Making the ShotAugust 10, 2012 - Bow & Arrow’s Steve Flores
I had waited several months to occupy this particular stand. Mainly because it had proven to be a killer setup in years past, especially during the rut, and I was expecting nothing less than another red arrow by the day’s end. As the sun slowly rose from behind a distant ridge, I suddenly caught movement in the deep valley below me. Peering through a tangle of brush, I could scarcely make out antlers as they danced angelically above the head of a cruising whitetail. The only question now was would he make his way past my stand.
Reaching for my grunt tube, I decided to try and tip the odds in my favor with a few soft grunts. The buck was well out of range and moving further away from my position, so I had very little to lose. Pausing for a moment, the buck began scanning the nearby timber for the source of the sound. Unable to locate a suitable adversary, he continued with his nose-to-the-ground search. After trying a few more times to change his mind, I watched as he moved even further from my stand. Slowly, I turned and hung my bow back on the hook, contemplating what might have been. The minutes passed as I stared into a sea of yellow and orange leaves.
Suddenly, I was rousted from my trance by movement again and the faint sound of buck grunts. Quickly reaching for my bow, I turned just in time to see the source of the commotion as he crested the hillside bench below me. As it turned out,my previous efforts were indeed enticing enough to bring him in for a closer look…and he was closing the distance fast! Not wanting the situation to get ahead of me, I found a potential shooting lane and started running the shot process through my head. Before I knew it, the buck was less than 20 yards away and “grunting” even harder than before. As he ambled closer, I slowly raised my bow and prepared to come to full draw.
Still moving, he decided to turn in mid-stride and began quartering away from me. Hauling back the string on my Mathews, I watched as he continued on his course. But, just as I was about to stop him with a soft grunt from my mouth, he again changed direction—this time turning perfectly broadside. Unfortunately, he was still moving at a brisk pace and only one shooting lane separated him from a clutter of heavy brush that would surely allow an easy getaway.
Quickly settling my pin in the center of the shooting lane, I waited until just the last moment and then let out a soft,“Uurrrpp,” from the corner of my mouth. The buck stopped dead in his tracks, but before he had time to pinpoint my position, I dumped the string and sent an NAP Thunderhead straight through his chest. A mere 30 seconds later, I watched as he did the death-sway and fell peacefully to the ground.
Despite the desire to have our whitetail bow shots end with a short blood trail and a quick, humane death, it isn’t always the case. The truth is,mistakes are going to happen and arrows are going to miss their mark. Nevertheless, as an ethical bowhunter, the number one goal should be to end the life of the animal we are hunting,whitetail or otherwise, as quickly as possible.
In our pursuit of this objective, it is important to understand that many things can influence where our arrow will strike and the damage it will inflict. Some of these issues should be contemplated well before the shot materializes,while others will need to be considered just before the bowstring jumps forward. Let’s examine shot angles, aiming techniques, practice methods and equipment, and how each can influence our point of impact and the probability of reaching our goal:
THE RIGHT ANGLE
Sending your broadhead-tipped arrow through the “boiler room” of a whitetail comes down to many factors. In the world of bowhunting, one of the most important factors is shot angle. Unfortunately, I think a lot of young bowhunters are being misled by what they see on video and TV. In my opinion, good shooting angles are sometimes being replaced with marginal ones all for the sake of “entertainment” and capturing some sort of footage on film. I will be the first to say that not all of these ill-advised shots end in disappointment. Yes, some do result in a filled tag. However, I often question the message such actions send to the next generation of bowhunters who are looking for guidance. Nevertheless,when considering shot angles and how they play into the outcome of your hunt, just remember, this isn’t rocket science. A whitetail that is “quartering toward” the hunter unquestionably presents the lowest odds for a quick kill. This is simply due to the fact that the vital organs of the whitetail are either hidden behind the front shoulder and brisket, or the angle is so severe that the major organs (lung, heart) simply cannot be reached by an arrow that cuts in a straight line. A severe quartering toward shot usually ends up striking the deer in the gut;which results in a painful and lengthy death. On the other hand, a buck that is standing broadside, or slightly quartering away,will provide the bowhunter with a much larger target area; thus, increasing the chances of a lethal hit because the vital organs are completely exposed. With a little patience, and a thorough understanding of the whitetail’s anatomy, you can make the right decision regarding arrow placement in conjunction with various angles.
