Where to Aim and Shoot Deer
Deer are the epitome of a noble, desirable quarry. Stately and elegant, they glide through the bush with grace and style. They often choose to live in picturesque terrain, which enhances the pleasure of hunting them. The stags carry impressive antlers and many is the hunter who has developed a passion, sometimes an obsession, with trophy hunting.
Venison is rightly regarded as a prized, high quality meat. This alone, in my book, makes deer a desirable quarry. At this time there have probably never been so many deer in Australia. Populations of deer are growing and spreading into country where they were previously unknown.
Most farmers do not begrudge a few deer feeding off their lucerne and oats. However, the charm wears thin when times are tough and there are dozens of deer, or more, competing for food with the farmer’s livestock. At times like this you can be of assistance to the landowners and be amply rewarded with prime quality meat for your efforts.
Once again it is important to draw the distinction between shooting and hunting. Hunting, to me, means stalking through the bush seeking game, taking your shot from whatever field position the situation allows. Under these conditions, unless you are a very disciplined hunter, more powerful calibres are needed.
Deer in general are rather delicate and do not require particularly heavy calibres. The .243 is a popular, and very successful, choice world-wide for deer hunting. During the heydays of the deer culling in New Zealand vast numbers of deer were taken with the .222 Rem.
I know a few very successful deer hunters who have used .223 and 22.250 rifles to great effect over the last few decades. However, it has to be stressed that these guys are good stalkers and good shots with a lot of discipline. They only take shots they know they can pull off.
An important new consideration is the recognition of deer as valid game species and the introduction of regulations for minimum calibres for the different deer species. Typically, there are variations between states and so, if you do hunt interstate it is important that you make yourself aware of these requirements. As familiar, and successful, as you may be with Old Betsy, your long time deer rifle, you may need to be thinking about a change of calibre.
For shooting, either from a solid stand or from a vehicle, especially if using a spotlight at night (where legal), then the legal minimum centre fire calibre rifle is okay, as long as the shooter can do his part.
Safety is very important when shooting deer off cultivation and this is another reason to use a lighter calibre. With deer feeding on open, cultivated paddocks you need to be very aware of background, especially if you are going to use a calibre where there is likelihood of a projectile exiting the target animal.
Livestock, nearby houses, farm equipment, vehicles travelling on nearby roads and, of course, passers-by may be at risk in these circumstances. If you are going to be shooting deer off cultivation it is important that you do your homework in this regard.
Determine your shooting positions and fields of fire before the event. If potential hazards limit your options for taking deer on the cultivation another option is to ambush them at their point of access.
Deer, when entering to feed on crops, are pretty predictable. They generally have a set path they follow to reach the paddock in question. Typically this will be up from a bordering creek bed or down from a gully that runs up into a timbered ridge.
Take the time to walk around the paddock. If it is not obvious from tracks, deer pellets and hair caught in fence wire where the deer are accessing the paddock, then the landowner should be able to point you in the right direction.
Whether you are sniping deer in the middle of the oats patch, or bush-whacking them on their way, you need to ensure safe background conditions. Ideally, you want a hill, gully-side or heavy timber behind the animal you will be shooting at. Failing that, you need to be confident that there are kilometres of unpopulated wilderness in the zone behind your quarry.
When culling deer off cultivation we normally seek head and neck shots. This presumes that we have a solid, stable shooting position and are limiting ourselves to a maximum range of 150 metres. If a longer shot is needed, or we are obliged to move location and have a less stable shooting position, we would take a chest shot.
In hunting circumstances, safe background conditions are generally more easily met. Deer stalking is usually done in heavily timbered ridge and gully country. Adequate calibres are preferred because of more difficult field shooting conditions, intervening bush and uncertain distances. Obviously, there is nothing special about those particular calibres and anything from the minimum calibre on upwards, that you can shoot well with, will be fine.
In hunting we normally restrict ourselves to chest shots. Occasionally, in field conditions, you will get the opportunity of a close range shot at undisturbed game. Sometimes, in these circumstances, a neck shot is a viable option. Normally, we would not be tempted to take a head shot under hunting conditions.
In shooting situations, where you may be dropping as many as a dozen, or more, deer in a session, head and neck shots deliver instant kills. The animal just folds up and flops to the ground without unduly disturbing the rest of the nearby mob. Most times too, with head and neck shots, there is good bleeding, which enhances the subsequent meat quality. Our goal is always to harvest as much meat as possible.
As you can see from the accompanying illustrations, the neck and head target zones are quite small. The chest shot is much bigger by comparison and a better choice under hunting conditions. A well placed chest shot is very effective and need not damage too much meat.