During the rut, you will face a wide variety of shots you might not have faced before. And you certainly are unlikely to encounter these shots in your backyard range when preparing for the season. Now is the time for us to shine, and these few simple tips will help you make the most of your shots at bucks this month.
Canting Your Bow
It is a common mistake when shooting from a treestand to lean your bow when you aim downward. I do it naturally for some reason and most other people do too. This is called canting, and it is not a good thing.
From the standpoint of accuracy, canting makes your bow shoot low and to the side, depending upon which way the top limb points. For example, suppose you cant the bow so that the top limb is to the right. Now your arrow is pointing slightly to the right of the target when you put the pin on the spot you want to hit. You will miss low and to the right. Cant the bow to the left and you miss low and to the left. I find that I have to use a bubble level if I hope to avoid canting my bow on every shot. On top of that, I often have to lean my body slightly to the side to get the bow square — that is how messed up I often get when shooting down from a treestand.
Adjusting for the Wind
You will have to play the wind on any shot past 30 yards if the wind is coming from the side. The amount of arrow drift is determined by the diameter of the shaft, the size of the fletchings, the length of the arrow and the weight of the arrow. The smaller the diameter of the arrow and the smaller the fletchings, the less it will drift. However, you have to understand the tradeoffs; small fletchings aren’t quite as stable as larger ones, and that can be a factor when shooting broadheads.
Personally, I recommend you stick with the mid-length fletching (3-inch minimum) and then shoot your bow in a crosswind to determine how far it drifts. It can be as much as three or four inches at 40 yards with a 20 mph wind. Western bowhunters confront this challenge more often than treestand whitetail hunters, but if you hunt food plots or open ground often, you need to know how far your arrow drifts and then consider that when choosing your aiming point.
Shots at Moving Game
Walking bucks (or chasing bucks) are very common during the rut. I’ve shot a lot of deer as they walked past, usually because my shooting lanes were too narrow to risk trying to stop them, or the buck was simply too busy to pay attention to me. I have two rules for taking walking shots.
First, the range has to be short — for me 25 yards is the maximum for a walking shot. Second, the pace of the animal has to be leisurely. If it is moving faster than a steady walk, I pass it up or try to make it stop and hope I can find a lane to the vitals. The required lead is too tough to gauge when the animal is moving fast.
Moving shots aren’t particularly tough if you practice them a few times. The easiest way to practice this shot is to have someone roll an old tire with a target in its center down a gentle grade in front of you. You’ll quickly learn how far ahead you have to hold for a good hit. In my experience, with a bow shooting about 275-300 fps, the lead for a walking animal is about eight inches at 20 yards.
The easiest way to make the shot in thick cover is to pick an opening and wait until the leading edge of the animal’s shoulder passes in front of your pin. Time the trigger pull with this moment and you’ll have a double-lung hit every time. Obviously, shorter shots and faster arrows require slightly less lead.
Shooting from a treestand is similar to shooting down a gentle slope. You will probably hit a bit above your aiming point unless you compensate by moving your sight pin or learning to hold low. In treestand shooting situations, as the range increases the downward angle decreases, diminishing the effect of being in an elevated position. You will probably have to move your 20-yard pin somewhat for perfect treestand accuracy, but you may not have to move your 30-yard pin at all.
The biggest challenge, I think, comes on the short shots when the angle to the vitals is steep and tough, leaving little margin for error. Most people take the short shots for granted, but I think a 10-yard shot from a treestand is much tougher than a 20-30-yard shot.
Proper form is important. It is easy to inadvertently alter your line of sight in relation to the arrow’s flight when shooting down, especially if you don’t use a peep to lock you in. However, if you remember to bend at the waist, keeping your bow arm at a 90-degree angle to your upper body, you will greatly reduce this problem.
Know the anatomy of the animals you are hunting inside and out — pardon the pun. Because of the shot angle, you will have to try hard to avoid the worst shot in bowhunting — the single-lung hit. Know where the liver is and always try to get both lungs, or at least one lung and the liver. Hitting just a single lung often results in a dead but unrecovered animal. Avoid it like the plague.
The Twisted Torso
Without the ability to rotate the lower body, a shot directed to the right is by far the most difficult for a right-handed, seated archer. This occurs most often when a deer surprises you by passing your treestand on the right side, in the process catching you in a sitting position. I’ve had two friends lament of missing trophy-class bucks while shooting in this position. The typical result is a hit well left (for the right-hander) of the aiming point.
Because you have so much torque on your upper body, and also on the handle of the bow as a result of the awkward angle of your bow arm, everything will tend to go left on release. Of course, the best solution to the twisted torso is not to be caught in this position in the first place. Stand up when hunting from treestands and adjust your body position in the stand so that you are always using good, practiced form. I know it is a pain, but I almost never sit when hunting except briefly to stretch out my back muscles.
Because your arrow’s trajectory is looping, you can often lob a shot over an obstacle if you study things a little. With your bow at full draw, aim at the target with the appropriate sight pin for the range of the shot. Quickly guess the distance to any obstacle between you and the target. If the pin that corresponds with that distance is clear of the obstacle, fire away. Your arrow will fly cleanly to the target. It is very fun to thread the needle on shots through cover, but it is only ethical if you understand the physics and do it right.
Practice is always the key to pulling off perfect shots under less than perfect conditions, but sometimes a few simple game-day thoughts can make a big difference, too. The outcome of a season may depend on how well you handle a tough shot.