THE WAY OUT
Hunting whitetails from above ground, and the many viewpoints it provides, as well as the differences in stand heights, brings about a certain dilemma for bowhunters. The fact is, the circumstances surrounding each shot will be different, and therefore, it can be tough to nail down a hard rule-of-thumb when it comes to advising someone on the exact spot they should or shouldn’t have placed the arrow. There are simply too many variables. However, if there is one rule I try to live by it is this:where my arrow exits the deer is more important than where it enters it. What I mean is, when I take aim with the exit instead of the entry hole in mind, the outcome of the shot will likely be a good one. And, it doesn’t really matter if my arrow comes out the other side or not. What does matter is that I select my impact point based solely on the “potential” exit hole. Such consideration can help you hit the highest percentage of vital organs when shot angles become steep, due primarily to stand height or when the deer’s position (in relation to the hunter) is less than perfectly broadside.
This may sound elementary, but the act of aiming and the manner in which you perform this fundamental task has a huge bearing on the outcome of the shot. If you go into the moment of truth with the belief that you are merely aiming and shooting, you may be surprised at how often this simple undertaking can ruin an otherwise sure thing—especially when big antlers are thrown into the equation. And I will be the first to admit, I have blown my fair share of “easy” shots on whitetails. The biggest reason for this was due to my flawed aiming techniques and even the gear I was using. So, let’s move on to technique.
PICK A SPOT
Without question the biggest mistake I made early on in my bowhunting career was that I aimed “at the deer.” Sounds crazy, I know. But,what I should have been doing was aiming at a single spot on the deer I wanted to hit.This meant choosing an individual hair or a noticeable discoloration on the hide that I wanted my broadhead to slice. Once this “spot” was selected, it should have been the only thing that mattered in my life, at that moment. My concentration should have been held on the spot until I actually witnessed my arrow disappear into it. Employing such a shooting procedure does two things. First, it helps ensure that you don’t rush the shot, and two, it reduces buck fever (to a degree) because your focus will be on shot execution and not antler size.
Rushing the shot is a common reaction when you find yourself in a high-pressure situation, because the easiest way to get out of the situation is to release an arrow.Once the arrow is gone, so is the pressure. Therefore, the mind will actually force you to rush the shot and end the uncomfortable situation. However, don’t make the mistake of thinking you can talk yourself through such circumstances when the moment of truth arrives. Picking a spot is something that needs to be deeply rooted into your shot routine.
No matter what the setting is (real or practice), or even the target material (lifelike 3-D, paper, bag or block), you should learn to pick a spot and burn a hole through it with your mind until the arrow impacts.
While specific training can go a long way toward helping you place your arrow in the sweet spot, so can choosing the right equipment. Perhaps one of the most critical pieces of the puzzle is the bow sight;more specifically, the sight picture that it provides.
When you think about shooting whitetails from a stand position, consider that the majority of shots take place at roughly 20 to 25 yards. Looking back at my own kills, I can only recall a few that were beyond this average. Knowing this, it makes little sense to me to crowd up my bow sight with a number of pins that will rarely, if ever, be used in the field.
However, that wasn’t always the case. There was a time when I felt the need to have as many pins as my sight would hold. And,while all of those aiming points proved helpful while shooting at a variety of distances during practice (while nerves were calm), they quickly became a liability when it came time to take aim at a living, breathing whitetail (up close while my nerves were jumping out of my own skin). Coming to full draw, and then trying to decipher which pin to use among the halfdozen, similarly-colored points staring back at me,was more than my brain could handle.
As a result, I have since decided to use only one pin, sometimes two, in an effort to not only simplify the aiming process, but also clear up the overall sight picture. This allows me to see more of what I am aiming at. After all,when shots average between 20 to 25 yards, there’s really no need for anything more.
