As any bowhunter quickly finds out, deer don’t conveniently place themselves as easy targets. They stand at awkward angles, never stay at the same distance, and have complex anatomy that you have to take into consideration.
When hunting from a treestand, aim for the deer’s “killzone,” covering the heart, lungs, and liver. Shot angles include Broadside, Quartering Away, Quartering Towards, and Straight On. Elevation affects arrow trajectory; adjust aim based on the deer’s angle and distance. Using a scope can enhance accuracy.
Basically, you always want to hit the deer’s “killzone,” but I’ve learned that that means aiming in a lot of different places, depending on the type of shot. More importantly, since I usually hunt from a tree stand, I’ve had to figure out how to incorporate that into my aim.
The Kill Zone
Whether you’re hunting from a tree stand or not, you should aim at the deer’s kill zone. Ideally, this is the animal’s heart, but you can better think of the kill zone as a target with the heart as the bullseye. It also includes the lungs, liver, and, to a lesser extent, the deer’s digestive system or “guts.”
To harvest the deer, you have to hit it somewhere within this kill zone, and the closer to the heart, the better. The farther from the heart, the longer the animal will live before dying, and aside from being inhumane, this allows it to run before dropping. You’ll have to track its blood trail to find it, which can be difficult. A gut-shot deer can live for well over a day, and damaging its stomach or intestines can make processing the deer difficult and even spoil much of the meat.
If you’re looking at a deer’s flank, the heart is located just behind its shoulder blade, about a third of the way up its side, behind its front leg.
Different Shot Angles When Deer Hunting
Now, a deer’s heart and other vital organs are always in the same place, but that doesn’t mean you always aim at the same place. Depending on how the deer is positioned relative to you, you should aim differently. Although there are infinite angles you could shoot from, they’re separated into a few main categories.
A broadside shot is when the deer is turned at a 90-degree angle away from you so you can see its full flank. This is the easiest shot since you only have to aim at the killzone as I described above.
Aim a third of the way up the flank just below the shoulder blade. This is where the deer’s heart is, surrounded by its lungs.
Quartering away is also a relatively easy angle. This is where the deer is walking away from you but angled slightly diagonally. Just how easy this shot is depends on the angle, how close it is to broadside. This determines how much of the killzone is visible. If the deer is turned just a few degrees from your line of sight, the killzone is nearly invisible. If the deer is turned a full 45 degrees, then the killzone is quite visible.
Regardless of the exact angle, you want the arrow to enter just behind the deer’s shoulder blade, just as with the broadside shot. However, I’ve found it to be easier if I imagine I’m aiming at where I want the arrow to exit rather than enter—even if it doesn’t actually end up exiting. That means aiming through the deer’s body to the top of the other front leg.
Quartering towards is the opposite angle of quartering away. The deer is moving diagonally from your line of sight, just towards you rather than away. This angle is actually quite difficult, especially for beginners.
The reason this shot is so difficult is simple. Consider the direction of arrow movement. In quartering away, you have more margin of error because if you hit behind the killzone, the arrow can continue traveling until it reaches it. If you hit behind the killzone on a quartering-towards angle, the arrow will just continue traveling away from it.
Aiming at a deer that’s quartering towards is tricky. If the deer is angled closer to broadside, aim just behind the deer’s front leg’s shoulder blade. However, if the angle is small, and the deer is almost facing you head-on, it’s best to treat it like a straight-on shot, which I’ll cover next.
When the deer is facing or walking directly toward you, the angle is called “straight on.” In this case, you don’t aim anywhere on the deer’s flank, but rather at its chest. If you can make out the animal’s sternum, aim right above it.
I go into more detail below, but the straight-on shot is affected considerably by tree-stand elevation, and it’s one of the more difficult angles when you’re stand hunting. You should only take it if the deer is at a far enough distance that you can make out the killzone above its sternum.
If you’re hunting from a tree stand, you may encounter the straight-down shot, when the deer is directly below your stand. Regardless of the deer’s exact orientation, you should aim at the deer’s back just behind its shoulders, where the heck meets the torso. The only complicated part about this shot is that you should aim slightly to the side of the spine, especially if your bow isn’t super powerful.
The straight-away shot is when the deer is walking directly away from you along your line of sight. There is nowhere to aim for this shot because it’s not a shot you could take, especially with a bow.
