Hunting deer with a bow is a more complex sport than firearm hunting. Don’t get me wrong, I love hunting deer with all legal methods available. However, Limited in range, the bowhunter must use all the outdoorsman skills at their disposal to get as close as possible to the target. While a 200 yard shot with a rifle is in range for most gun hunters, the bowhunter typically needs to be inside 60 yards with the strongest percentage shots falling within 40 yards. There is also the added complexity of using a slower moving projectile. The bow, by nature, kills by causing massive blood loss. A firearm can cause hydrostatic shock in addition to blood loss. This can mean that a deer shot with a rifle is more likely to die sooner than one shot with a bow.
What this all means is that when bowhunting, the placement of the arrow in the deer is arguably more important than shot placement with a gun. The force of a bullet is more likely to penetrate through bone structure than an arrow. Further, the arrow needs to be able to pass through for maximum blood loss.
While ultimately, you are the only one who can decide what shot is ethical for you to take, you need to consider several factors. Are you confident in the yardage that you are shooting at? If you normally practice at only 40 yards, don’t try and take a shot at 60. Do you have a clear shot with no obstructions? If there is a branch in the way, for example, the arrow may deflect which will affect the accuracy of the shot. Even the amount of light present can affect the ethics of taking a shot. While it may still be legal to shoot 25 minutes after sunset, if you cannot see your sight pin or whether or not a deer has antlers then the shot is not ethical to take.
When the deer is within your range and you have a clear shot, the next step is to decide which shot to take. Generally speaking, there are two bowshots which I would normally recommend. Broadside and quartering away. There will be plenty of people who have made quick kills on other shots such as the neck, head-on, or quartering towards and they are always eager to speak up about it. At the end of the day, you have to decide what shot is ethical for yourself. Personally, I am comfortable shooting inside 40 yards or less and I am looking for a broadside or quartering away shot.
You will have to decide what shots you are comfortable taking. No one can make that decision for you. What I do recommend, though, is to make that decision before you get into the woods. People who hunt without a shot plan get a buck in range, aim, and shoot. It is very difficult to make a logical decision about shot placement when an 8 point is staring in your direction. This often results in wounded deer. Ethics means deciding on a shot plan before you go hunting and sticking to it in the field. I promise this will result in less wounded deer and a higher feeling of satisfaction after your hunt.