August 31, 2016
I once came CLOSE to throwing an all-out tantrum in a tree stand. Up until that day in early November, I'd had opportunities at mature bucks but had never sealed the deal. I had arrowed plenty of young bucks. But the brutes eluded me.
That evening, I watched as a young buck cruised his way down the ridge toward my stand, and eventually beyond it. The route the forky took was lined with thigh-sized rubs and big, dished-out scrapes. Clearly bigger deer were using the travel route.
I was deep into fantasyland when one of those bucks walked in, transforming daydreaming into reality. The buck sported a nearly white rack with two tall, uniform walls of tines. I don't know how big he was other than my first impression was that he was at least 150 inches, possibly more. As he walked past my stand, I drew and sent an arrow harmlessly over his back. I hadn't aimed. I hadn't ranged him. I hadn't done anything right.
He bounded about 50 yards and stopped. In desperation I grunted at him, and to my dismay, he started working a scrape. As I tried to lure him back into range for a mulligan, I called in a new buck from behind me. With all of my focus directed at the first buck, I didn't realize that another was walking in. By the time I did, he was at 10 yards and closing fast.
The mature eight, with his swollen neck and obviously mature body, stopped maybe four yards from the base of my tree. I remember looking at the breadth of his shoulders and thinking that it looked like he was two feet across. I drew on the buck, and instead of bending at the waist and thinking things through form-wise, I just shot again. The arrow skimmed his back and buried in the dirt.
Those are far from the only two deer I've missed in my life. But they are among the most painful misses, to be sure. In recent years, I have shored up my game quite a bit. Whiffs occur much less frequently.
If you've been known to airball on occasion, consider my approach for identifying the reasoning behind the poor shots. Following are six accuracy ailments and their real-world remedies.
RANGE IS EVERYTHING
Even with today's fast bows and flatter arrow trajectories, it's imperative to get a true range reading. Occasionally, events unfold a little too fast for us to get a true reading via rangefinder. During most encounters, however, you've got enough time. Make sure you make it count.
Knowing the exact range is an obvious benefit for all shots, but there's a subtle benefit as well — confidence. A buck that is standing at exactly 28 yards in a soybean field in front of you is an easy target to hit correctly if you do everything right — and it all starts with knowing that he is 28 yards away to begin with.
We've all heard the advice to bend at the hip when we are shooting from tree stands. It's good advice, but doesn't tell the whole story. You've first got to practice from an elevated platform to get comfortable maintaining form for all kinds of shots.
Don't expect to be a good shot from a tree stand if you never practice from one, because you won't. It's kind of like expecting a bird dog to work a triple retrieve flawlessly after only running single-dummy retrieving drills. Being good takes practice.
It also takes an attention to form at all times to solidify proper muscle memory.
I don't know how many bowhunters I meet who tell me they never use the bubble level on their sights. To me that's crazy talk. When I draw and anchor, the very next thing I check is my bubble level — every single shot.
This is also just one step in developing a shot sequence that is repeatable every time you're at the range or in the field.
Knowing how to properly go through the motions every time you draw your bow is important. It'll lead to better shots in the deer woods.
Arguably one of the easiest ways to sabotage a shot is through grip inconsistencies. I've actually stopped wearing gloves whenever possible. I'd rather load up my pockets with chemical handwarmers and brave the cold with my bare hands provided I can stand it, to ensure I'll make a better shot when the time comes.
I use facepaint to darken my hands so that that if I do get a shot, I'm far less likely to change my grip with bare hands. I do use gloves on occasion, but never anything that features a grippy palm. Slippery gloves are the way to go for your bow hand, period.
Pay attention to your bow hand when you practice so that you don't have to think about it when you're shooting at a deer. And please, do everything in your power to keep glove interference or anything else that might alter your grip at a minimum. You'll thank me later.
FEELING THE RUSH
Of all of the ways to miss, rushing the shot is my personal favorite. I do this more than the others. When a shooter-deer walks in, we tend to feel like the opportunity is quickly going to slip away. This causes us to try really hard to make something happen, including taking the shot quickly. This is bad, very bad.
In most encounters, you've got far more time to shoot than you believe. In fact, most of us don't spend more than five to seven seconds from draw to release. I have a fairly fast shot sequence that tends to last no more than about three to four seconds, so in reality there is very little reason to rush anything.
This is true even if a buck busts you dead to rights while drawing. If the angle is good, and you're confident of an ethical shot, you've almost always got more time than you think. I'm to the point now where even if I get busted drawing, I feel really confident that I'm going to kill. I may try to aim a little low to compensate for shooting at an alert deer, but what I don't do much anymore is hit the trigger just because I believe the encounter is about to end.
I've heard a ton of hunting stories that end with someone saying they used the wrong pin and missed. It happens all of the time, but most of us don't think about why. To break it down, consider this: how often do you use the wrong pin at the practice range? Probably never.
That means that we are out there choosing the wrong pin only when it matters the most. There are two ways to remedy this situation. The first involves simply practicing to the point where there's no question which pin to use or how much to gap at all distances.
For most of us, the better bet is to dumb down our options. I'm a single-pin shooter most of the time for this very reason. It's easier for me to aim with one pin than five. This is because I get buck fever, bad. Most of us suffer from buck fever to some extent, and a great way to tamp it down slightly is to remove the amount of thinking we have to do during the shot.
This might mean going from five pins to three, or three to one. I firmly believe most whitetail hunters would do best with a single-pin mover, especially a sight with one vertical pin, as opposed to a horizontal pin. But I also know a lot of folks don't want to switch to a mover, so perhaps a model with three pins is the true ultimate whitetail sight configuration. Either way, dumb it down and you'll use the wrong pin far less often.
MAKING SHOTS HAPPEN
Three words I hate hearing in bowhunting discussions are "thread the needle." We've all done it, and most of the time it has ended badly. That's one of the reasons why anyone who does it correctly wants to shout their story from the rooftops. Shooting through small holes in brush at a living critter is a recipe for disaster.
We'll all miss less if we simply take higher-odds shots. Good shooting lanes, stands that are set up correctly, and patience in regards to deer body language and overall movements will result in better shots. Set yourself up for success, not failure. This seems like a no-brainer but is a common ailment amongst bowhunters. It's also one of the reasons why I hate sitting in stands or blinds that someone else set up.
I'm too Type A to go into a deer hunt with questionable shooting lanes or the necessity of having to constantly maneuver into goofy positions to try to get a shot off from a stand.
Instead, I want to know when a deer walks into range that I can simply draw, aim and shoot without having to worry about him being in the exact right spot, or worse, crossing my fingers hoping my arrow gets through to something good.
Confirm Your Miss
Not all misses are what they appear to be. Sometimes the evidence points to an airball, but it's really a direct hit. Deer fat and intestines can plug exit wounds and stanch blood flow. Some hits don't result in an exit wound at all, and if the entrance is high, then you're in for a long tracking job. No matter what, even if you think you've missed, you need to know. Take the extra effort to confirm that you did hit dirt and not deer after every single shot.