AIMING WITH THE MIND’S EYE
Not only can certain changes in equipment and aiming procedures help you reach your goal, you can also use your mind to further increase your odds of pulling off a successful shot.
The benefits of “visualization” have long been discussed in the sports community, and for good reason. You see, your mind doesn’t really know the difference between actually doing something, and a vivid visualization— as long as you make the visualization as realistic as possible. For example, don’t just imagine yourself shooting a deer. Instead, try to feel the cool air on your face, the rustling of leaves, the tension of the bowstring, the feel of your anchor point, the cold release in your warm hand and the soft thump of your arrow impacting hide and hair. The best part is you can do this as often as you like,wherever you like; at home, on the lawnmower cutting grass or even in your treestand. Play the scene over and over in your head enough, and when it happens for real, your mind will know exactly what to do and will likely be more capable of handling the situation.
THE RIGHT TOOL FOR THE JOB
One of the things I love most about bowhunting is all of the gear that goes along with it. And when it comes to broadheads and arrows the choices are endless. Yet,while the focus of this piece isn’t entirely on the best broadhead and arrow combination for whitetails, a few points should be covered nonetheless.
Over the years I have been primarily a mechanical broadhead user. These heads are simple to use, easy to tune, and due to constant improvements, very dependable. My favorite model brought nothing but confidence whenever it replaced my field points. I could reveal the exact name of this particular head but that isn’t really the point I’m trying to make. What I want to emphasize is that no matter what type of broadhead you choose,make sure it brings about a high level of confidence once you reach full draw. Otherwise, your focus could be diverted from the most important matter at hand…making the shot.
In addition to choosing a broadhead you can depend on,make sure your arrow of choice instills the same level of assurance. This starts with choosing a shaft that is properly spined for your bow’s draw weight and draw length. Arrows that are under-spined, or otherwise lack tight manufacturing tolerances,will not perform as well as more precisely made arrows. The result can be a subpar shooting performance at the worst time.
If you are a fixed-blade broadhead user, then you should also consider that flaws in arrow construction are greatly exaggerated, causing poor arrow flight once field points have been replaced with “winged” broadheads. And even mechanical heads, thought to fly just like field points, don’t always perform as advertised. Knowing this, it is important to start with a quality arrow shaft if you expect your broadhead to fly well. Otherwise, who knows how it will perform.
WORTH THE COST
This entire concept of drawing back the bow, taking aim and releasing an arrow might appear pretty simple to someone on the outside looking in. It may even seem rather elementary to someone with previous bowhunting experience. However,when you break things down, and consider all of the angles, the various procedures and techniques, and the affect that certain types of equipment can have on the outcome of the shot, it starts to become pretty clear that there is more to the undertaking than one might think.
Sure, there is a good deal of work involved. And yes, it can be a demanding task, improving one’s ability to put the arrow exactly where you want it. However, I believe it is one that every bowhunter should embark upon…long before the broadhead meets flesh.
PRACTICE MAKES PERFECT
Everyone has heard the old saying “practice makes perfect.”Well, the truth is, there isn’t an ounce of truth to that statement. Like my college football coach would always say,“Practice doesn’t make perfect…Perfect practice makes perfect.”He was right.
You see, you can spend all summer practicing in the backyard, placing arrow after arrow wherever you want. But what good will all of that effort do when you are 15 feet in the air, aiming at a whitetail that is slightly quartering away, on a 30-degree slope,while also wearing a heavy, coldweather coat and face mask? Unless you have practiced and prepared for such a situation, the answer is: not much.
A better approach is something I like to call “situational” practice. In other words, I practice for the exact situations I am likely to find myself in once the season begins. For me, that means shooting from a treestand at deer that can be standing below me, above me, even eyelevel with me! You see, hunting whitetails in the mountains comes with a wide range of shooting situations. In order to be the best bowhunter I can be, and effectively reach my goal, I have to prepare for them all.
Even if you hunt the relatively flat land of the Midwest, that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t be spending time practicing from an elevated position.The same goes for groundblind hunters. It makes no sense to prepare for the season standing upright, only to crawl inside a blind and shoot from a seated or crouched position. Such actions only move the needle of success in the wrong direction. —S.F.