- Why I hunt
- Deer hunting techniques
- Stalking deer & stand placement
- Best time to hunt deer
- Deer hunting clothes
- Deer guns
- Shooting: technique, sighting-in, & practice
- How to get a deer out of the woods
Hunting is not in my blood. At least not my recent lineage. But it is something I started doing when I was pretty young.
Everything I know about hunting is self taught or stolen from friends. A few decades into it, I’m still trying to figure it out, but I have learned enough to stock my freezer with deer meat every year.
Why I hunt
Before I get to the how of hunting, let me stress the why. I’m not a trophy hunter. Hunting is one way that I feed my family – that includes the four-leggeds. Hunting provides our main source of animal protein. For years, it was our only source.
I’m no fan of the commercial meat industry. It’s a crime against human health and a crime against the choiceless animals who are forced to suffer the inhumane atrocities inflicted by the assembly-line commodification of life.
There are the growth hormones, the antibiotics, the bad juju, and God knows what else that pollutes your body when you eat feedlot beef. And there’s the knowing that your food likely led a horrible life. The deer that I hunt, on the other hand, were born wild, roamed naturally, ate mostly what they were meant to eat, and weren't artificially fattened for my fork. Knowing that makes me feel much better about what I'm eating.
I also feel better knowing that the meat I’m eating was not bred specifically to feed a "civilized" society with no possibility of freedom, because jumping the feedlot fence is not an option.
When I was in my twenties I stopped eating commercially raised meat altogether. 20 or so years later, I still eat mostly what I hunt or scavenge from roadkill. I do make exception for humanely raised meat, but humanely raised is still raised for the sole purpose of feeding a human.
I would rather eat wild, and taking an active role in the process makes me more aware of the sacrifice of the animal, which gives me more gratitude. It’s mindful eating.
As someone who hunts for food, I feel responsible for treating the animals I hunt as ethically and humanely as possible. Law aside, that basically boils down to preventing or limiting suffering, taking only what I need, and doing what’s best for the wild population.
The best way to ensure that hunting meets those requirements is to make certain I know what I’m doing.
There are basically two common ways to hunt deer (or any big game for that matter): stand-hunting and still-hunting.
Stand-hunting is exactly what it sounds like. You stand, or sit, and wait. You either wait in a tree stand or a ground blind.
Still-hunting, on the other hand, is somewhat of a misnomer. I assume the name is derived from the act of stalking and then being still. It’s staying on the ground and moving quietly to sneak up on your quarry. It’s also called "stalk hunting" or simply "stalking."
Stalking deer & stand placement
When I decided I wanted to hunt deer at the tender age of 15, my dad, who didn’t hunt, agreed to take me. At 15, I couldn’t legally go by myself. Dad had a good friend who let us hunt on his property.
I read everything that I could get my hands on in an effort to formulate my opening day strategy. Mostly what I could get my hands on were glossy ad-driven magazines – there were no Facebook groups or Reddit back then.
Scent-blocking products were getting really popular at the time. I remember reading that the thing to do was get up right after you went to bed, bathe in some commercially branded version of baking soda, then walk outside naked and get dressed in the 15 degree clothes you hung outside last night after you washed them in $15 detergent.
Somehow I convinced my dad to participate, so we got up tired, went out cold, and came home empty-handed. His friend laughed a little too heartily when my dad told him what we had done. He relished rubbing in the fact that he had shot an 8-pointer as he sat on a sawdust pile smoking a cigarette.
And still, I continued that ritual for more years than I’d like to admit. Now it makes me laugh. Sort of.
Human stink is a dead-giveaway to deer, though. Their noses are supposedly up to 1,000 times more sensitive than a person’s nose. You might get lucky smoking a cigarette on a sawdust pile, but ignoring scent will more often ruin your hunt.
The best way to deal with it depends on how and where you hunt. Picture your scent as a cone emanating from your body, so the farther it travels from you, the wider and less concentrated the cone gets.
