We’ve all been there. Many of us will be there again (some more than others).
Missing a shot at a deer sucks. There’s no other way to describe it. There are, however, ways to decipher it. Here are five reasons deer hunters miss deer and how to correct them. I’m going to focus on bow shots here because I believe you should only talk or write about what you know. I’m not much of a gun hunter and even less of a respectable shot with a firearm. That said, most of these mistakes aren’t weapon-specific.
Failure to Aim It would seem to be the most obvious part of the deer-killing equation. In fact, I’d wager that of all the misses that occur each deer season aren’t misses at all. They’re simply shots fired. To “miss” implies that you actually were aiming at a spot and didn’t hit it.
I know for a fact that I’ve missed deer because I never truly aimed my arrow. I had put the sight pin on a general area the deer was occupying, sure. But that’s a long way from actually aiming.
In the heat of the moment, this is very easy to do. Be honest with yourself after your next miss and I think you’ll understand just how easy.
Focus is required for a successful shot. There’s no way around it. When I started to really focus on burying my pin on the exact hair I wanted to hit on a deer in front of me, my arrows magically started going to that exact spot. Funny how that happens.
Failure to Launch The mechanical bow release is a marvel of engineering. It allows us to pull heavier bows more easily, it assists in repeatable form which leads to accuracy, and it creates a stable, unmoving connection to the bow string.
That all said, there is one thing the mechanical release requires to perform correctly: smooth, consistent triggering.
There’s a reason back-tension releases are a staple on the 3-D course and will be found in the hands of the world’s most accurate archers. It’s because their very design requires the same smooth action to trigger the shot. You can’t punch the trigger on a back-tension release because there isn’t one to punch.
I’ve tried a back-tension release for bowhunting and voted against it. Maybe it works for you, but it simply doesn’t work for me in a hunting situation. Instead, I focus on using a traditional index release in a manner that requires back tension. I curl my finger around the trigger at the first finger joint. To trigger the shot, I simply pull my arm back into the bow’s valley and keep pulling until the tension causes my finger to activate the trigger. It takes a bit of practice but it’s the best way to fire a bow in my opinion.
Oh yeah, those misses? It’s because you’re slapping that release as the adrenaline kicks.
Failure to Plan How often have you heard the following tale?
“I wasn’t expecting the buck to come through that way. I had a tiny window to shoot through and tried to thread the needle. I almost made it but the arrow hit a twig just before it got to the deer and I shot low.”
I’ve heard it plenty and the story is old.
For starters, there is no such thing as “threading the needle.” You either have a clean shot or you don’t. Forcing the issue is nonsensical and unethical. If I have a lane wide enough for my arrow, I’ve got a shot. But that’s because I aim and expect my arrow to go where I point it.
Now, having deer come from unexpected directions can happen. But it shouldn’t. You’ve got plenty of time as you wait on that buck to show up. Play out every possible scenario in your mind. Think about where your shots will be for every possible avenue of approach. Visualization may be a new-age hippy Zen thing, but it does work.
Failure to Range I have found a pretty simple way to alleviate this common missing malady: I don’t shoot at deer beyond 30 yards. In fact, I tend to pass on shots much beyond 25 yards unless conditions are ideal.
The simple fact is the farther away the target, the smaller the margin for error. That said, knowing exactly how far a deer is when you take a shot is critical. With my self-imposed range limit, I don’t have to worry about choosing the right pin. From 10 to 25 yards, today’s fast bows aren’t going to show much difference in impact point, even when shooting heavy hunting arrows. So I keep it simple and keep it close. But I do need to know the difference between 25 yards and 35 yards. A laser rangefinder is a must-have tool for every bowhunter. If you’re shooting beyond 30 yards and you aren’t using one, that’s likely why you’re missing shots.
Failure to Practice No, this isn’t going to be a lecture about off-season practice routines. I won’t tell you that you should have a daily regimen of 100 arrows, blind-bale shooting, and French tuning. Why? Because, honestly, it's just not realistic for most bowhunters. I prefer bowhunting to be an up-close game. If you want to shoot every single evening and drill quarters out to 50 yards, that's awesome. I, on the other hand, shoot in the summer months to maintain form and for the fun of shooting.
But my “practice” is also done during the bow season. I’m going to shoot an arrow every time I hunt. It might be on the walk to my stand at a hay bale. It might be at a brightly-colored leaf on the ground during a lull in activity while sitting in my tree stand. But I’m going to shoot an arrow. Just one.
Feature image via Captured Creative.
This mantra not only ensures my gear is still on, it gives me real-time confidence that if/when a big buck shows up and closes to within 25 yards, it’s in trouble.