July 23 • 12:24 PM

Making those tough bow shots


Shooting 3-D courses is a great way to keep your skills sharp.

October 01, 2007
It was still early in the season when I spotted a great looking 8 point enter the adjacent bean field. I was just getting settled in for an evening hunt on this cold windy day. In an instant he turned and worked his way into the funnel where I was perched. Everything was working out perfectly; he was going to pass by at 10 yards for a broadside chip shot. But just as he entered the lane he made a sharp turn and was now facing me. He walked directly behind my tree and I had to lean out and squeeze off a shot directly down into his vitals.

My 10 yard chip shot quickly turned into a few tense moments when he stood too close. No matter how many shooting lanes you have deer rarely stop broadside and wait for our shot. It's often quite the opposite.

Splitting arrow on a paper target is good but to truly bet the odds tougher practice sessions are needed. Shooting 3D courses and ultimate familiarity of your bow are the two best allies. Practice these five toughest shoots to become a better archer.

Obstructed Shooting

Even though I spend countless hours cutting shooting lanes and preparing for the season twigs are known for reaching out and grabbing arrows.

Last year in late October, I slipped into a new stand I had prepared weeks earlier. The sun had barely risen above the trees when a deer slipped in behind me. I didn't notice her until she was almost through my last shooting lane. In an instant she quickly veered away from me and began walking away. I saw a small window at 30 yards, leaned in and squeezed until the bow surprised me. My extreme focus must have burnt a hole through the tangle because the shot was perfect.

If it is not a fallen branch that changes their path, it's a hot doe. But whatever the cause, we need to be prepared to make tight shots. One of the most overlooked aspects is the amount your arrow raises from your rest. Your sight bracket sets a couple of inches higher then your rest.

Therefore branches within 10 yards, below your sight bracket and out of sight will cause havoc. After cleanly killing several branches, I've learned to cut away these problems. My bow takes 7 yards for the arrow to rise several inches to my 20 yard sight pin.

In the same token know how much your arrow arches at longer ranges. The solution I use with my 55 lb Mathews is anything within 10 yards has an upward arch. Anything past 20 often has a falling arch. (Higher poundage bows have less arrow arch.) Therefore when shooting farther distances 30+ yards 10-20 yard obstruction can be shot over.

I use my sight pins to help determine my needs. You're shooting 30 yards if there is a branch 20 yards out but your 20 yard pin clears the obstruction then take the shot. It will sail over the branch.

The best way to learn your bow is to start at 5 yards and shoot every couple yards. This will allow you to know your arch at every distance.

Then take this knowledge to the 3D course and practice. There is nothing like real practice on 3D deer targets. Most courses make it challenging by providing obstructions above and below the targets. Don't worry if you lose a couple arrows, the knowledge you gain will be invaluable.

On The Move

Occasionally you'll need to shoot a moving deer. Some 3D courses also offer moving targets, mine does. These targets are fun but also give you experience that's hard to repeat. You can also practice moving shoots in your backyard by having a buddy roll an old foam ball. It can be fun especially when a couple of archers get together.

By keeping shots within 25 yards you will not need to be lead. I don't like taking longer shots on a moving animal.

Your biggest challenge is staying focused. Don't get frazzled if you can't stop a rut crazed buck. Just focus and follow through. Keep everything steady and slowly move with the animal just like you would aim with a shotgun.

Fading Light

The last 30 minutes of daylight can sometimes seem magical. But also as the minutes pass, your effective range decreases. Even with legal shooting light, branches melt into the woods making it impossible to shoot.

Low light also plays tricks on our eyes when properly judging distance. This all combines together for a losing situation. To beat this phenomenon, begin practicing under low light. Twice a week, I slip out into the backyard and throw a couple of arrows during the last 15 minutes of light. It just takes 5 minutes, valuable practice.

Also many local 3D courses allow you to shoot anytime you want. I love getting on the 3D course as the woods begins to darken. These are real life hunting conditions. Practice, find your effective range and shoot unknown yardage as the light fades.

Quick Shots

During the rut anything can happen. With hot does and rut crazed bucks playing cat and mouse, it's hard telling where they'll walk. While a buck is in hot pursuit, it only takes a moment for an opportunity to be lost.

Just last season I was scanning a woodlot when I noticed a buck trotting right towards me. He must have gotten a nose full of the hot doe which passed by hours earlier.

Within seconds he was on top of me. I bleated, whistled and finally yelled before he stopped. At that moment my instincts took over and the arrow was already sailing. For a moment I was worried, my shot was high with little penetration. But 60 yards later I collected my collapsed trophy.

When rushing shots you'll likely punch the trigger. I believe practice is about perfecting your perfect form and making small changes to improve your overall effectiveness. But in the woods it's rare to be able to take your time, line up, focus and squeeze. It's often a few panicked moments of heart racing adrenaline. Oh, and remember to squeeze the trigger.

So practice this. Give yourself 2 or 3 seconds to aim and shoot. Whether you're on the target or not let it go. Although not perfect you'll be amazed at how quickly you can make a reasonable shoot.

Not Quite Perfect

I absolutely love to hunt from a treestand but there are a few areas I have no choice but to hit the ground. Sitting, knelling, leaning, stretching are all a part of making good on your one chance during the season. In the heavily pressured state land of Southern Michigan I only get a few good opportunities on 2 ˝+ year old bucks. They are just not standing behind every tree like many hunting shows make it sound. For me this means I must make my one opportunity happen.

Practice weird angled shoots. Turn your torso 180 degrees, lean too far out, sit, and stretch around trees. If it's possible and even if it's not, practice it. Find out if stabilizing your shooting arm on a tree affects your aim.

Final Thoughts

Wouldn't it be great if every buck came trotting in, stopped broadside in our shooting lane and waited for a perfectly executed shot? But it would also be great if we all had miles hunting land, big bucks on every hillside, perfect sunsets and a November without work. But now back to the real world.

Not everything works as planned but being prepared will allow you to make good on lost opportunities. Each one of these five situations has cost me missed shots. Both practice and intimately knowing your bow will increase your shooting capacity and confidence. Try out some of these ideas and change a missed opportunity into a successful hunt.

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