Make every shot count by following these simple steps.
Bowhunting success is fickle. Once an arrow leaves the string, crazy stuff can happen.
Many bowhunters never get to the point of even launching an arrow, however. Those who do often see their plans fall apart in that brief moment called the shot opportunity.
Why is that?
WHEN TO DRAW
One of the biggest obstacles when staring down a big whitetail is deciding when to draw. There is no easy answer.
First, consider the buck’s travel path. It doesn’t do much good to draw if his current path doesn’t have the potential to bring him by your stand. Drawing too early often means you’ll have to let down your string — something that creates a lot of movement.
Second, look at the buck’s speed. If he’s moving briskly (most often during the rut) and you expect him to pass through a shooting lane soon, the top priority is to draw and be ready. If he’s taking his time, then so should you.
Drawing undetected is a big first step, but obstacles remain. You still have to send an arrow to a rather small target through space often cluttered with branches and leaves.
Identify openings that could present shot opportunities ahead of time.
WAIT OR FOLLOW
Once at full draw, you can either follow the buck with your pin until he steps into a shooting lane, or you can settle your pin in a shooting lane and wait for the buck to step into it.
I have taken shots both ways but prefer the former. Keeping the pin on the buck means I still have him in my sights if he changes direction or stops. Mature bucks do that at the most inopportune times.
Also, I don’t have to scramble to find an aiming point when he steps into the open. If my pin is already on a buck’s vitals, I can shoot the instant he’s clear of obstruction. If you wait to aim until he steps into an opening, you might not get the shot off before the buck moves back into cover.
CHECK THE RANGE
Today’s bows are fast, but even speed bows launch arrows in an arc. That means judging distance is critical. Sometimes you have time to use a rangefinder; many times, you won’t.
Pre-range as many landmarks as you can and try to remember the distance to each. I typically spend an hour ranging and memorizing the distance to objects until I create a 40 yard shooting zone around my stand.
After that, I estimate the average distance a buck is most likely to pass through, and I set my single-pin sight to that distance. A shot taken at less than the average will produce a slightly high impact, while a deer at a longer distance will produce a slightly low impact. I’ve learned to accept that variance with the sight system I use, and it hasn’t failed me.
No matter how careful you are, there will come a time when you have to make a shot without a rangefinder’s help. Time spent on a 3-D course estimating distances will dramatically help you in this circumstance.
If you can’t get to a 3-D range, walk around your yard or in a nearby woodlot and practice estimating the distance to various objects. Use a rangefinder to gauge your accuracy, and it won’t be long before your skill improves.
Another choice you have to make while at full draw is whether to stop a moving buck. Sometimes a deer won’t react well to unexpected sound – like a surprise “uurrrpp” coming from your mouth. It could cause your buck to turn inside out getting out of there. If you don’t stop him, however, your shot might not be as true, or he might walk into cover and ruin your chance for a shot.
I decide based on the demeanor of the buck. If he’s relaxed, I’ll stop him with a mouth grunt. If he’s nervous or on high-alert, I’ll shoot at the first opportunity.
PICK A SPOT
An important but very simple way to make a better shot at a deer is to pick a spot. I used to just shoot at deer rather than shooting at a specific spot on the deer. This was partially because of inexperience and partially because of nerves. Had I incorporated picking a spot into my shot sequence, I would have a few more heads hanging on my wall.
Today, when I draw back on a buck, I find a single hair I want my broadhead to split, and I don’t take my eyes off it until my fletchings disappear.
Picking a spot also helps reduce the effects of buck fever by giving your brain something to concentrate on other than a buck’s giant rack.
SQUEEZE THE SHOT
When shooting a rifle, how you squeeze the trigger can affect your shot. The same is true for shooting a bow using a release aid.
First, making a conscious effort to gently squeeze the trigger engages your brain in the same way picking a spot does. It also slows down the process and decreases the likelihood you’ll rush the shot.
When faced with a stressful situation (like trying to shoot a trophy buck) the natural reaction is to try to get out of it as quickly as possible. The best way to do that is to launch the arrow; when the arrow is gone, so is the stress.
We spend countless hours trying to put ourselves within bow range of a trophy buck, and when it finally happens our senses overload and we subconsciously look for the fastest way out.
Concentrating on picking a spot and then gently squeezing the trigger have helped me gain the upper hand on buck fever. It took several years to master the process, and I still feel that tremendous surge of adrenalin and panic, but it no longer dictates my actions.
Another important step in a good bow shot is to stay in the moment. Don’t ruin the shot by instantly “looking” for the arrow. Maintain concentration as the arrow rotates through the air and slices the exact hair you selected.
With enough practice and concentration, the moment will feel like it’s taking place in slow motion. The buck bolting away should be the first thing that jars you from your shooting trance. If everything went just right, your next sight will be watching your buck hit the dirt, belly up.
Practice follow-through by making a conscious effort not to move a muscle until your arrow hits a target. Burn a hole in your aim point and keep your eyes on it well after the arrow has arrived at its destination. Do this on every shot, and soon your follow-through will be rock solid.
You spend the entire off-season working on proper form and technique in the comfort and convenience of your back yard. Then, after months of preparation, you climb 20 feet off of the ground and expect things to be the same. They won’t be.
Body mechanics and elements of proper form (anchor point, for example) can be affected by steep angles. So can impact (and exit) points of your arrow.
The only way to learn where to aim and how to maintain proper form during an elevated shot is to practice from an elevated position.
You don’t have to shoot from a treestand (although it’s not a bad idea if convenient). Any elevated platform like a deck or accessible roof will work. Practice from several heights until your form is automatic and you have a good grasp of how angles can affect the way an arrow might enter and exit a deer’s vitals.
We all strive to make a good shot when the opportunity presents itself, but simply wishing for a good outcome isn’t going to put meat in the freezer or trophies on the wall. Build a solid shot sequence to take control of the variables that are controllable in a bowhunting situation.
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This article was published in the September 2015 edition of Buckmasters Whitetail Magazine. Subscribe today to have Buckmasters delivered to your home.