In many archery hunters’ minds, bowhunting is a lot like cooking a steak. You only get one chance to get it right. Second chances are as rare as a snowstorm in Florida. And for better or worse, this is certainly true. We practice hard during the off-season to make that prospective one shot, the first shot, count. But with any rule, there are exceptions. For archery hunters that means a second shot is in the cards at times, and occasionally the second arrow can make the difference.
Big Game Shootout
Throughout North America and Canada, each big game animal requires its own set of rules and circumstances for hunting techniques and methods, but the end result is just the same. Whether you’re chasing caribou across carpet-like tundra, elk along steep slopes of alpine-infested timber, or mule deer on the open plains, botched first arrows come with the territory. And that means you need a second, and usually you need it quickly and quietly.
Rifle hunters have it easy. Their follow up is either a quick bolt exchange or simply an automatic feed. Whether you need it or not, is not entirely the question. It’s just sound hunting skill to have a follow up shot ready. For some archery hunters this isn’t a problem. But, for the majority of other hunters a second arrow is strictly an afterthought–particularly for whitetail hunters. If you’ve ever chased wild hogs or migrating caribou you know that arrows can vanish like puffs of fog, so perhaps the best way to go into any hunt is being conscience of a second shot. Here’s some advice on the seemingly quiet subject…
Set A Routine
I once stalked a caribou and dropped down into a cluster of blueberry bushes as the bull neared. I took my quiver off and laid it beside me, inconsiderate of my other “ammo.” The bull moved a bit so I had to crawl about three feet to my left. I shot and missed the bull low, but he didn’t spook. Now the problem was that my second arrow was out of reach. I hadn’t given a follow up arrow any forethought. The bull left before I could worm back over. I was steaming mad. It was a tough lesson to learn, but it hasn’t happened since.
You can eliminate this problem by either leaving your quiver on or getting good with another brand of off-the-bow-quiver. In the end, when the moment arises and you need a second arrow your routine for grabbing it should be as fluid as when you reach around to pull out your wallet. This is not an article on quiver options. It’s about taking whatever quiver you choose and learning to be an effective hunter with it. That’s just good hunting technique because it gives you access to a possibly needed follow-up arrow at the drop of a hat.
“I use a hip quiver for all of my bowhunting. I dislike using a bow-mounted quiver,” said Archie Nesbitt, a well-traversed Canadian archery hunter. “I can hunt and shoot much more effectively with my quiver off of my bow. I’ve needed a second arrow many times hunting different animals all over the world, and I’ve never neglected this aspect of the chase. My second arrow is always within easy reach because I always make sure of it. I’ve taken some of my best animals with a second arrow.
“No archery hunter, particularly when you hunt a plethora of different sorts of game, should handicap themselves with the mentality they are only going to use one arrow, so forget about the others. That’s not a good way to look at things. Most of the time it can seem that way but certainly not always,” adds Nesbitt. His statements are that of a lifetime of bowhunting wisdom. A boy scout’s creed is to always be prepared. Successful archery hunters drink from the same well.
Here’s an example from outside the box. A good friend of mine is in law enforcement. He’s only had to pull and use his weapon once on the job, and he only fired one shot. Yet, part of his weapons routine practice once a month is making sure he can get to his backup clip quickly and effectively for his handgun. You may be thinking apples and oranges but similarly follow-ups count for everything. Second fiddle should always come into play. This never seems more fact than fiction when you’re on an expensive out-of-state hunt for a “dream” animal.
Pick And Choose
Perhaps picking the proper shot is the single most important thing we do when an animal nears. While experience dictates how well this happens, it rarely works to perfection. Heck, even close shots aren’t always easy. Stretching the shot can magnify the difficulty, making a potential follow- up arrow all the more useful. Picking and choosing a shot is more skill than guesswork.
“I had a nice bull elk walk in on me last September and start raking his massive crown. He breezed through a small opening at 35 yards but I didn’t shoot. He was angling toward me so I expected a 20-yard chip shot momentarily. A minute later that is exactly what I got. But somehow the arrow was deflected not long after I let it go. He didn’t spook badly, just running about 20 yards out. Fortunately, he stopped to turn back around and gawk. My second arrow was on its way. He is my best bull to date,” said Greg Basket, a Colorado native.
Hog hunting is some of the most fun bowhunting out there. A guide I know in southern California not only loves his job, but he also loves to hunt the wily critters himself. Hogs are constant movers, and anyone who has hunted hogs quite a bit knows there’s a good possibility to miss several times on any given hunt, particularly on those days when the action is thick. Hunting animals like this is not only great fun, but you also get great practice shooting arrows in a quick and unorthodox fashion. Notably some archery hunters are much better at this than others. Those hunters are particularly quick at pulling their backup arrows and making an accurate shot.
