(Picture by donaldmjones.com)

As a retired wildlife biologist who’s over a decade previous his “use by date,” I’ve dissected tons of of untamed animals — principally deer or elk dimension. I’ve studied skeletons and areas of assorted bones to the purpose that my buddies generally benevolently check with me as a “bonehead.” And, as a lifelong bowhunter, I’ve thought-about what arrows putting completely different bones may imply for the hunter concerned.

While you learn this text, it’s possible you’ll suppose that arrows putting bones is kind of frequent, however aside from ribs, that has not been my expertise. The rare occasions I describe right here occurred over many years of bowhunting.

After all, an arrow’s angle of flight, kinetic vitality, and broadhead kind all issue into the equation. The aim of this text is that will help you perceive the varied potential outcomes when bones are impacted by an arrow.


We sometimes ignore the rib bones as a result of an arrow with even average kinetic vitality can often penetrate a rib or slide between them with minimal effort and deflection. As well as, on a broadside shot, the ribs cowl the vitals, and avoiding them simply isn’t sensible.

The one time ribs deflect an arrow is when the shot angle is excessive. For instance, whereas searching elk in Colorado, I shot at a bull that was strongly quartering away. My arrow glanced off the bull’s rib cage, handed below the shoulder blade (scapula), after which exited by means of the entrance of the bull. The nonlethal hit served as a reminder to intention farther again on a strongly quartering-away animal.


A sequence of vertebrae make up the backbone. When an arrow strikes the thoracic vertebrae, comprising the backbone over the chest, it could both penetrate or look off.

On a broadside shot, deflection off the backbone sometimes causes the arrow to journey both beneath or above the backbone. When deflection happens above the backbone, it’s sometimes a superficial wound.

However what occurs if the arrow strikes the blade-like projections (spinous course of) on the prime of the vertebrae? Such a success can create shock to the spinal nerves, inflicting the animal to break down. Whereas not deadly, the hit has solely a short-term impact from which the animal often recovers rapidly. Subsequently, my rule of thumb is to at all times comply with up a backbone shot with a direct arrow to the chest.

An arrow deflecting downward below the backbone can lower the dorsal aorta artery simply beneath it — at all times resulting in a fast demise. Nevertheless, if the arrow is low sufficient to pierce the chest cavity, then even when it misses the lungs and different organs, it might trigger respiration issues as a result of the outlet within the chest makes it tough for the diaphragm to operate correctly. Demise could or could not consequence, relying on whether or not fats, pores and skin, and/or different tissue helps plug the outlet.


If an archer is in a treestand, the shot angle may very well be straight down. If the arrow deflects off the vertebrae, it may proceed by means of the physique of the animal. This usually ends in a one-lung hit, and a tough monitoring job.

When a broadhead really penetrates the vertebrae, the consequences can vary from “surprised” to finish paralysis. All of it depends upon whether or not the arrow severs the spinal twine.

The spinal twine is the lengthy bundle of nerves extending from the mind down the whole size of the backbone. Severing this bundle of nerves requires the arrow to chop or smash by means of the sidewall of the vertebral cavity (vertebral foramen), which protects the twine. Severing the spinal twine causes paralysis and a follow-up shot is required.

I as soon as killed a deer that had a scar on its neck. Once I dissected the neck, I discovered a lump of gristle the dimensions of a ping-pong ball surrounding one of many neck vertebrae. Slicing into the gristle, I found a broadhead that had entered the vertebrae from the appropriate facet; its tip extending by means of to the left facet. The broadhead had pierced the thick vertebrae slightly below the spinal twine however didn’t injure the twine.

The physique of the vertebrae is full of a jelly-like compound (nucleus pulposus) consisting of primarily water, in addition to a unfastened community of collagen fibers. Apparently, it doesn’t include nerves just like the spinal twine. The deer had misplaced the arrow shaft sooner or later and healed up, showing utterly wholesome.

I’ve additionally severed a deer’s spinal twine with my very own broadhead. It occurred close to sundown one night on a hunt within the Appalachian Mountains of Virginia.

I noticed a deer coming into a lower cornfield a pair hundred yards away. I stalked towards the deer by means of thick broomsedge alongside the cornfield’s edge. The deer continued towards me and entered the broomsedge inside 25 yards of the place I crouched. I drew my recurve and launched an arrow. The deer vanished. Poof! I’d anticipated to see the deer sure off, whether or not hit or not.

