April 20, 2021
I shot my first deer in Central Texas in 1985. My gear included a spray-painted Hoyt Rambo bow, feather-fletched Easton XX75 Camo Hunter arrows, and NAP Thunderhead 125 broadheads. That first deer was a small doe shot with fingers and no sights, and it was nothing short of life-changing for me. I’ve been addicted to deer hunting ever since.
Equipment has come a long way in 35 years, but the rules for quick kills still remain the same: Close and broadside are best. For me, the shot process is just as important as any set of big antlers. I strive for a perfect shot and a quick kill every time.
Going into the 2019 deer season, I decided to conduct my own experiment. While I practice at long distances and take pride in being a good shot, in the absolute best interest of fast kills and short tracking jobs, I would discipline myself to take only 20-yard or less shots on deer. No matter how big the rack, 20 yards was my limit. Likewise, I would wait for only broadside or slightly quartering-away angles, or I wouldn’t take the shot, period.
I hunted family land and friends’ places in North Texas and the Oklahoma Panhandle. In Texas, I hunted on MLDP ranches (Managed Land Deer Permits), where seasons are extended and buck and doe limits can exceed the usual state-issued license. Texas has lots of deer; an estimated 5.4-million whitetails and 200,000 mule deer in 2019. MLDP programs through the Texas Parks & Wildlife agency help landowners control their numbers more effectively. All of my hunts were self-guided, or with friends — no paid guides. When the season was over, I had released eight arrows — all of them very lethal. Every deer was shot from either a pop-up ground blind, natural ground blind, or a short tripod stand. Trees big enough for traditional treestands are rare in the places where I hunt!
Why broadside or bust? Yes, other shot angles can kill deer, but the results of other angles — frontal or quartering-to — are inconsistent. Heavy bone blocks a clear path to the vitals. Sometimes death is swift, but other times arrow penetration is shallow and it’s a long trail to recovery. Broadside is best. Place a sharp broadhead through the ribs and both lungs, and that deer only has seconds to live. My friends and I have a rule when tracking deer: If you go more than 200 yards on a blood trail, you did not make as good a shot as you thought. It’s time to back out and reevaluate what happened. In my experience, a deer hit through both lungs will seldom if ever go farther than 200 yards.
For high odds of success, study deer anatomy pictures. I keep a deer anatomy shot placement guide available from The National Bowhunter Education Foundation (nbef.org) in my office. This foldout shows the muscles, skeleton, circulatory system, and organs of a deer. I look at it often throughout the season. I also refer to it after an iffy shot to confirm what organs I think I may have hit.
Aim for the chest cavity; the top of the heart and both lungs offer the best target. Imagine that both inflated lungs inside the chest cavity are balloons. In order to deflate both balloons, aim just behind the near-side leg and shoulder blade. Because deer can react to the sound of the bow, aim for the lower third of the kill zone, in case the deer drops. Here’s a brief summary of my 2019-2020 deer season.
Eight Arrows, Eight Deer
It was October 20, and a whitetail buck with split brow tines I recognized from the previous year walked out at sunset. He was 20 yards away and broadside. He took a step at the shot and my arrow hit back, but it was a pass-through. My arrow smelled of guts, so I waited until the following morning to track him with my friend Steven Tisdale and his two tracking dogs. We found the mature buck dead as a stone 150 yards away, hit through the intestines and the liver. It was a rocky start to the fall season, but waiting to trail the buck until morning was the right move. Tracking dogs, Hoyt and Jaeger, were superstars and received extra treats as a reward for their efforts.
On October 31, I sat in a pop-up blind on the edge of a canyon. A mature muley buck (pictured above) I’d seen the year before made a daylight appearance. At 15 yards, my 450-grain arrow slammed through ribs and both lungs before stopping on the off-side shoulder. The 220-pound buck only went 50 yards and expired.
Sweet November started with another familiar face: A 5½-year-old, 10-point whitetail buck I knew well walked out late in the morning. My arrow passed through both lungs at 15 yards. The buck ran right by my blind like a rocket, blood visible in the exit hole. Following a light but steady blood trail, I found the handsome buck dead 200 yards from where the arrow hit him. My four-blade broadhead had clipped the back of both lungs. I piled up a few sheds I’d found from that buck over the years with which to take the hero pictures.
A few days later, on November 6, with light rain falling and the rut starting to pop, a previously nocturnal buck on my trail camera (pictured below) pushed three does past my hideout. At 15 yards, my four-blade Wasp Dart took out both lungs. I found the big-bodied 11-pointer dead in knee-high broom weeds 60 yards away.
December started with an old 5x5 muley buck walking past my tripod stand, trailing six does. At 17 yards, my arrow blasted through the buck’s mouse-colored hide. The mature buck lay dead just 60 yards away in the junipers.
Late December was cold, like always at the top of Texas. My fingers were red and numb, and my breath looked like smoke in the frigid air. At sunset, a mature 10-point I’d previously only seen on trail cameras walked out. My cold joints barely got my 58-pound Mathews bow to full power. I steadied my pin, and the arrow blew through the buck’s lungs. I watched him fall 90 yards away.
I’d made a couple of trips to the Oklahoma Panhandle earlier in the year, but it wasn’t until the late season that the deer cooperated. Deer were funneling through two fence crossings to enter a large wheatfield. My pop-up blind guarded one of the likely crossings. I was hunting a big eight-point, but there were so many does using the field that my friend, Shawn Hoover, urged me to focus on them first. At sunset, the deer poured in from the nearby creekbottom. I watched 24 does and several small bucks jump the fence and enter the field. The big eight-point was a no-show. A mature doe stood broadside at 15 yards, and my arrow blasted through her ribs like she was only dense fog. She galloped 90 yards into the wheatfield before expiring. It was bitter cold as I gutted that doe by my truck’s headlight beam.
I returned on the last day of the season, January 15, for one more try at the wide Oklahoma eight-point. Several does jumped the fence at sunset, but the big buck was nowhere to be seen. With seven minutes left in the season, I dropped the string on the closest doe at 12 yards. She fell 100 yards away. The very next day, the season now over, the big eight-point posed for a picture at sunset just 15 yards from my ground blind. Ugh!
A lot more time went into the harvest of those eight deer than just the highlights mentioned here. There were days and weeks spent setting blinds, checking cameras, and sitting in the cold with no action. In the end, the time invested paid off with my best-ever deer season. Likewise, waiting for close, broadside shots resulted in quick kills every time. In addition to lots of lean meat for the freezer, I got three of the eight deer hides tanned. A small way to say thanks to friends for letting me hunt their land. What passionate bowhunter doesn’t appreciate a tanned deer hide draped over their couch?
Broadside or bust. I think it’s a good motto for bowhunters. Be disciplined, wait for such shot angles, and the results will be consistent and predictable.
The author is an outdoor writer/photographer from Claude, TX.
During these hunts, I used two bows: A PSE Carbon Air and a Mathews Triax. Both bows were set at a modest 58 pounds. I used Victory VAP TKO shafts fletched with AAE Max Hunter vanes and tipped with 95-grain, stainless-steel inserts and 100-grain Wasp Dart broadheads. Total arrow weight was 450 grains. Both bows were set up with an HHA Optimizer Lite single-pin slider sight and a QAD drop-away rest. I used a Scott Echo release.