Like many, I know for years I never gave it much thought after chasing animals with aggression. What do I do if I need to shoot again quickly? Just how ready am I? Just this past season I quizzed numbers of hunters who said they take their quivers off in their deer stands and hang them around the back of the tree, sit them underneath the seat or stick them in their backpack. Whatever it takes to get them completely out of the way after they grab one arrow out. Usually this arrow is their “number one” arrow. I could only gather they’ve never needed another arrow during an important hunt. However, I can’t relate.
Roll back the clock to last November. I had a buck walk in and hand me an easy shot. I missed. Yet, with the thud of the quiet bow the buck just lifted his head up and looked in my direction right at my stand tree. Thank goodness I was thinking ahead way before this buck ever walked in. My quiver was attached to my bow and my next arrow was right at my fingertips.
Also I think all of the arrows in your quiver should be your “number one” arrow. Why should the first arrow you shoot be more accurate than the second or third? Anyways, after a good minute the buck looked away. I eased my second arrow out of the quiver and took the shot. My broadhead severed his plumbing and he fell within sight. It was a great day.
The fact that I had my quiver attached makes little difference if you take yours off. The trick is to find a place for it where you can grab a second arrow practically blindfolded with minimal movement. Again, this isn’t an article to advocate what to do with your quiver; it’s about making your quiver work for you. Once you realize how important this is you will make a conscious effort every time. You may not need a follow up arrow for five seasons. But what happens during the sixth season when that 150-inch whitetail buck or 350-inch bull elk is pivoting around, waiting for a second arrow? Don’t be that guy who didn’t think ahead. Boy scout’s, remember?
Missed shots aren’t the only reason for a follow-up shot. More important is the follow-up shot used to pick up slack where the first arrow fell short. Gut shots are not all that difficult to do if the arrow gets deflected, the animal moves, or you just plain pull the shot. Follow-up shots are definitely commonplace regardless of the animal you’re hunting and no matter how good a shooter you are. No archery hunter can escape this.
Two seasons ago in North Carolina a buck walked into a soybean field and began to feed 30 minutes before dark. Immediately I knew I wanted this deer in the worst sort of way, so I began to pray for a little luck. Just as darkness began to set in, the buck turned broadside 30 yards out. I shot and struck the deer dead in the paunch. I yanked the shot upon release but was able to follow the bright fletching with my eyes. A shot like this will make your blood run cold instantly.
Luckily, he made a dash out into the field and did kind of a half circle, ending up even closer to me as he slowed down to a walk. I already had another arrow nocked and I was trying to keep some composure. I managed somehow, and the second arrow flew true. Without an accurate second arrow I may have never gotten that buck. That’s simply not a good feeling. I thanked my lucky stars on that one.
More recently a few friends and I were watching a hunting video by a reputable call manufacturer that was hunting elk in Montana. As he scrunched down by a cluster of trees waiting on a bull elk that was bugling he detached his quiver, grabbed one arrow, and just tossed it aside. The bull eventually came in and he tanked the shot. The camera stays on the hunter as he’s frantically fishing for another arrow with his right hand while trying to keep his eye on the bull. It was foolish looking, enough to make you never want to look like that. Consequently, the bull got away clean.
Even worse, quivers that you buy on short notice and don’t take time to get accustomed to can cause problems. Once at an outdoor show in Pennsylvania I sat in on a seminar by a well-known archery hunter. When he got into talking about equipment he went into discussing a hunt he went on for mule deer where he took a new quiver along that a manufacturer had sent him to test.
It was a bow-mounted quiver and he liked the looks of it, but he found out too late he should have experimented with it a little more. He was stalking a mule deer in Wyoming and because of a steep downhill angle, he shot over a buck. He went to pull a second arrow hurriedly and had a devil of a time getting it out of the quiver. The arrow grippers that clench around the shaft were new and extremely tight, and it took him much needed seconds and too much motion to make it happen. The muley spun around and left nothing but dust. Ouch! That had to hurt.
So, is it worth the effort to be prepared for a second arrow? In general, I guess we should feel privileged to get even one arrow, one shot, at times. Archery hunting is almost explicitly a one-opportunity deal, but at times you will be handed two times the opportunity. For this reason determined hunters are conscious of this probability and take it to heart. Practice pulling a follow-up arrow at the target range, it can do no harm. The most successful hunters are more than prepared for a second shot should that ever surface. It only makes sense to keep your arrows in line and your thoughts on the task at hand. Your next arrow could just be seconds away!