Summarizing Shot Angle
This table encapsulates the critical aiming strategies and adjustments required for successful bowhunting from a tree stand, taking into account different angles and trajectory factors. The emphasis is on understanding deer anatomy, practicing shot placements, and adjusting for environmental factors to ensure ethical and effective hunting.
|Shot Angle||Aiming Point||Compensation Considerations|
|Broadside||Aim a third of the way up the flank just below the shoulder blade.||Compensate for gravity and elevation if shooting from a tree stand.|
|Quartering Away||Aim just behind the shoulder blade, targeting where the arrow should exit (top of the other front leg).||Consider arrow speed and angle of deer to the hunter. Less compensation for gravity.|
|Quartering Towards||For close to broadside, aim just behind the front leg’s shoulder blade. For smaller angles, treat like a straight-on shot.||Increased difficulty due to decreased margin for error. Compensate for angle.|
|Straight On||Aim above the sternum.||High difficulty from a tree stand. Adjust for tree stand elevation.|
|Straight Down||Aim at the deer’s back just behind its shoulders, slightly to the side of the spine.||Very little gravity compensation needed due to direction of shot.|
|Straight Away||Not a viable shot for ethical hunting.||N/A|
|Trajectory Factors||Impact||Adjustment Guide|
|Wind||Can push the arrow sideways.||Adjust aim against the wind’s direction based on strength and angle.|
|Gravity||Pulls the arrow down. Rate of descent is constant (9.8 m/s² or 32 ft/s²).||Aim higher for longer distances and slower arrow speeds.|
|Arrow Speed||Faster arrows drop less over the same distance.||Faster speeds reduce the need for upward compensation.|
|Elevation||Affects the arrow’s drop; less compensation for downward angles.||Less compensation for drop from a tree stand. Aim closer to target.|
|Tree Stand Elevation||Generally requires less compensation for arrow drop due to the angle of shooting downwards.||Sight your bow or scope from the tree stand for more accuracy.|
|Scope Use||Can simplify aiming, especially with marked distances (20, 30, 40, 50 yards).||Adjust aim below the target if the scope is sighted on the ground.|
The Basics of Arrow Trajectory
The arrow’s trajectory is the path it takes form from your bow to the target. What makes bowhunting difficult is that, even with a high-powered compound bow at close distances, this isn’t going to be a straight line. Several factors cause the arrow to deviate from a straight line, and you have to take these into account when aiming.
Wind affects arrow trajectory because it can push the arrow in the direction of the wind. This is the most complicated aspect of trajectory because it depends on the strength and angle of the wind as well as the arrow’s weight and speed. If the wind is blowing to your left, you’ll need to adjust your aim slightly to the right, but just how much requires good instincts in the field.
Gravity pulls your arrow down toward the ground. Luckily, if you remember high school physics, the rate at which it does this is constant regardless of the weight of your arrow: 9.8 meters per second squared, or 32 feet per second squared. The result is that if you want to shoot a target directly in front of you, you have to aim up so that the arrow arcs up and then falls back down.
Arrow Speed and Target Distance
Arrow speed is relevant because of the constant pull of gravity. The faster your arrow flies, the less time it has to drop toward the Earth and the less you have to compensate for it. You can see just how much an arrow drops in a given amount of time using the following formula:
d=0.5*10m/s2 * t where d is the distance fallen and t is time
For example, if you’re shooting at a deer 100 feet away, and your arrow travels at 200 feet per second, it takes the arrow half a second to reach the target, during which time it will drop 2.5 meters, or eight feet. However, if your bow shoots the arrow at 400 feet per second, it only takes the arrow a quarter of a second to reach the target, so it only drops 1.25 meters or four feet.
Elevation is a major factor because it affects the formula I just gave you above. Imagine if you’re shooting straight down. You don’t have to worry about arrow drop at all because you’re shooting in the direction of gravity.
In other words, when shooting at an angle downwards, some of the drop due to gravity is already incorporated into the trajectory, so you have to compensate for it less. I won’t bore you with the complicated trigonometry of all this, but I have some rules of thumb below.
How Elevation in a Tree Stand Affects Trajectory
When you’re in a tree stand, you’re elevated such that you’re shooting at a downward angle. As I detailed above, this means you have to compensate less for the arrow’s drop when aiming for a given distance. If you’re shooting from a 20-foot tree stand at line-of-sight distances of 20, 30, and 40 yards, you will be shooting at downward angles of between 20 and 30 degrees.
