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Do liver shot deer bleed much?

As an experienced hunter, one of the most important skills to master is shot placement. Making a clean, ethical kill should always be the goal when hunting deer. The vital organs like the heart and lungs offer the best opportunity for a quick, humane kill. However, the liver is also an effective target that can take down a deer quickly if hit properly.

Anatomy of a Deer’s Liver

A deer’s liver is a large, reddish brown organ located in the upper part of the abdomen, just behind the lungs. It’s the largest internal organ and one of the most vascular organs, meaning it contains a high volume of blood. The liver is responsible for many essential bodily functions like converting nutrients, filtering toxins, and producing chemicals necessary for digestion. It’s also the source of a significant blood loss when damaged.

In adult deer, the liver is roughly divided into a left lateral lobe, a right lateral lobe, and a central lobe. It takes up much of the abdomen between the diaphragm and the stomachs. When removed, the typical deer liver weighs between 1.8-3.2 kg (4-7 lbs). Knowing the location and size of the liver makes it possible to target this organ with a well-placed shot.

Liver Shots Cause Extensive Bleeding

The high vascularity and large size of the liver means a shot here will cause serious hemorrhaging. The many vessels and capillary beds within the liver transport large volumes of blood through this organ. A bullet slicing through the liver can sever many of these vessels and induce heavy bleeding.

In addition, the liver stores roughly 10-20% of an animal’s blood supply at any given time. The organ essentially acts as a reservoir, holding extra blood that can be released when needed. A traumatic liver injury unleashes this stored blood rapidly, adding to the overall blood loss.

Between the high vascularity and blood storage capacity, a liver shot deer can bleed out very quickly. The deer may leave a sparse blood trail at first if the hit isn’t instantly fatal. But within 100-125 yards, the blood loss will typically be so extensive that the deer will bed down or collapse.

Pros and Cons of Targeting the Liver

Here are some key pros and cons to consider when deciding whether to aim for a deer’s liver:


  • Large target area – the liver presents a sizable target for shots within 100 yards
  • Devastating blood loss – liver wounds lead to fast bleed outs
  • Less meat damage – bleeds out without ruining much meat like a gut shot
  • Quick loss of function – shock and hemorrhage bring a fast death


  • Requires precision – shots must hit the liver for maximum effectiveness
  • May still require tracking – deer may travel 100+ yards before dying
  • Marginal heart/lung shots – higher risk of non-fatal injury if slightly off target
  • Limits blood trail – initially small blood trail compared to heart/lung hits

As with any shot, a hunter must weigh these factors when deciding if a liver shot is the right option in a given situation. But when executed properly, a liver hit can be highly effective and lethal.

Shot Placement on the Deer’s Liver

To hit the liver, your shot must enter the deer’s chest cavity a few inches below the bottom of the lungs. With the deer broadside, the target area stretches horizontally from just below the shoulder through the mid-chest region:

Height of Target Zone Distance from Shoulder
3-5 inches below bottom of lungs Midway between shoulder and stomach

Laterally, aim for the liver’s center mass. Keep in mind its right lobe extends further back than the left. Avoid shots too far forward or rearward to prevent misses, glancing blows, or gut shots.

The deer should be broadside or quartering away slightly. Frontal and rear shots make it nearly impossible to reliably hit the liver. Wait for the deer to present the ideal broadside angle for the highest odds of successful liver penetration.

Indications of a Good Liver Shot

It’s not always easy to visually confirm a liver hit right after the shot. But here are some typical signs that your bullet or arrow struck home on the liver:

  • Impact kick – Deer kicks back its hind legs in a mule-kick motion from the sudden blow.
  • Hunched posture – Deer stands hunched up with back arched for several seconds.
  • Loss of balance – Deer stumbles, walks unsteadily, or falls over from the trauma.
  • Labored breathing – Rapid, open-mouth breathing from the pain and hemorrhaging.

After the initial hit, look for these signs that the liver shot has been effective:

  • Short, 100-125 yard sprint – Deer runs hard initially but collapses quickly.
  • Minimal initial blood trail – Sparse blood droplets first 50-75 yards.
  • Bedding down – Deer lays down within sight or shortly after bolting.
  • Heavy blood after bedding – Bright red blood trail develops once deer slows down.

While not definitive proof, these reactions suggest your shot struck liver tissue and the deer is bleeding out internally. But always be careful trailing a liver hit deer until you confirm it is down.

Tips for Following Up on Liver Shots

Here are some tips for making the most effective, ethical follow up on a suspected liver hit:

  • Wait at least 30 minutes before trailing if deer shows any signs of life after the shot. This gives time for it to bed down and bleed out.
  • Mark the exact spot you shot from and last saw the deer. This helps pinpoint the likely direction and distance traveled.
  • Search diligently for the first 50-100 yards for any blood sign, no matter how sparse.
  • Resist the urge to rush tracking. With minimal initial blood,Slow methodical trailing is key.
  • Watch closely for a bedding spot once heavy blood is found. The deer will likely be within 100 yards.
  • Approach any bedded deer cautiously from downwind. Be ready to deliver a finishing shot if needed.

During tracking, having a hunting partner is extremely helpful. A second set of eyes makes spotting blood sign easier in low light conditions. Partners can also split up and each follow one side of the blood trail to cover ground more quickly.

When to Avoid Liver Shots

While liver shots can be effective when done properly, they aren’t always the best choice. Here are some instances when you may want to pass up a liver shot opportunity:

  • At long range – Accuracy declines, risk of wounding rises.
  • When blood trailing will be difficult – Thick cover or weather may impair tracking.
  • On a pressured deer – Increased adrenaline can keep it on its feet longer.
  • Unsure of shot angle – Quartering towards shots increase risk of wounding.
  • Other hunters are near – Don’t want to risk deer getting away and dying elsewhere.

In these cases, holding out for a broadside heart/lung shot may be the wiser choice. The increased blood trails and shorter sprints make for easier recoveries.

Use Proper Shot Selection for a Clean Kill

Deer hunting comes with great responsibility. As hunters, we must make shot selections based on what will most quickly and humanely harvest the animal. This means resisting tempting but marginal shots on deer that aren’t perfectly broadside or are near maximum range.

Liver shots, when executed precisely on relaxed deer, can offer clean kills matched only by heart/lung hits. But not all situations allow for such perfect shot placement. Consider all these factors when deciding whether to aim for the liver or wait for a better opportunity. Prioritize making clean killing shots, and the venison rewards will follow.