December 08, 2021
By Emily Kantner
Almost every bowhunter has blown a chip shot from the deer stand or whiffed one from a turkey blind. The geometry of steeply angled or short-distance shots can get confusing, especially when buck fever sets in.
A Booner steps out broadside at 30 yards downhill. Do you hold center, high or low? How about a bull bugling directly uphill? While it may seem counter intuitive, the answer is the same for both scenarios.
HIT THE ANGLES
The laws of physics dictate that objects moving horizontally, such as an arrow fired from a bow, are dramatically affected by gravity. So, if you sight in your bow on flat ground, your arrow will hit its target slightly higher when you shoot from both upward and downward angles.
For steeply angled shots, hold low on your target—whether you’re 20 feet up a tree on the back 40 or aiming uphill at a backcountry bull. Although the ultra-fast speeds of today’s bows minimize the effects of angled shots at close range, arrow trajectory will depend on your individual rig setup and specs.
Upgrading your optics can also eliminate some of the guesswork with these challenging shots. An angle-compensating rangefinder will account for the elevation and calculate the adjusted distance to your target, so you don’t need to do the math on the fly.
Probably the most important step to ensuring accuracy uphill or downhill is practicing proper form. Rather than leaning forward or backward to shoot, first come to full draw while standing upright, then bend at the waist to zero in on your target. This will help you maintain a consistent anchor point and correct form throughout the shot. Some bowhunters find a kisser button is helpful for adding yet another physical point of contact.
Shooting on an uneven hillside can also be a form-wrecker. Archers have the tendency to overcompensate for these angles and unintentionally cant—or tilt—the bow, which throws off aim in calm conditions. Holding your bow perfectly vertical on rolling terrain can be tough, but a bow sight equipped with a bubble level will show you when you’re leaning left or right so you can correct course.
READY FOR YOUR CLOSE-UP
Possibly even more mind-boggling are the mechanics of ultra-close shots. If you have a gobbler strutting between the blind and your decoys at just 3 or 4 yards, using a 10-yard pin will guarantee you miss vitals—and maybe even the bird altogether.
That’s because your compound spits arrows out a few inches below your line of sight. So, at that close of a range, your arrow is still traveling up to reach that level. Typically, aiming with your 40-yard pin will be deadly in that 3- to 4-yard range.
Similarly, if a deer stops below your treestand at just a few yards, using your top pin will likely result in a low, non-lethal hit. A 40-yard pin is usually the most accurate in this situation as well, and proper bend-at-the-waist form is crucial for a clean kill.
PRACTICE MAKES PREPARED
With widely varying draw lengths and arrow weights, there’s no one hard-and-fast rule for how low to aim or which pin will be dead-on for ultra-close shots. It’s important to test your own gear and see how it performs in each scenario.
Your best bet—and the ethical thing to do—is to consistently practice with your hunting setup from every possible position, angle and distance you might encounter in the field. Shoot from an elevated platform, sitting down and at close range, and you’ll increase the odds of nailing your next chip shot.