Tips & Tactics

Pass? Shoot? Wait?

Pass? Shoot? Wait?

By Michael O’Brien and Tim H. Martin

Photo: A deer’s body angle, your adrenaline, a deer’s demeanor and confident shooting are all part of making effective shots.

Have you ever panicked when a deer showed up? Have you ever fired a shot with the adrenaline pumping and before the optimum shot was offered? If you are an experienced hunter, you probably know what happens next, and it’s rarely good.

Most misses and deer recovery problems are caused by hunters simply not waiting for the proper moment to shoot. Many of these troubles could be eliminated if hunters are patient enough to hold out for a perfect shot.

The perfect shot requires two things. First, wait for your target to be within a comfortable distance. This means you’ve practiced with your weapon and are proficient with making shots at this range. Allow the deer time to get there.

Secondly, your target’s body position is of utmost importance. The deer needs to be broadside or quartering away, never facing you. This gives your bullet or arrow its best chance to pass through vital organs without contacting leg or shoulder bones.

If the deer is in range but not positioned favorably, wait.

Don't risk wounding a deer by allowing adrenaline to force you into a bad decision. Use patience, and pass on marginal shots — you’ll get another chance!

–Editor’s Note by Tim H. Martin

I’d like to add a couple of thoughts to Michael’s tip, because there are other variables required for a perfect shot scenario.

A moving target is never a good target, especially when bowhunting. Shooting at a walking or running deer has probably caused more gut shots than any other mistake. Learn to whistle or grunt to stop a walking deer before shooting.  

Experienced hunters consciously look for potential problems before pulling the trigger.

The perfect shot also requires a shooting lane clear of obstructions. Make sure your deer is in the clear. Small twigs or branches can deflect a bullet, even at relatively short distances.

When bowhunting, your potential trophy’s demeanor also comes into play.

A perfect shot scenario requires the animal to be calm, preferably grazing or passing through unbothered. A nervous deer is far more likely to react and jump the string than a calm one. The more you observe deer, the better you’ll become at recognizing body language.

Patience is a learned virtue. Like anything else in hunting, the more experience you acquire through time afield, the better you’ll be at waiting for that perfect shot.

Lastly, learn to take deep breaths. Adrenaline can be conquered with breathing techniques and resisting the urge to shoot as soon as a deer appears.

Editor’s Note: If you have a unique or special tip you’d like to share with Buckmasters fans, please email it to and, if chosen, we will send you a cap signed by Jackie Bushman, along with a knife!

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Copyright 2021 by Buckmasters, Ltd.

Copyright 2020 by Buckmasters, Ltd