Most targets don’t move while you’re aiming at them, so the feel and the pressure of target shooting is different from shooting at live game. Many archery hunters change the way they shoot when they are drawing down on a live animal. They aim differently or they rush the shot. In this column, I’ll take a closer look at the differences between shooting in the backyard and shooting at game and offer some insight into improving your accuracy when shooting at the real deal.
The Problem Of Rushing
If you’re like me, when you draw down on a buck, you sense the ticking clock. At any moment, you expect the deer to explode into flight and disappear. You’re not necessarily wrong to expect this, because there are no sure things in bowhunting. Shot opportunities are finite moments; they all end at some point. However, the odds of taking any buck improve if you don’t panic and if you don’t rush the shot. To avoid this reaction at the moment of truth, you have to learn how to respond to the uncertainty and the adrenaline.
The overwhelming temptation to rush the shot has accounted for some incredibly bad decisions that, in hindsight, seemed so simple. It seemed that my brain cells stopped talking to each other when a big buck or bull was standing 20 yards away. I needed a well thought out strategy to see me through those tough times.
The Right Strategy
Mental approach: It starts with the knowledge that you will destroy your odds by rushing the shot. Occasionally an animal will take an unexpected step behind a bush just before you shoot and be gone forever. Accept those losses as part of archery hunting. You’ll miss a lot more opportunities by rushing and making bad decisions than you will by having the occasional animal walk away before you shoot.
Pick the right aiming point: Deciding where to aim is very important business and a step that you will often overlook when rushing. As the animal’s body angle or the height of your tree stand changes, you must adjust your aiming point. With broadside shots on deer from a tree stand, cut the animal in half lengthwise and then aim for the center of the bottom half, several inches behind the front leg.
On quartering away shots from a tree stand, pick an aiming point that will cause the arrow to hit the offside front leg (not the offside front shoulder– that’s too high).
How to approach the aim point: It really doesn’t matter how you move your pin to the proper aim point. If you’re executing the shot correctly, you should never feel the urge to shoot too soon–the slow squeeze will force you to stay on the spot for a while before the bow fires. However, not everyone shoots correctly. Some archery hunters punch the trigger as soon as they see brown on the other side of the pin.
If you tend to release too quickly, (often resulting in a high hit or high miss) consider approaching your aiming point from below. That way, you will be on or near the vitals soon after your pin reaches the animal. Though I don’t advocate a quick shot, you can still make clean kills when you bring your pin in from below.
How long to aim: Don’t reinvent your shooting form just because a buck or bull is near. Strive to make the same shot you typically make on the range. For most archery hunters, this means aiming with the pin floating on, or near, the aim point for about two to five seconds before the bow fires. Don’t try to break in a new shooting routine while hunting; save that for the backyard.
When timing is critical: Punching the trigger is never an option, but that shouldn’t imply that you can never speed up your trigger pull if the conditions call for it. For example, if the animal is walking past at close range and you decide to take the moving shot, timing is critical. The circumstances won’t tolerate a five-second trigger squeeze. When you have to shoot quickly, do everything the same as you normally would (including selecting a small aim point), but pull the trigger in one smooth motion.
While targets will never be the same as live game, you should still strive to use the same form when shooting both. That requires a commitment to ignore the urge to rush the shot. Stick with your normal routine. Over the long run, it will produce the best results.