Confused, I walked towards the spot the place the deer had disappeared, the place I noticed my arrow sticking straight up out of the tall grass with its nock and fletching wanting like a flag on a pole. Mystified, I crept nearer and found the deer with my arrow by means of its neck. I rapidly completed the job with an arrow by means of the buck’s chest.

After butchering the animal, I discovered my arrow had lower by means of the disc between two vertebrae. A spinal disc is product of cartilage tissue; softer than bone, appearing as a cushion between every of the vertebrae. When the arrow handed by means of the disc, it had severed the spinal twine. I used to be fortunate.


An animal’s shoulder blade (scapula) lies on the prime of its entrance leg and extends up and again at an angle alongside the facet of the animal. The bone is extensive and flat — nearly like a slice of pizza. It’s thicker than a rib, which makes it harder to penetrate. It’s place, simply above and on the entrance of the guts/lung space, makes it a probable bone for the arrow to strike if the shot is simply barely excessive. I’ve had three completely different outcomes from hitting scapulars with my arrows.

As soon as, whereas searching elk at treeline in Colorado, I known as in a 5×5 bull that introduced a barely quartering-to shot at 20 yards. I felt I may make the shot and loosed an arrow. The bull moved on the sound of the shot, and my arrow went extensive of the mark and struck the bull squarely on the shoulder blade. I may see my arrow was not deadly and stalked to the place I had seen the bull disappear.

By success, I noticed the bull hiding in some spruce timber. I eased ahead to the place I may see his broadside chest. My subsequent arrow entered the middle of his chest, and the bull made his final run solely 50 yards earlier than expiring.

Whereas butchering that bull, I examined the outcomes of my first arrow that had struck his scapula. The 2-bladed head from my 70-pound compound had penetrated the scapula simply sufficient for the purpose of the broadhead to stay by means of a couple of quarter inch. If I hadn’t been fortunate sufficient to get in a second arrow, the bull would almost definitely have developed a gristle coating across the broadhead and healed utterly.


One other expertise after I shot a bull elk on the scapula, had a lot completely different outcomes. I used to be searching within the mountains of western Montana with a 70-pound compound and broadheads with three replaceable blades.

Again and again, the bull approached me by means of the dense timber to the place I may nearly shoot between the timber, solely to retreat. Lastly, I used to be in a position to place myself for a shot by means of a gap within the timber because the bull approached as soon as once more. When he walked into this slim opening, his chest was broadside and I got here to full draw. I cow-called and the bull stopped. I estimated the vary at 30 yards and launched my arrow. The elk proved to be at 25 yards, and my arrow impacted excessive, putting the scapula. My arrow appeared to have penetrated a couple of third of its size into the bull’s chest, however I remained not sure of the shot.

The wounded bull ran about 20 yards and stopped. By means of the thick timber, I watched him attain round together with his mouth and pull the arrow out of his chest. Then he slowly walked away.

Fifteen minutes later, I heard a heavy exhale from the course through which the bull had retreated. An hour later, I walked within the course of the sound I’d heard and located the bull lifeless simply 60 yards from the place he’d been hit.

When breaking down this bull, I discovered that my arrow had certainly penetrated his chest and pierced the close to lung. The bull had damaged off the broadhead when he extracted my shaft, and the broadhead had remained within the chest cavity.

Why was the results of this shot so completely different from the elk beforehand described? I can solely conclude that the arrow shaft was an element, in addition to the better effectivity of my compound bow. The primary elk was taken in a yr when compounds had been new and of their early phases of refinement. The second bull was taken after greater than 20 years of enhancements in compound-bow effectivity.

The primary elk was shot with a 2219 aluminum shaft (learn fats arrow). The second elk was taken with a slim A/C/C (aluminum-carbon composite) shaft; a tiny bit smaller in diameter than the broadhead’s ferrule. As soon as the broadhead on the slim arrow had penetrated the scapula, the shaft had a sufficiently massive sufficient gap by means of which to slip.


My most puzzling expertise with an arrow putting the scapula occurred this previous searching season with a whitetail deer. I sat perched in a cottonwood tree with a doe tag in my pocket and watched a single doe method like she had learn the script. At 15 yards, I drew and mouth-bleated to cease her. She stood ever so barely quartering-to me. Since I sat excessive above the doe, I put my sight pin just a little excessive on the deer’s chest, close to the scapula.

On the shot, the deer spun and bolted again the best way she had come. Feeling good about my shot, I waited only some minutes earlier than climbing down. I discovered my arrow sticking within the floor the place it had handed utterly by means of the doe, and I observed it had what seemed like rumen contents on it as a substitute of bright-red, foamy blood. Puzzled, I sniffed the shaft and confirmed it was certainly lined with rumen content material.