If you’re on the ground in the woods, you’ll need to worry more about your scent cone because you’ll most likely be closer to the deer. Pay attention to wind direction before you go out and try to position yourself appropriately.
It would seem intuitive to put the wind in your face so it carries your scent behind you. But deer also put their noses to the wind. So while you’re looking into the wind, the deer are either walking away from you or taking a wide berth after walking toward you and smelling you from behind.
A better strategy would be to hunt in cross-wind so the wind blows from the side. The idea is to catch deer walking perpendicularly to your field of view.
So, for example, if the wind is blowing from the north, you would find a section of deer trail that runs north-south. Then you would position yourself several yards away from the trail, let's say to the west, and sit looking to the east at the trail. The wind would be blowing on your left cheek and you would expect to see deer traveling from the south (from your right), into the wind that's blowing from the north. If you're far enough off of the trail, your cone of scent would not get close enough to the trail to spook any deer that might be walking the trail.
Of course there are the commercial scent-blocking products that may help reduce your scent allowing you to not worry so much about wind direction. I do occasionally use sprays on my clothes and body throughout the day when I can remember to take them with me. And I wash my clothes in something scentless anyway, but I usually don’t worry about keeping my hunting clothes outside or in plastic bags because it’s usually not practical.
If you only hunt a few days a year, it’s worth the extra effort. Just be aware that no matter what products you use, you’ll still need to use wind and distance to your advantage because nothing that I know of will completely remove or cover your scent.
You should also consider the scent you leave in the woods. It’s best to stay out of the area you hunt until you’re actually hunting. Otherwise, you risk stinking up the woods and spooking everything before you ever get a chance to hunt. Try to do your scouting off-season. A wary deer may not revisit an area all season if he senses human activity.
Try to locate your stand in a spot that puts your cone of scent away from where you expect to see deer.
You can either sit in a tree-stand or in a ground blind. I normally like to hunt from a tree-stand because it gives me a wider range of view, but ground blinds work well, too. In a more mountainous area, a ridge or hill makes a great stand. Before you get set up, just make sure you have some clear shooting lanes. It won’t matter how many deer you see if you can’t get a shot because there are too many branches or brush in the way.
If you hunt from a tree-stand, make sure you have a good safety harness and a good way to let yourself down if you happen to fall out of your stand. And make sure your stand is secure and strong. Don’t rely on weathered webbing and straps or rusty nails and screws that have been left out for weeks or months on end.
You also need to be really careful with your gun when getting into or out of a tree-stand. Never climb with a loaded gun, never hoist a loaded gun into a stand, and never try to lower a loaded gun from a stand. You can use a rope to pull up or lower your gun, but make sure the muzzle is pointed in a safe direction and the gun is unloaded. When you lower your gun, be careful not to lower the muzzle into the dirt.
You have a few choices of tree-stands:
- Build your own. You can build a ladder and platform with pressure-treated 2x4s, 2x6s, 2x8s, etc. This is probably the cheapest option (in the short-term) if you build where you know you’ll be able to hunt year after year, but it’s not portable and it’s an expensive project for a single season. Obviously, you’ll need permission from the property owner if you don’t own the land, which rules out public land. You’ll also need to frequently check the stand for safety and it will need to be repaired and, at some point, rebuilt.
- Commercial ladder-stand. This is my favorite because it’s relatively safe if you follow the necessary precautions and it can be easily moved to another tree or another property. It’s not as portable as a climbing stand but a ladder-stand is a lot more solid.
- Climbing-stand. This is the most portable tree-stand but my least favorite for a number of reasons. For one, climbing-stands are somewhat precarious since there’s no great way to secure yourself while you’re climbing. They’re also cumbersome and noisy, which means you risk spooking deer from the noise of packing into the woods and climbing up the tree. The extra effort also means more sweat-inducing exertion which means more scent to scare game. If you hunt on public land, though, this will probably be your only option for hunting from a tree.
