Editors Blog

Bowhunting’s Worst Curse Word

Shoulder blade of a whitetail buck. Image copyright F+W Media.


Yep, it is the biggest curse word for any bowhunter. Want the best deer hunt to go bad in a heartbeat? Want the best broadheads to fail to do the job? Want the biggest buck you’ve ever seen to bound away never to be seen again?

Then hit this paddle of a bone squarely with your broadhead-tipped arrow. I’m not saying you will automatically lose your deer, but you won’t be in for an easy bloodtrail.

Yesterday, I helped a friend (and avid Deer & Deer Hunting reader) trail a buck he shot the previous evening. It was a big 10-pointer, he said, and it came past his stand on a straight line after hearing his faux grunts. My friend was about 18 feet up in a ladder stand, and the buck was about 25 yards away when he unleashed the arrow. The deer whirled and ran across a grassy field, heading toward a thick stand of red pines. 

Upon unleashing the shot, my friend knew his arrow hit high of its mark … resulting in the dreaded "Crack!" sound of the broadhead hitting the shoulder blade. He found his arrow about 250 yards from the scene; blood on the arrow indicated only about 3 inches of penetration. A dead deer? Most likely not. Although that much penetration would definitely puncture a lung on a straight hit to the chest cavity, it would mostly likely take 5 or 6 inches of penetration on a scapula hit. The problem here is the the arrow must first penetrate an inch or more of hide and hair  then break the thick, rigid scapula and penetrate beyond that bone and penetrate the chest cavity. Such hits will truly test your mettle … and your blood-trailing skills.

One more thing to keep in mind when hunting big bucks: The scapula moves in 15 degree angles (or more) as the buck walks. The above photo will help you visualize how that happens, and how the bone can cover the vitals at various angles. 

I’m curious to hear shoulder-blade hit stories from all of you, especially on deer that were recovered. Tell me about the blood trail (or lack thereof), and explain which tactics you used to find your deer. Just hit the REPLY button below to share your experiences.

9 thoughts on “Bowhunting’s Worst Curse Word

  1. James

    I hit a nice 140" or so buck a week ago in Minnesota. He was 20yds broadside, but I shot a few inches high, heard a crack, and the next thing I know he kicked out the arrow when he moved his leg, went about 20 yds behind some brush, and just stood there and looked around for about 10 minutes. Then he just walked away. When i inspected the arrow, I found that the broadhead and insert were still stuck in the deer, with the carbon shaft cracked at the end. I only got about 2 in. of penetration, and there was only blood where he had stood for 10 mins. I searched in vain for blood after that, but found nothing.

  2. Jss

    i shot a doe in illinois through the scapula took the top of the heart off and shattered, yes shattered the opposite leg bone that connects to the scapula with a clean pass threw. the arrow continued and stuck into a log. She only made it 70 yards or so. It was no baby, she dressed probably 120 lbs. The hunting group i was with couldnt believe the damage.

  3. Scott

    To Richard Beck above: You should really watch the criticizing of bowhunters, especially if yo bow hunt. I don’t care how much practice or experience you have. Whitetails are unpredictable animals that move very fast. Accidents happen to all of us from time to time. I hit the Scapula of a nice 8 point 2 days ago. I had sporadic blood for a half mile then nothing. It happens… It makes a hunter sick, but, it happens. we as hunters should be supportive of one another. There are already enough Anti’s out there attacking us, we don’t need to turn on each other. How about offer some of your expert practice tips instead of trying to shame fellow hunters into hunting with a gun and giving up the greatest sport in the woods,"Bowhunting"

  4. Scott

    Bow hunt 2011. I was out with my brother who is new to bow hunting. At about 0730hrs he calls me on the phone and said he just shot his first buck a small 4 pointer. He said he shot at the deer broadside and hit him high in the shoulder. He said he watched the deer run through the open grass arera in front of him then into a stand of pines. he said he could see the arrow sticking out as the deer ran away. We gave the deer about 2hrs before starting the track. We searched for about 45min and 150yards before finding our first drop of blood. The next hour was spent on our hands and knees to find a single drop of blood about every 10 to 15ft for about the next 80yards. This is where we found his arrow. Just the first inch or so was split. after messuring it up to another arrow in his quiver this was the full length. We found it next to a tree so we think it broke off as he ran past. Not another drop of blood was found. Lesson learded "practice, practice practice and make sure you have good equipment". "NOT THE WALMART SPECIAL" broadheads and arrows. Leave thoes for the kids. The deer was never found and I can tell you after spending the rest of the day searching the property he was somwere in the next county with the rest of the that were on our property. I strongly believe this was not a faital hit and the deer is still running. Shoot straight and shoot smart. Good luck to all.

