Most of the States in the Midwest, where the majority of hunters in the United States spend their time hunting whitetails, are restricted to a few basic weapons to hunt their quarry. These weapons usually consist of the shotgun, muzzleloader, crossbow and bow and arrow. For the purposes of this article I am going to compare shot placement for shotgun vs. bow due to the fact muzzleloaders and crossbows would fit in with their corresponding counterparts.


  • The Weapon – For many years now a lot of hunters have headed into the woods during gun season with their in-line muzzleloader due to the fact these weapons had greater range and accuracy than most shotguns. However, in recent years manufactures have made great strides in the production of shotguns that are capable of tight tack driving groups out to 200 plus yards. With rifled barrels and new modern slugs these guns have flat trajectories with velocities of over 1900 feet per second. These modern shotguns are a great choice when chasing the elusive whitetail.
  • What It Does – The average 20 gauge slug weighs about 260 grains which is larger than almost any other bullet you would use for whitetails with a rifle. The shotgun slug kills its intended target not only by tearing a hole through tissue matter and blood loss, but mostly by creating a shock wave which forces bones, tissue and organs to crush each other. With proper shot placement shotguns are a very effective weapon for a clean and instant kill and will usually drop the animal on the spot.
  • Shot Placement – Whole articles can be written about deer anatomy, but for our purposes here, we are going to talk about neck shots, spine shots and shots to the chest area consisting of the heart, lungs and liver which is about the size of a basketball in the average deer. Many hunters believe the broadside neck shot is the best shot to take and in reality dispatches a deer instantly on a perfect hit. I personally would never take this shot due to the smaller target size unless the chest cavity was obstructed and it was a very close shot. The same goes for a spine shot, which when it does happen it is usually due to a high hit while the hunter was aiming for a center chest shot. I am of the opinion that placing a shot into the chest cavity which is the largest target and most consistent shot to take. With the power of the slug gun, no matter what anyone says, it is ethical to shoot the animal in the chest while it is facing directly forward, quartering to, broadside or quartering away. Many hunters try to place the slug right behind the front leg on a broadside shot just as you would with archery equipment. The only downside to this shot is a slug may miss the ribs of a deer and shoot completely through the animal with minimal shock making for a longer, less humane and more difficult tracking job. I personally prefer to aim for and hit as much leg and shoulder bone structure as possible, which will usually anchor the animal in place for a quick and clean kill.
  • Personal Equipment Choice – The slug gun I have used for the past ten years is a 20 gauge H&R Ultra Slug single shot shotgun with a 2X7 Scope shooting Winchester Partition Gold 2 ¾ inch slugs at 1900 feet per second. This combination is deadly on any whitetail within 200 yards of my stand.

Bow and Arrow

  • The Weapon – There are hundreds of arrow/broadhead combinations, but for the purpose of this article I am going to break it down to just a few categories. Arrow combinations usually run from around 300 grains on the light side to over 500 plus grains on the heavy side. Broadheads we will just break down to mechanical and fixed blade.
  • What It Does – Broadhead/arrow combinations work by slicing tissue, veins and organs to promote blood loss and, therefore, death.
  • Shot Placement – Broadheads work very quickly and humanly when there is good shot placement. All shot angles should be taken so that you shoot through the chest cavity consisting of the heart, lungs and liver. The difference between an arrow and a slug is that bone structure could deter or completely stop arrow penetration resulting in a poor hit which could injure an animal permanently without killing it. This is especially true with lighter arrows and mechanical broadheads due to the higher energy they take to get penetration. Therefore, the best shot placement is broadside or quartering away so that you may shoot through the chest cavity without encountering large structures like leg and shoulder bones. The only contradiction to this is if you shoot very heavy arrows, with a cut on contact fixed blade broadhead and high kinetic energy, to shoot through even a large whitetail’s bone structure. Then, your shot angles are not as critical. Unlike a shotgun you should never purposely attempt to shoot a deer in the neck or spine as these types of shots are not considered ethical with a bow, and usually end with poor results.
  • Personal Equipment Choice – Without going into too much detail my set-up of choice is a Strother Infinity bow shooting a 560 grain arrow tipped with a Magnus Stinger Buzzcut four blade broadhead. This bow and arrow combination gives me 80 pounds of kinetic energy allowing me to ethically shoot through even the largest whitetail’s chest cavity at any angle, all the while going through all bone structures and giving me full penetration for a clean kill. This type of set-up has never let me down.

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