I don’t do a lot of still-hunting because I feel like I’m at a serious disadvantage to the deer’s superior sense of smell and hearing. Nine out of ten deer that I’ve walked up on have seen me before I knew they were there. Of course that doesn’t account for the ones I never saw.
Maybe I never cultivated the patience to be a successful still-hunter, but, even if it’s not as effective for me, I do like to get out of my stand and walk sometimes to break the monotony of sitting and waiting.
The best time to stalk is during a light rain. It makes the forest floor less "crunchy" while providing some background noise to help cover the noise you make. I also think it helps knock down your scent.
Too much rain will make you miserable and will make the deer bed-down. When it’s raining that hard, I either stay inside or wait in my truck.
The key to a successful stalk is moving slowly. Like a step or two every couple of minutes. Or even more slowly if you have the patience. I know some hunters will take a step every ten minutes or more, but if you’ve only moved ten feet in an hour, can you really call that stalking? I would rather just sit still and minimize the risk of being seen.
Try to only move your legs. A deer’s eyes are like motion detectors. They aren’t spooked by outlines and shapes so much as movement. Reducing unnecessary motion, like head-turning, arm-swinging, etc., helps conceal your presence.
If you happen to walk up on a deer, chances are she’s already seen you and she’s trying to figure out what you are. Just stop all movement and stay as still as possible.
If you’re lucky and she doesn’t just flat-out bolt away, the next several minutes will be a tense game of staring. She’ll glare at you for a minute, or what seems like an hour, bobbing her head and trying to get a better look.
Hopefully she’ll calm down enough to go back to grazing. Then she’ll suddenly snap her head back toward you in what is apparently an attempt to get you to move and give yourself up. This routine may continue for several heart-pumping minutes.
If she turns away from you long enough, you may be able to get into position to make a shot, but she’ll be wary and it will be tough.
Pro tip from an amateur hunter: if it’s warm enough, take off your boots, roll up your pants and walk slowly up (or down) a creek. It’s easy to be quiet walking through water and the banks of a creek will offer a little bit of concealment. I walked up on one of my first deer that way and it’s still one of my most memorable hunts.
Best time to hunt
Time of Day
Typically, the best times to hunt are early in the morning and late afternoon, since deer usually move when it’s closer to dark. Be aware of legal shooting hours where you hunt and plan accordingly. In my state, shooting light starts half an hour before official sunrise and ends half an hour after official sunset.
When I hunt mornings, I like to be in my stand at least thirty minutes before shooting light which is an hour before sunrise. Being in place early gives the woods a chance to "settle" in time for the sun to come up. Since deer normally sense your presence and quietly vacate without ever being seen, the last thing you want to do is arrive at your stand during prime hunting time and wait in vain for deer that you’ve already scared into the next county.
Don’t overlook mid-day opportunities, though. Deer will still be on the move during the day, especially later in the season when they adjust their patterns around hunters’ habits, or when the weather gets particularly cold and they need to move and eat more to keep warm.
Time of Season
The easiest times to hunt are early in the season and during the rut, or breeding time.
On opening day and the first few days of the season, deer will not be accustomed to hunting pressure and won’t be as easily spooked as they would toward the end of the season.
As hunting season progresses, deer normally get more and more nocturnal as they respond to hunting patterns, and they tend to be warier and more prone to turning tail than waiting around to see what you are. In short, they’re harder to find and harder to hunt.
The exception is rut, when bucks get crazy with lust and does are frequently seen running from them. This is the one time of year when bucks seem to forget entirely the need to avoid being seen by humans. Or that hunters are chasing them while they’re chasing does.
I have watched bucks run in circles, nose to the ground, oblivious to my presence, in search of the hot doe who passed through an hour ago.
I have seen a buck stand still in a field and watch as I walked within a few yards of him to retrieve another buck I had just shot near him. They had both been chasing the same doe and he was so hopped-up on hormones, he had forgotten to be scared. Which scared me.