Following the path on which the deer fled, I discovered a couple of drops of blood at first, then nothing for about 200 yards. Happily, the deer had expired throughout the subsequent 50 yards. I remained puzzled. How may such a seemingly good shot, at such shut vary, produce these outcomes?

Additional inspection of the deer revealed that my arrow had entered precisely the place I had aimed however had struck the again edge (medial border) of the scapula and deflected again and down, the place it handed by means of one lung, the liver, and the rumen, earlier than exiting low on the abdomen. The ethical of those three tales is that this: You simply by no means know what’s going to occur in the event you accidently hit the scapula!

Entrance Leg

Late one morning in one in every of Montana’s high-mountain basins, I had a number of shut encounters with bull elk however had been unable to get a shot. I continued to stalk across the basin, periodically bugling. To my shock, a bull answered from about 200 yards at noon. I arrange rapidly and nocked an arrow.

After solely moments, the bull got here in on a gradual stroll. As a result of open cowl, I couldn’t draw my bow with out him seeing me. He lastly stopped, dealing with me at 10 yards. The staring contest lasted solely moments earlier than the bull bolted again the best way from which he’d come. I jerked the string again on my bow and gave a cow-call that stopped him — solely downside was he stopped behind a fir tree.

The bull bugled after which walked into the open, the place he stood broadside at what I judged to be 20 yards. I put my 20-yard pin on the crease behind his shoulder and despatched my arrow on its manner. The influence seemed good, however perhaps just a little low. The bull spun and ran downhill.

I waited 45 minutes earlier than taking over the blood path. The arrow had not exited the bull on the offside, and I couldn’t see it protruding the close to facet of the animal because it ran off. I used to be mystified however realized that generally it’s arduous to inform what you noticed on the peak second of pleasure. I adopted a small however regular path of blood drops for 60 yards, the place I discovered the bull lifeless.

Analyzing the bull, I found that my shot had certainly been low, and had struck the leg joint on the prime of the radius and ulna. This joint extends up over the underside of the chest entrance. My arrow had deflected upward and penetrated the chest, piercing each lungs earlier than lastly lodging utterly contained in the bull’s chest cavity.

Hits on the entrance leg of deer and elk which might be beneath the chest often lead to a superficial wound. Typically the leg is damaged, and the wounded animal could get well. Severing an artery within the entrance leg may end up in demise, but it surely often means a spotty blood path and very tough recoveries.

Rear Leg

On one other event, a buddy of mine shot at a sharply quartering-away deer and hit it within the rear leg. Whereas the femoral artery traverses the rear leg, my buddy had missed this main artery. If he had lower this, the deer would have tipped over in very brief order.

The arrow made a loud crack upon influence, indicating a bone strike, and the deer bumped into close by brush. After ready an hour, we had been in a position to comply with the sparse blood signal and end the animal with a second arrow. My buddy’s preliminary shot had struck the deer’s higher rear leg bone (femur), breaking it. The deer traveled solely a brief distance earlier than bedding. We had been fortunate in recovering it.

Whereas severing the femoral artery is rapidly deadly and nearly at all times ends in large blood trails, generally hits happen within the massive muscle tissue of the hindquarter. These can create vital blood loss and impair an animal’s potential to journey.

I as soon as dumped the string on a pronghorn that lunged ahead at my shot. My arrow struck him behind the hindquarter, making a big lower. The antelope ran a couple of hundred yards after which bedded. I watched him for a while, however his head remained erect.

Lastly, I approached the animal and it limped away. I pursued it at a stroll for a number of hundred yards earlier than it bedded once more, at which level I used to be in a position to slip shut sufficient to manage the coup de grâce. Whereas arrows putting the rear leg can result in demise with simply massive cuts to main muscle tissue, instant pursuit is really useful to stop blood-clotting and the animal’s escaping.


Often, putting both a entrance or again leg along with your arrow works. Clearly, it must be averted if attainable. The identical could be stated for all different bones, besides the ribs. Whereas we are able to’t at all times make the right shot, it helps to know the placement of the scapula and backbone to keep away from them. While you do strike bones, understanding the potential outcomes will help you in understanding what to do subsequent. At occasions like these, information of the skeleton and the completely different results of putting numerous bones could be vital. Typically it actually does pay to be a “bonehead!”

The creator has a Ph.D. in wildlife administration and has spent 30 years working within the wildlife career. He has been an archer for the reason that age of 5, when his grandfather made hickory bows for him.

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