Hunting Marksmanship: The Meat Shot


“Now that you’ve learned to deer hunt, you need to sharpen your shooting skills to save as much venison as possible,” said Lloyd Yelout, one of the hunt club’s venison preparation sages. “Instead of shooting for the chest, take the neck shot.”

“That’s a very small target,” I countered with a quizzical look.

“I don’t mean shoot a deer under the chin, but the meat shot, at the base of the neck.”

That conversation occurred 20 years ago, yet I remember it every time I go deer hunting, and employ it whenever possible. Generally, hunters should shoot a deer in the chest cavity, where the bullet will damage the heart and lungs, dispatching the animal in 10–15 seconds. On the down side, a bullet that strikes bone often damages a fair amount of meat, especially if the bullet fragments. The meat shot drops the animal instantly, often killing it on the spot as the bullet breaks the spine. If you’ve watched a hunting video where a celebrity drops an animal on the spot, he’s practicing the meat shot.


The diagram at the left shows the skeletal system of a whitetail deer. The meat shot requires striking the bony structures at the base of the neck so that the spine is severed.  Although the spine is quite small, the hydrostatic shock of a bullet striking adjacent bones will shatter it and instantly immobilize the animal. The small bull’s-eye on the archery target in the above photo shows the general shot placement, yet this target is not an exact model of a deer.

I recently had a small four-point buck pass by my stand and pause in thick brush. The buck’s boiler room was behind a tree, yet the base of its neck was exposed. I had a solid rest, the animal was broadside, and I steadied the Ruger Guide Gun in 338 RCM and squeezed. The deer dropped from view and perished instantly. The shot was so clean, there was not a spot of blood on the carcass.

Knight Muzzleloading2 272Take this shot with caution! It’s every hunter’s ethical responsibility to kill an animal as humanely as possible. I’d only recommend this shot when:

  • You have a solid rest and an unobstructed shot
  • The deer is standing still and broadside
  • You are shooting a high-velocity round, such as a Magnum cartridge. Magnum calibers can ruin an entire shoulder, and this shot is excellent if conditions warrant.
  • The range is 100 yards or less and you are using a scoped rifle.
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Joe Byers
Joe Byers has more than 1,000 magazine articles in print and is currently a field editor with Whitetail Journal, Predator Xtreme, Whitetails Unlimited, Crossbow Revolution, and African Hunting Journal magazines. He’s spent the last three decades depicting the thrill of the chase and photographing the majesty of all things wild. Byers is a member of the Professional Outdoor Media Association and numerous other professional and conservation organizations.