Rut only lasts a few weeks and it really peaks over the course of a day or two. It varies by region so find out when it happens where you are if you want to take advantage or avoid it.
Why would you want to avoid it? Because almost any deer you shoot during rut, doe or buck, will be gamy, which is pretty much the same thing as goaty, and that’s not a flavor quality that I relish. Very young deer seem to be free of gaminess, maybe because they’re not mature enough to produce the hormones that impart the muskiness.
You’ll probably hear and read of various techniques that claim to prevent gamy meat or remove the gaminess from meat. From my experience – I’m no expert but I’ve skinned, butchered, and cooked a lot of deer – there’s no way to prevent it or fix it. You can minimize it by being really careful when skinning the animal and handling the meat.
And you can "neutralize" it to a point by soaking in milk, buttermilk, or something similar, but you can’t get rid of it altogether, and who wants to spend a bunch of money on gallons of buttermilk from the commercial cattle industry just to make your closer-to-the-earth meat more palatable? There’s something about the excess hormones that seems to permeate the entire animal and I haven’t found a cure for that.
Deer Hunting Clothes
This is something you can really over-think and spend a bunch of money on but it’s pretty simple. Just wear something that’s comfortable, warm (or cool in early season), and quiet. Keep in mind you’ll be sitting for long periods so you’ll need more layers than you would if you were hiking.
Hunters tend to get hung up on having the latest camo outer and inner-wear, but, in my opinion, camouflage is low priority unless you plan on getting really close to the deer as you would when bow-hunting.
Remember deer are more adept at seeing movement than shapes. That doesn’t necessarily mean you should wear a solid-color fluorescent jacket but I wouldn’t go spend a couple hundred bucks on a Realtree version of something you already have in your closet.
In most cases, you probably want to stay away from white since it’s an alarm signal for deer – think giant white tail running through the woods warning all of the other deer of danger. But that’s not always an issue. I can’t count the times I’ve sat in a tree looking over a south Georgia cotton field wearing a white t-shirt seeing no shortage of deer. And my favorite cold weather coat is a wool King of the Mountain Bowman jacket which I got in a trade years ago. It happens to be white camo which happens to be great for cotton or the snow it was meant for.
If rain is expected, wear something that will still be warm when it’s wet. Wool and synthetic fleece are good for that.
If you’re wearing layers or a bulky jacket, make sure you have enough room to comfortably get your rifle into place. Don’t be the kid in A Christmas Story who falls down when he tries to stand up.
Avoid nylon and stiff canvas or denim, as it’s impossible to keep quiet when you’re wearing it.
Wool, soft cotton, and buckskin make the best hunting clothes.
During gun season, you should and are legally required to wear blaze orange, which appears as a shade of gray to deer. How much orange depends on the state. Some states only require a hat but I think 500 square inches is pretty standard, which would be covered by a vest. I prefer a mesh vest -- it's cheap and quiet and you can slip it over anything, whether you're dressed for cold or early-season heat.
The most important consideration of hunting is being safe. When guns are involved, safety merits serious attention. Most states require a hunter safety course, which is a good thing. The key to being safe is staying vigilant after taking the class.
Basically, you should treat all firearms like they’re loaded. Always be aware of where your muzzle is pointed. Never point your gun at something you don’t plan to shoot, and always know what’s behind your target. Depending on caliber, a rifle bullet can travel several miles. In addition, shooting a deer won’t necessarily stop a bullet, so if you’re not sure what is in the woods behind your deer, don’t take the shot.
You should also be really familiar with your gun and you should be comfortable loading, shooting, and unloading it. If you’re not comfortable with your gun, walking into the woods with it will be nerve-wracking and potentially dangerous. More about practice below.
