The cardinal rule of bowhunting is “wait for the right shot.” Nothing assures success more than shooting at a well-positioned animal within easy range.
Of course, waiting for that perfect bow shot is easier said than done sometimes. If you are not seeing many deer, for instance, or if your hunting time is limited, it’s heart-breaking to let an animal walk away, no matter how bad a shot it presents. But letting it walk in this situation is almost always the right thing to do. After all, no one wants to wound a game animal. And if you take marginal shot opportunities, you risk doing just that.
Ideally, you want to draw and release on a relaxed animal that is unaware of your presence. It should be broadside to you or angled away so that its heart-lung area is clearly exposed with a clear shooting lane to it. The animal should not be able see you draw because its line of sight is blocked by trees, rocks, shrubs, etc.
If you have all this going for you and are within a comfortable range, by all means pick a spot over its heart-lung area, focus on it and release that arrow. If not, wait it out until these conditions apply.
Most of us know this already. And it is simple enough in theory.
The trick, and difficult part, is not being tempted by lesser shot opportunities. You don’t want a deer looking right at you when you release, for instance, because that means it might “jump the string.” This phrase describes the way a deer will move at the release of the arrow. The drop and leap motion happens in the blink of an eye and can result in a clean miss or a poorly placed arrow. A quiet bow and unsuspecting animal are sure remedies for this.
Smart hunters also know not to stretch their shooting ranges while hunting. In fact, a good rule of thumb with traditional gear is to take your maximum effective range on targets and reduce it by about 25 percent on live animals — at least this works for me.
For example, I can hit a pie-plate sized target fairly consistently with my longbow at 25 yards. But on deer, I would never shoot beyond 20 and prefer to get in much closer. In fact, I try to get between 12 and 15 yards.
There’s good reason for this. Shooting at paper and shooting at a live animal in the field are two different things. The latter causes you to be a bit more excited and has this tendency to move just as you are getting ready for the shot.
Besides, the relatively slow arrow speed of my longbow means a more arching trajectory at longer ranges. This is important to consider because, if you are hunting in the woods, an overhanging branch could interfere with your shot as the arrow hits the high point in its trajectory. The closer you get the less of an issue this becomes.
Getting closer also means that your arrow hits with more energy. This improves penetration which almost always results in a quicker kill, all other things being equal.
There’s only one thing worse than watching an arrow miss a game animal you’ve been dreaming about all season and that is wounding it because you didn’t have the good sense to wait for the right shot.
Remember that this bow season, wait for the right shot and you’ll be better off for it.