Mastering Tricky Shots

Are you ready for any shot mother nature throws your way?

Bowhunting is supposed to be fun, but it was obvious that my friend Oscar (not his real name) wasn’t having any. The scowl on his face spoke volumes when he rolled into whitetail camp shortly after dark.

“What’s the problem?” I asked.

“I missed a beautiful buck,” he explained. “Broadside, 22 yards, his nose up a doe’s butt. I just can’t believe it.”

As the story unfolded, it became obvious what Oscar’s problem had been. He was accustomed to hunting deer from a treestand, but there were no large trees along the scrape line he wanted to watch. So he borrowed one of my pop-up ground blinds, buried it in the bushes where it was hard to see, and started sitting all day long. On the third afternoon, his arrow sailed over the whitetail of his dreams.

Like most ground blinds, this one was not tall enough to stand in or even shoot from a crouch. Oscar sat on a folding stool that gave him limited upper bow clearance at full draw.

“After I drew my bow,” he told me, “I realized I had to lean to the right to slip my arrow through the window in the blind. The bow’s lower limb hit my leg when I released, and the arrow took off like a rocket. I’ll bet I never see that 12-point buck again.”

Oscar was right: He didn’t fill his deer tag in 2012. It was a tough lesson about mastering tricky shots before you hunt.

It’s one thing to shoot at your backyard archery target, but it’s quite another to take real shots in the woods. Even situations that might not seem tricky can be puzzlingly difficult when a buck pops up in front of you. Careful bowhunters try to anticipate the unexpected before they hunt, and they practice every conceivable type of shot to prevent unpleasant surprises later on.

When I quizzed Oscar about his shot, it became obvious that he had no clue how to shoot while sitting down. Did he feel more comfortable drawing with both knees to one side of the lower bow limb, or facing the target more directly with one knee on either side of the bow? Was his upper-body posture the same at full draw as it was when he shot standing up? Was the window in the blind in the right spot for him to center it with a fully drawn arrow?

A few practice shots would’ve answered all these questions and made Oscar and his taxidermist very happy. As it was, both of those guys were robbed by one unexpectedly difficult shot.

Shooting up or down in the field can also ruin your day. The advent of angle-compensating rangefinders has helped bowhunters tremendously, but just knowing which sight pin to use isn’t always enough. It takes practice to master upward and downward shots because it’s easy to lean too far forward or backward at unusual shooting angles. To hit where you aim, you must bend at the waist so your upper-body geometry stays the same, no matter how sharply up or down you shoot.

Likewise, shooting along a sidehill can throw off your shot. Most archers tend to cant their upper bow limb away from a slope, which moves the sights to the left or right of the arrow’s path, sending the projectile off course. Normally, the arrow impacts closer to the slope than you expect.

Fortunately, there are three nifty archery items designed to help you maintain upper-body geometry. A bowstring peep will minimize your tendency to bend incorrectly at the waist on angled shots. Bend too much or too little and you might not be able to see through the peep. A bowsight leveling bubble prevents you from canting your bow if you center the bubble as you aim. No matter how extreme the sidehill, a centered bubble means a centered shot. Finally, the revolutionary IQ Bowsight requires exact bow-to-eye alignment or you cannot see the black Retina Lock Dot at the top of the sight. If you cant your bow or bend incorrectly at the waist, the IQ reveals the problem and lets you correct your shooting form.

One of the trickiest shots occurs when you get caught in a twisted body position. If your feet or knees are planted wrong when you need to shoot, you must be well-practiced at compensating for this problem.

A few years ago, I missed a dandy 5x5 mule deer. I crawled up on the bedded buck, waited for him to stand, then rolled to my knees for the shot. The deer was looking directly away, but one of my toes was hooked on a pine root. I couldn’t rotate my lower body without alerting the deer, so I took the shot with a twisted and very tight upper torso. As I released, my muscles whipped me to the right and completely off target. Even at 25 yards, the arrow missed that buck’s chest by more than a foot. He ran—and I pouted.

Later that day, I shot several dozen arrows at my portable Block target from a similar twisted position. The last few hit where I wanted them to because I learned to compensate my aim. I’ve shot several spot-and-stalk deer since then while twisted on my knees, and regular practice has gotten me those bucks.

The lesson here is simple: You should certainly practice proper archery form, and you should sharpen your aiming eye on realistic 3-D targets. You should learn to use an angle compensating rangefinder quickly, and become accustomed to all your other archery equipment, but don’t forget to try every type of shot you think you might take on a real animal. Field shooting is often tricky, and smart practice—both before and during bow season—can be the difference between punching your tag or going home empty-handed.

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