All else being equal, you should adjust your aim slightly downward based on where you’d aim when shooting straight across the ground to account for drop.
Aim Adjustments for Drop in a Tree Stand
Okay, first of all, I want to state that I’m not a professional physicist, and these are very rough calculations based on math and my experience. I also haven’t accounted for wind resistance or anything like that. Nevertheless, I’ve tried to draw up some general rules for how high above the target you have to aim to account for drop based on two different bows: a recurve shooting 200 fps and a compound shooting 350 fps. You can see that the steeper the downward angle, the less compensation is required.
|Recurve Bow Shooting 200 FPS|
|Target Distance (Line of Sight)||Target Distance (Ground)||Upward Compensation From Tree Stand (20 Feet High)||Upward Compensation From Ground|
|20 yards||18.5 yards||4.5 inches||17 inches|
|30 yards||29.5 yards||12 inches||36.5 inches|
|40 yards||39 yards||30 inches||69 inches|
|50 yards||50 yards||51 inches||110 inches|
|Compound Bow Shooting 350 FPS|
|Target Distance (Line of Sight)||Target Distance (Ground)||Upward Compensation From Tree Stand (20 Feet High)||Upward Compensation From Ground|
|20 yards||18.5 yards||1.5 inches||5.5 inches|
|30 yards||29.5 yards||5.5 inches||12.5 inches|
|40 yards||39 yards||14 inches||22.5 inches|
|50 yards||50 yards||23 inches||35.5|
As you can see, much less compensation is required when shooting from an elevated position. In other words, you can aim much closer to the target.
Aim Adjustments for Angle in a Tree Stand
You may also have to make other adjustments from a tree stand based on the angle of the arrow and, therefore, how it hits the deer and the killzone. Usually, this just requires a bit of common sense.
For example, the most common adjustment I make is aiming slightly higher on broadside or quartering-away shots than I would from the ground. This is because the arrow is traveling downwards, so even if it strikes the deer above the heart, by the time it passes through several inches of flesh, it will be at heart level. Plus, this makes the shot more likely to puncture both lungs.
Another common adjustment is to forgo a shot altogether because the killzone is covered or too small due to the angle. For example, a straight-on shot is simple from the ground because the deer’s chest is wide open, but from a tree stand, the deer’s head may cover the killzone depending on how it’s standing.
Aiming From a Tree Stand With a Scope
If all the numbers above seem complicated, don’t worry. The easiest way to aim from a tree stand is to use a scope. For a compound bow, you can get a multi-reticle scope that has crosshairs for multiple distances, usually 20, 30, 40, and 50 yards. You can sight in the scope for these distances, so you just put the crosshairs where you want them and don’t have to do as much compensation.
Of course, due to the differences in drop, if you sight your scope in on the ground, it’s not going to be accurate from a tree stand. You’d have to aim slightly below the target to make up for the relative lack of drop. My recommendation? Sight your bow in from the tree stand in the first place.
You can get a scope for a recurve, but most are simple. Either way, recurve bows require a lot more practice to learn how to shoot accurately, part of which is learning how to compensate for drop. But hey, that’s just part of the fun.
Using a scope, especially with a compound bow, can simplify the aiming process if properly sighted from the tree stand. The purpose of this article was to highlight the importance of practice, understanding deer anatomy, and being aware of the environment for successful bowhunting from an elevated position.
Bowhunting from a tree stand presents unique challenges in targeting the animal’s “killzone.” This zone encompasses the heart, lungs, liver, and, to a lesser extent, the digestive system.
The deer’s position relative to the hunter determines the point of aim. There are various shot angles:
- Quartering Away
- Quartering Towards
- Straight On
- Straight Down
- Straight Away
The arrow’s trajectory is influenced by factors like wind, gravity, arrow speed, target distance, and elevation. Being in a tree stand affects the downward trajectory due to gravity, requiring hunters to adjust their aim.
I hope this has been helpful. Thanks for reading!
For more, check out How to Bowhunt From a Tree Stand | All You Need to Know.
Christian grew up in the Ozarks where he spent much of his childhood on his grandparents’ homestead learning about guns, hunting, and the great outdoors.
An avid traditional bowhunter, much of his writing covers this and other similar topics, but he also covers just about everything from history and economics to motorcycles.
See more of his work at ChristianMonson.com.