  5. Brent

    Dan, I’ll tie this back to the comments I left on your blog posting about the Rage broadheads and the buck I took this weekend. I finally took a look at the front half of the arrow that was left in the buck. The cutting tip on the Rage is completely rolled over and the broadhead itself is now a museum piece as it is bent beyond any hope of reuse. Obviously this was a shoulder blade hit and I’m lucky I found the buck as the only blood he left was in the spot where he died.

  6. Joe O'Donnell

    I shot a small buck at about 20 yrds last season. I was hunting on a field edge out of a natural blind when he came grunting across the field at a doe that stood in front of me. I released the arrow and it hit high and tight on the shoulder. The buck whirled around and slammed to the ground. after laying there for about a minute or two he stood up and walked off after falling down a couple times. I was in such shock that he didn’t expire right there that I didn’t put another arrow in him.(lesson learned). After a few minutes I went to the site and found my arrow lying in a huge pool of blood. The arrow had broken off when the buck rolled over on it.I compared it to an arrow in my quiver to discover I only achieved about 4 inches of penetration. As I tracked the blood trail into a 40 acre cedar patch it quickly became sparse and difficult to follow. Eventually the trail became so sparse that establishing directionality was impossible. The next morning a few friends helped me do a sweep of the area to no avail. He was gone for good. I honestly couldn’t believe it. Even though I new it was a scapula shot after seeing the amount of blood on the ground were he fell I couldn’t believe he wasn’t just inside those cedars

  7. Richard Beck

    To the one who shot the deer in the shoulder and not being able to recover the animal. Practice practice practice with enough practice you won’t hit the shoulder blade. If you practice and still hit the shoulder blade I think that you should give up the bow and get a gun so that you’ll be able to break the shoulder blade. Good Luck getting your deer

  8. buckhunter21

    I actually think I had this same issue three different times the last two hunting seasons (2009 and 2010). Dan, I’m sure you remember us talking about at least one or two of these. The first one in 2009….What would have been my biggest buck to date stepped into my life just before shooting light ended. We just had a fresh couple inches of snow…Just a perfect evening. The shot was within 20 yards…I tried grunting to get the deer to stop, but no dice. He wasn’t walking that fast so I let the arrow fly. I hit him and he took off in a dead run, jumped a fence into some thick brush and stopped. This is when I was hoping for the buck to tip over….Instead it looked like he reached around to where the arrow had hit and was trying to pull it out…then snorted and took off. Blood trail was minimal, even in the snow. We tracked that evening and again all that next day and nothing. Ended up finding that arrow the next spring while shed hunting, in the same place where this deer stopped. I’m convinced I hit his shoulder and he lived to see another day.

    Same thing happened to me during the 2010 bow opener. Another beautiful buck came in to my life and basically the same result as above. It happened later in the season that year as well. In all three cases I could see the arrow sticking out with little penetration, in the same area where the scapula is, and am convinced that all three lived. The one at end of the first bow season last year, I actually tracked him over a mile as the crow flies and jumped him up….He was limping a bit but seemed fine.

    I don’t blame anyone else but myself on these shots…

  9. John M Pollard

    Yeah, I had the same thing happen on the first deer I ever shot with a bow. I was probably 20 yrs old, it was just a doe and it was at about 15 yards. Just like you say, the crack was just ridiculously loud and it actually was primitively awesome – I wanted to cry out some cave man like roar when I heard out. Later I learn this is not a good sound. The doe did a death roll like a crocodile, I saw the arrow barely sticking out. The other little doe that was with here was like, "What the heck are you doing". She actually layed there for a couple minutes and I should have shot here again, but for some stupid reason I thought she was dying and that I would just leave her be and not risk pushing her away (again, I’m only 15 yds away max). But, after a few minutes she stood up and high tailed it out of there. I found a little blood, the rest of my arrow (maybe 3" of it was missing – in the deer). The first 20 yds she looked like she had a hitch in her getty-up, but she soon was gone with no trace – no blood, no trail. She hauled tail and I’m convinced she lived. We both became a little wiser that day.

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