Why are Headshots Bad in Hunting?


If you’ve played video games a lot, you may have seen how they reward headshots with the most points, but you’d be mistaken to think of headshots as good in hunting. In fact, many hunters won’t shoot a deer in the head because they have too much respect for it. You also have many reasons why headshots are bad.

Why are headshots bad in hunting? Headshots have the highest risk of severely wounding the animal, but this may condemn it to a slow and painful death over weeks or months. The lack of practicality and high risk of losing your prey makes the headshot an undesirable choice to take when you have better options.

I would advise against headshots because of better areas to aim for. You do have a couple of shooting areas that make more sense. Keep reading if you’d like to learn more about the best places to shoot and more information about why ethical hunters rarely take headshots on animals—it’s not the first point to for and even undesirable.

What Makes the Headshot Cruel?

To be clear, I’m not PETA or some illogical animal activist, and I’m not here to say that hunting is cruel. However, a hunter should have a moral code of right and wrong. He should never go hunting because killing is fun. They shouldn’t shoot an animal for the act of killing it cruelly. That’s creepy and wrong. I met a hunter like this years ago, and while I’m not normally against hunters, I was so deeply disturbed by how he seemed to take so much joy in arrowheads that could cut the heads off of turkeys as he bragged about his new toy to me, literally describing it that way.

Like my older brother once told me, “I like being out here as much for the nature as what I do for the deer. If I happen to get a deer while hunting, that’s the gravy, not the real thing. Being out in nature is the true gift of hunting.” Learning how to respect and love nature, that’s what it’s about.

A headshot will put the animal in great agony, and some believe that this may impact the flavor of the meat. Some researchers have even looked at the scientific reasons for why this makes the meat tougher and less flavorful. The adrenaline that boosts through the veins of the animal while scared will use up the glycogen. Glycogen keeps the meat pink and tender, and when this gets used up, it won’t taste as good.

If you have any questions about the cruelty of shooting an animal in the head, check out this video of a deer with an arrow lodged in its face. Does this look humane?

The risk that the animal will survive and suffer has made it so that many ethical hunters don’t take shots like this. However, even beyond the cruelty, I’d like to point out some practical reasons why hunters don’t do headshots….

Headshots: High Risk of Survival

Headshots are bad in hunting because of the high risk of survival, especially if hunting with a bow. Many animals like the deer have a brain 1/6th the size of a human brain. Looking inside the cranial cavity of a deer, it’s about the size of an adult male’s fist. That leaves you with only a small area to shoot. If you fail, the deer will survive.

You need total accuracy, and in all likelihood, you will miss the shot.

While you may miss the brain, you have a high risk of leaving it severely wounded. For example, you might hit the deer in the jaw, breaking its jaw and causing it to starve to death slowly or bleed to death. You may also hit it in the eyes and cause the deer to go blind. He will never recover from the injury, which will cause him to suffer for the rest of his life.

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Headshots aren’t as deadly as you might think, especially with arrows. The only headshot guaranteed to kill a deer is one that obliterates the medulla—put your two thumbs together. That’s the size of the medulla. The small size of the target makes it an unpractical shot that risks either missing altogether or simply giving the deer a cruel wound. The deer may continue to live in an injured condition for weeks or months before it dies in agony.

Headshots Mess up the Trophy

Hunting with a bow is especially bad for headshots because of the high risk of survival, but hunters, particularly those with a firearm, may avoid shooting it in the head for another reason—the trophy. Every hunter prizes the deer for its antlers, and shooting a buck in the head will screw up the chance to mount it on the wall.

Without thinking of hunter ethics, this is probably one of the biggest reasons that hunters avoid shooting deer in the head. While they might try to shoot a doe in the head because the trophy doesn’t matter, hunters will stray away from shooting a buck with antlers in the head. You do hear of many stories of hunters who take deer by shooting them in the head, but you have different opinions on the ethics.

Shooting the head of the buck also poses a risk of ricochet. If the bullet hits the buck on the antlers at the right angle, it could bounce off and strike another hunter. While highly unlikely, the risk does exist. Stay safe and act responsibly when hunting.

Finishing Kills from Headshots Can Be Traumatic

You may injure the animal enough to bring it down and keep it down, but you have two risks here. First, an injured animal is a scared animal that may maul you if given the chance. You put yourself at a higher risk that the animal might get up and try in a last desperate attempt to injure or kill you in order to live.

Even if it doesn’t get up, a couple of hunters that I spoke with who did headshots said that it messed them up big time. They never tried to kill an animal with a headshot the second time. The animal was still alive but dying slowly from a graphic wound, and watching this was very traumatic, knowing that they caused that pain. Taking the finishing shot to kill the animal only made the cruelty of it worse.

You can take someone who doesn’t think this will cause an issue in them, but watching an animal die in this way can be very traumatic, especially knowing that you caused it. For that reason, it’s better to go for the quick and humane route. Some seasoned hunters report doing a headshot that blew the jaw off 40 years ago, and they say that it still bothers them to this day. Headshots can get graphic and messy. It adds more disgust to the act of hunting.

Headshots Fail Because Deer Act Fast

You could take the best hunter, and they still risk losing the deer if they don’t make a successful first shot. Deer will snap into action fast at the first sign of a threat. Bowhunters won’t have the chance to draw a second arrow, and even firearm hunters will struggle to hit the deer with a second shot. In fact, most animals react fast when you try to shoot them. Headshots increase your risk of missing with few benefits.

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Even in 45 seconds, an injured deer can cover a lot of ground.