The Right Gun
If your grandpa left you his old break-barrel, caliber-you’ve-never-heard-of-and-can’t-find-anywhere gopher gun then, by all means, use it for the sake of nostalgia and for the fact that you already have it. Just make sure it shoots straight and you’re stocked up on ammo.
Otherwise, the type of gun you use should depend mainly on where you hunt and how easily you can find bullets. You’ll thank yourself when you realize two days into your hunt that you have two cartridges left and one of the only two boxes of ammo at the East Bumble Ace Hardware fits your rifle.
If you’re hunting in the woods, a "brush gun" is your best bet. What makes a brush gun a brush gun is the fact that it shoots rounded bullets and usually has a quick action like a lever or a pump. A rounded bullet works well in brush because it isn’t as easily deflected by leaves and twigs as a pointier bullet that’s moving faster.
A rounded bullet’s disadvantage is that it’s less aerodynamic so it drops significantly at longer ranges – not great for long shots. But a typical shot in the woods wouldn’t be more than 100 yards so you don’t need the extra range.
Without googling, I’m going to venture a guess that the .30-30 is the most popular brush gun there is. You can buy ammo anywhere and it’s cheap compared with most higher-powered rifles.
Some other great brush guns are the .35 Remington (my favorite), shotguns loaded with buckshot or slugs (probably nothing smaller than a 20 gauge but local laws will dictate minimum size), and bigger handgun calibers like .44 magnum. Shotguns are great for more populated areas because slugs and shot don’t travel nearly as far as a rifle bullet.
You can put a scope on a brush gun but iron sights work well at short range. In most cases, iron sights will actually work much better because they make it faster and easier to get your target into view and they give you full field of vision to see where the deer goes after you pull the trigger.
If you need to, you can jack another round into the chamber without losing sight of the deer. It’s really easy to lose your target after you shoot with a scope since you go from looking at a few square feet to an entire landscape. Your target suddenly goes from giant focal-point to needle-in-a-haystack when you take your eye away from the scope. It only takes a split second to lose a deer in the woods and by the time you look up, that deer could be gone.
A huge benefit of a scope, though, is that it helps you see better in the low light conditions that are common when hunting. Illuminated iron sights are also helpful.
Some hunters like to use scopes with "see through" mounts so they can choose between the scope or the iron sights. I don’t recommend it. The mounts fluctuate with temperature change and you can’t rely on the scope giving you the accuracy you need.
If you’re hunting at longer ranges, you will need something that shoots "flatter" than a brush gun. Flat shooting refers to the ballistics of the bullet. If you imagine the path of a bullet, a flat shooter would maintain its general elevation for several hundred yards before sinking to the ground.
I do 90% of my deer hunting in a tree-stand on the edge of a big field. It’s pretty common to get 200, 300, or 400 yard shots…even more if I were comfortable shooting that far, but at this point, I wouldn’t shoot past 400 yards and I would rather keep it under 300.
I shoot a .280 Remington zeroed at 200 yards so it’s dead on at that range. At 100 yards, it shoots a couple inches high. At 300 yards, it shoots about 5 inches low. That’s fairly flat compared to a .30-30 that would drop over two feet at 300 yards and wouldn’t have enough energy left to make a clean kill.
That means I can basically aim right behind the shoulder at any range out to 300 yards and the bullet will be in the kill zone. I aim a little high at 300 but I don’t have to take the cross hairs above the deer’s back.
.30-06 and .270 Winchester are two popular, readily available long-range calibers.
Shooting: Technique, sighting-in, & practice
This is pretty big. Whether you’re shooting a rifle, shotgun, handgun, or bow, if you don’t practice, you will miss. If you don’t instinctively know where your bullet will land after you release it, it will almost certainly not hit where you think it should. That could result in a wounded deer that will most likely die a slow, horrible death never to be found by you.
Whenever you shoot farther than 50 or 75 yards, you need a rifle rest. Without one, you can’t keep your gun steady enough for a good shot. The longer the shot, the shakier the scope (or sights). In a field or the woods, you can use a tree limb, the rails of a truck bed, or your fist on the ground when you’re in prone position. On the bench, you’ll need some good sand bags.
