and, in hindsight, it is a low percentage shot, but it worked for me in that particular instance. The risk is in penetrating just one lung versus two. Hitting one lung is a sure-fire recipe for a long and arduous tracking job and there is even a real chance that the animal could survive such trauma.

While broadside shots are great, my absolute favourite is still a gentle quartering away posture. Given the opportunity, I much prefer delivering an arrow that will ultimately travel through as many vital organs as possible, and hopefully exit low and behind the opposing shoulder.

Other Considerations

A bow hunter should never aim for the neck, head, or other non-traditional part of the body. I once watched an archer sneak up to a massive mule deer and shoot him in his bed. The archer was aiming for the chest, but his arrow went astray hitting the buck behind the ear. The deer collapsed instantly in his bed. While I would never encourage such a shot, it is difficult to argue its effectiveness. In the end, it’s a matter of taking the most ethical shot possible and doing our best to accurately place that arrow to bring game down quickly and humanely.

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