Headshots Don’t Open the Arteries

Previously, I spoke about the suffering and how the fear gets into the meat and causes it to taste bad. However, the bad taste from this could also be due to the fact that shooting an animal in the head doesn’t allow for good blood loss. Even after you gut the animal, you still don’t get good blood loss from a headshot. Leaving a lot of blood in the animal can give the meat an unpleasant flavor. The extra blood can spoil the meat.

Good Hunters Respect Life

You may have heard how hunters simply want to kill something, but most hunters I know act humanely. They don’t want an animal to suffer. They understand how the act of hunting takes life for food. Because of that, you want to do it in the most humane way possible while practicing one of the most ancient traditions known to man.

Some good hunter ethics to follow include:

  • Respect non-hunters
  • Respect natural resources
  • Respect landowners
  • Respect other hunters

Ethical behavior ensures that hunters will receive welcome and moral rules in hunting keep the sport from devolving into a bloody and ugly affair. Ethical hunters don’t take a cruel shot that could risk a painful death for the deer.

Better Killing Shots Than the Head Available

The small target of the head and risk that it might move and change the shot make it a less popular target for hunters. To put things into further perspective, you can miss the heart by 10 inches or even 30 inches going to the tail and still kill the deer. The margin for error with a headshot is only 3 to 5 inches from the center of the brain. Distant shots especially make the risk go up that you’d miss.

Instead, hunters aim for these other locations because of the ease of hitting them, and it has a higher chance of killing the animal humanely. You might, for example, aim for the heart and lungs. Even if you miss the shot, you still have many vital organs in the same area that improves your chances of a clean kill. If you miss the heart and lungs, you could still hit the liver and deliver a fatal blow.

Let’s put this into further perspective. When you spend all day out in a treestand, do you want to take a headshot with a high risk of losing the meal? Most hunters are practical and simply want to go for the kill.

Especially when you hit the heart or lungs with a broadhead, the razor-sharp edges will deliver a fatal, quick and humane kill. Missing this spot, the arrow still leaves a long blood trail that you can follow to track down the animal.

If you hit the lungs instead of the heart, it does have a disadvantage in that the animal may survive, but the chances of death are still quite high. Many hunters don’t give enough credit to the liver shot because it has a better chance of killing the animal more quickly and humanely than even a lung shot. If you only hit one of the lungs, for example, it may survive for a time.

Another Bad Place to Aim Like the Headshot…

Bowhunters should especially exercise caution with shots for the spine. A bullet might break its back, but an arrow often bounces off the spine. Even if the arrow strikes the animal in the spine without cutting the spinal cord, it could still cause the animal to drop from spinal shock. Be aware, however, this is similar to hitting the funny bone of your elbow. The paralysis will last less than a minute before the animal gets up and runs off injured. Because of the difficulty in getting a kill shooting for the spine, I’d recommend avoiding it altogether.

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Long Distance Makes Headshots Difficult

Headshots are small areas, and most people can’t hit the head farther than 20 yards consistently. Most hunters think of headshots as a last resort, if that. Some won’t even take headshots—myself included—except in extreme circumstances.

Here’s why and it paints a graphic picture: If you miss 2 inches too low, you blow the deer’s jaw off, condemning it to a slow and agonizing death. Shooting the deer at 1 inch too high will cause brain hemorrhaging if it bounces off the skull, which will kill it slowly, also. Shoot the deer even in the right spot, and you blow off the head in a graphic mess. This makes it impossible to mount the deer in a best-case scenario.

Headshots with Archery: Another Reason They’re Bad

Some hunters with the firearm will take headshots, and they get an almost instant kill. While generally not recommended, what can you say? However, you have another reason that you shouldn’t take a headshot in archery. The skull of a deer is quite thick, and if you shoot it in the wrong way, it can simply bounce off the head. You have an even smaller margin for error. Arrows don’t fly with enough momentum in some cases to penetrate the deer’s skull.

Missing the Brain and Hitting the Nose Instead

You may not even realize the seriousness of hitting the deer in the nose instead of the brain. When you hit a deer in the nose, it will destroy its sense of smell. Since deer largely depend on their noses to find food, the deer will likely starve to death if it can’t recover its sense of smell. At the same time, its death serves no purpose because you wouldn’t get any meat out of it.

Most Active Part of the Body: The Head

The head of the animal moves more than any other part of the body. It could twitch its ears and cause you to miss your shot. Even a small movement of the head can cause you to miss your shot or simply injure the animal.

Hollywood has brainwashed us into thinking of the headshot as the most coveted shot. However, real military snipers don’t aim for the head—they aim for the torso. The same is true of deer hunters. You want to aim for the biggest part of the body that you have the highest chance of hitting with the highest lethal probability. A lot of it comes down to practicality.


The cruelty and high chance of missing are what make headshots rarely taken by ethical hunters. Even if you happen to shoot an animal once in the head, you may wind up wishing that you hadn’t. It’s far messier and crueler than hitting the deer in the heart, lungs or liver. You also don’t get the blood drain from a headshot, which can make the meat taste bad. In general, it’s just a bad idea to go for headshots over other more effective ways of killing the animal.

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Ethan Smith is a seasoned marine veteran, professional blogger, witty and edgy writer, and an avid hunter. He spent a great deal of his childhood years around the Apache-Sitgreaves National Forest in Arizona. Watching active hunters practise their craft initiated him into the world of hunting and rubrics of outdoor life. He also honed his writing skills by sharing his outdoor experiences with fellow schoolmates through their high school’s magazine. Further along the way, the US Marine Corps got wind of his excellent combination of skills and sought to put them into good use by employing him as a combat correspondent. He now shares his income from this prestigious job with his wife and one kid. Read more >>