You can make sand bags by cutting off the leg of some thrift store jeans, tying off one end, filling it with sand, and tying off the other end. This is what I used for years. Now my go-to rest is a Bulls Bag, which stabilizes my gun better than anything else I’ve used.
Now that you’ve got your gun stabilized, it’s time to focus on what you see in your scope and how you pull the trigger.
I once took a long-range shooting class from a Navy small arms instructor. It was $75 well spent and it completely transformed my shooting. You can take a class but, really, it’s nothing you can’t learn on your own. Here are the basics:
- After fixing your cross hairs on the target, adjust your head so that you can see the entire circle of the scope. If you can’t see the entire circle, i.e., you see a dark outline or half-moon on one side or another, your gun is not pointed where you think it is. What you see in this case is an optical illusion and it will throw off your shot. Your eye is either too close or too far from your scope. Adjust by moving your cheek farther up or back on the gun stock.
- Hold your gun loosely. This is tricky. You’ll get stability from your rest, your shoulder, and your cheek -- not so much your hand. Your stock should be solid against your shoulder and the weight of your head should keep your cheek glued to the stock but your grip should be loose. When I took my class, the instructor would check my fingers to make sure they were "floppy."
- Ignore anything you’ve heard about squeezing the trigger. Do not squeeze the trigger. Put the tip or pad (not the joint) of your index finger on the trigger, breathe in, let your breath out half way and hold. Then press the trigger gently and gradually until the rifle fires. It should surprise you. If you anticipate the recoil, you’ll flinch and throw off the shot. The trigger pull shouldn’t take more than a couple of seconds. If you hold your breath too long, you’ll start shaking.
- Follow through. Don’t pull the trigger and jerk your head up to see if you hit your target. Instead, pull the trigger and keep it pulled for two full breaths before moving or looking. This is easy on the range but takes some discipline when you’re shooting at a deer.
- Practice by dry firing. Dry firing a few times before loading a live round will help you avoid flinching. Likewise, dry firing a few times after each shot will help to desensitize you from the recoil. It also allows your gun to cool. A hot barrel will skew bullet placement. Dry firing won’t hurt a modern rifle but don’t do it on your grandfather’s antique Sharps Carbine.
How to Sight In a Rifle
If you’re using a scoped gun, splurge for the $5 or $10 to have your rifle bore-sighted at your local sporting goods store. It will save you a bunch of ammo and frustration. Bore-sighting helps to line up the scope’s cross hairs with the gun’s barrel. It won’t give you the accuracy you need to hunt, but it will put your bullet somewhere on the paper target so you can at least see where the bullet hits when you sight in your rifle.
If you don’t have the land to practice safely shooting 100 or a couple hundred yards, find a firing range. If you’re mainly hunting in the woods, you can get by sighting in at 50 yards.
Since I hunt mostly at long range, I set my zero at 200 yards. Then I don’t have to worry about holding my scope over or under too much when taking 100 or 300 yard shots. In addition to a range, you’ll need targets, a good sturdy bench (provided by most ranges) and a good shooting rest to go on the bench. Rests are usually not provided by a commercial range but are sometimes available for rent.
Targets may also be available for sale at a range. If you’re setting up your own target, you’ll need a way to mount it. My favorite way to put up a target is to get a roadside political or real estate sign (the ones that have a corrugated piece of plastic clipped into a metal frame ). Once you’ve set the frame in the ground, just duct tape your target over the plastic sign. It also helps to have a good spotting scope so you can see where your bullet hits without getting up to walk down range after each shot.
