The woodserupted as the pair burst into my periphery. I craned around for a better look, a gush of adrenaline driving my heart into my temples. The two whitetails were locked in a primordial mating ritual, and suddenly I was in the middle of the action.
He shadowed her in lockstep, their dance choreographed by a wash of hormones. Around my stand they scrambled, darting in and out of my 20-yard comfort zone. Above, I twisted myself into a pretzel, contorting into odd shooting positions, praying for the perfect shot on the chocolate-horned, 180-incher. This, the biggest buck I’d ever eyed with bow in hand.
The whitetail rut is arguably the best time to ground a lovestruck buck. A deluge of testosterone now drives his normally timid behavior as he sheds his inhibitions, throwing caution to the wind. While it’s a prime time to arrow a great deer, the rut also presents the toughest time to trigger a clean, ethical shot.
An unfortunate number of deer are wounded in November by eager, or panicked, archers who rush the shot. When a rut-crazed buck ventures into range, we, too, sometimes throw caution to the wind and attempt shots we wouldn’t normally take.
So, what is one to do when presented with difficult angles and odd shots? Condition yourself to avoid them, no matter how great the temptation. That starts by knowing which shots to pass up, as well as which ones to take, so you can make a split-second decision with confidence.
Ones to Avoid
Nothing is more frustrating than shooting a deer and not finding it. Shots come quickly during the rut, but that doesn’t mean you should be in a rush to shoot. When a buck presents any of the following shots, wait for a better one. In most instances, it will come.
Facing Away or Facing To: Neither of these shot angles presents a high percentage of success. The arrow will encounter heavy bones and muscle, leading to minimal penetration. Some archers think they can shoot a deer in the chest and “drop it in its tracks.” Rest assured, this almost never happens in reality.
Quartering To: Many of the reasons to avoid facing-away or facing-to shots also apply to quartering-to shots. The heavy bones and dense muscles of the shoulder shield the chest cavity.
Spine or Steep Downward Angle: While spine shots make for spectacular footage on television shows, they almost never end well. The upper third of the body contains the bones of the spine and the heavy muscles of the back. Bowhunters who attempt a straight-down shot from an elevated position are disappointed more times than they are rewarded. If presented with this shot, simply wait for the deer to walk out, hopefully presenting a more workable shot angle.
Abdominal Cavity: While not actually a “shot” in terms of a deer’s body position, hits in the abdominal cavity are all too common during the rut. The large abdominal cavity houses the stomach, kidneys, liver, and small and large intestines. While an expansive target, avoid it at all costs.
Shots here are almost always lethal, though recovery rates are abysmally low. Usually there’s little to no bleeding; however, the stomach or intestines are damaged, and their contents seep into and through the animal’s abdominal wall. Massive infection, called peritonitis, results. Death can take up to 12 hours with the animal walking miles before it lies down to die—never to be recovered.
In Motion: Shots on running or moving animals with archery tackle are low-percentage affairs. Rarely—and I do mean rarely—can even the most accomplished archer execute a clean shot on an unpredictable target. The typical result is a hit in the abdominal cavity or other undesirable area
When a deer will not quit running or darting around, make a grunt or doe bleat. Don’t be shy. Let out a relatively loud call when the animal is at a distance you can shoot to confidently. In many instances the deer will pause, offering a static shot.
Ones to Take
Making an ethical shot during the rut demands much of an archer. First and foremost, it requires patience. Additionally, it demands discipline, as waiting for a good shot is tough given the fleeting opportunities deer often present during this time. Here are the shots worth taking in the rut—and all season.
Quartering Away: Quartering-away shots are high-percentage shots. However, the physical area you have to aim at depends on the angle of the animal. Limit quartering-away shots to very short distances as precision is needed.
Quartering-away arrows pass through the animal diagonally, entering through the thin abdominal wall and passing forward into the chest cavity. Along its path, there is a lethal disruption of any number of vital organs, as well as both the blood and oxygen delivery systems. When making this shot, use the opposite front leg as your aiming point.
Broadside: The broadside shot offers the most real estate in which to place an arrow. It also offers the highest probability of a pass-through, which leads to the best chance of bleed out. Geometrically speaking, a broadside shot offers the shortest arrow travel distance (in inches) for a pass-through.
Aim right behind the front leg, one-third up from the bottom of the chest cavity. To avoid hitting the heavy bones of the shoulder, wait until the animal presents itself with its leg forward.
Oh, and thatheavy-horned 180-incher? I never got a shot I felt comfortable attempting. Sadly, I watched as he trotted over a hill, doe in tow. Could I have taken a shot? Sure. Would I have killed him? Nope. To this day, he remains the biggest buck I have ever seen. But I’m content knowing he passed his extraordinary genes onto future generations.
The Right Sight for the Rut
The Apex Gear Covert Pro is a “pin-less” sight incorporating a single illuminated dot. The design eliminates the need for multiple sight pins and the possibility of “pin confusion” under pressured conditions, like the rut. Manually adjustable for range, the sight is extremely accurate at varying target distances.
The Covert Pro’s elevation-adjusting, gear-driven system is buttery smooth, a testament to Apex’s commitment to design excellence and quality of manufacture. Ruggedly built, the Covert Pro is designed to withstand the rigors of rough and tumble use in the field, and battery life is reported to be approximately 700 hours. The sight comes with 120 pre-marked yardage tapes, which makes calibrating it to your bow’s arrow speeds a quick and easy process. $258.99; apex-gear.com