Once you have your gun on the rest, fire the first shot to see how much the scope needs to be adjusted. The adjustment dial on most scopes moves the cross hair 1/4 or 1/8 minute of angle (MOA). The measurement will be printed on the scope dials. 1/4 MOA translates to 1/4 inch at 100 yards, 1/2 inch at 200 yards, 3/4 inch at 300 yards, etc. 1/8 MOA is 1/8 inch at 100, 1/4 inch at 200, etc. So if your shot is 2 inches high and 1 inch to the left at a hundred yards, you’ll need to dial the horizontal post down 8 clicks and the vertical post 4 clicks to the right.
Like any skill, practice is critical to learning the craft. There’s no pressure when you shoot off of a bench at the range. It's a simple thing to think to yourself, "Gun on rest - check. Gun secure, grip loose - check. Pull trigger slowly and follow through."
But when you’re sitting in a deer stand, you might only have a few seconds to put it all together. Couple that with buck fever (which you can also catch from a doe even if you’re a seasoned hunter) and a calm, quick reaction can be next to impossible. You need to be able to aim your rifle and pull the trigger in one fluid motion without thinking about it.
Dry firing, as I mentioned before, is great for developing muscle memory. Shooting live rounds is even better, though it’s expensive. One of the best ways to practice is to set up milk jugs full of water at various (known) ranges in proximity to your deer stand. Not only will you develop your shooting skills but you’ll also get a feel for range. And watching a milk jug full of water explode is one of the best ways I know of to foster confidence in your rifle and your own ability. If you don’t trust your rifle or yourself to make a good shot, you won’t make a good shot.
Where to Shoot a Deer
So you’ve practiced until your shooting technique is habitual. You’re comfortable with your rifle and you’re confident that your bullet will go where you want it to go.
Thanks to your prowess for research, your dirt-time in scouting, and your attention to environmental details, you’ve picked the perfect place for your stand and it’s paid off. That along with a little stroke of luck has presented you with an easy shot at your first deer.
You do your best to calm your nerves, which entails lots of deep breathing to quell the shakes. You slowly bring your rifle to rest, look through the scope (or iron sights), and pick a place on the deer to send your bullet.
But then you realize there’s no bullseye. Where should you be aiming? This can really trip you up when you’re not used to shooting at actual deer. It’s a detail that easily gets lost when you’re on adrenaline-overdrive and your first impulse is to just pull the trigger when you see brown.
If you don’t focus on that detail, you will make a bad shot, which, at best, means you miss, and, at worst, means you maim the deer. Somewhere in between is a broken shoulder that might kill the deer but ruins a quarter of the meat.
Do your best to place your shot just behind the shoulder and about a quarter to a third of the way up from the belly. Both the heart and lungs are located in this general vicinity, and if your shot goes as smoothly as you would like, you will get one or the other, and the deer will suffer as little as possible.
It should also result in a substantial blood trail that you can follow if the deer doesn’t immediately drop.
One last thing…I’ve been hunting and shooting for a long time and I’ve made some bad shots. If you hunt long enough, you will likely have the misfortune of botching a shot or two or three. It happens and the only remedy is to go back to square one, put your gun on a bench and see where it’s shooting. Once you regain confidence, go back to your practice.
Getting a deer out of the woods
What you do with your deer after shooting it will depend on several factors. You will normally want to field-dress the deer, drag it out, load it into a truck, and drive it to a processor, making sure to keep the meat protected and clean through every step of the journey.
If the deer is small, you can probably get away with not field dressing provided you get it to a processor right away. If it’s bigger, field dressing will significantly reduce its weight making it easier to get out of the woods and into your vehicle.
Field dressing also decreases the chance of spoilage by cooling the meat faster and getting blood out of the cavity. It’s especially important if your there’s a lot of internal bleeding. How to properly field dress is an entire subject but here's a quick video on how to do it:
This is just a small nutshell of hunting to get you started but the how-of-hunting is a big, complicated subject. Like anything else, the more you do it, the more you will figure out on your own and learn from friends. Just make sure you stay safe so you’ll have many more hunts to perfect the craft.