Why You Shoot High - April 2009

Question: Twice I've watched the arrow go right over a deer's back. I believe my sight is correct. I'm wondering, being a new hunter, if I'm misjudging the distance from the tree stand. What is the best way to mark the 15-, 20-, and 30-yard spots so that the third time I shoot I'll have blood on my arrow rather than dirt and cornhusks? -- Don Rardin, Bourbonnais, IL

Most archery hunters tend to miss high just like Don. There are three reasons: gravity, shooting form and string jumping deer.

The first reason is gravity-you have to shoot high or Newton got that bump on his head for nothing. When you shoot your bow on level ground, the arrow is actually pointing slightly upward on the rest. When you release the string, it archers up, crosses your line of sight and then drops back down to the target. It crosses your sight line twice.

Things are different when you shoot downward from a tree stand, however. Gravity isn't working at a 90-degree angle to your line of sight anymore. The arrow arches up across your line of sight when you release the string, but now it doesn't drop back down as far. If you are using the same bow you sighted-in on the ground, you will shoot high.

You can reduce the affects of the downward shooting angle on your accuracy by always using the horizontal distance to the animal. The line of sight distance is misleading; it is only accurate when you are shooting on perfectly flat ground. Using true horizontal distance will help on all but the very short shots. For them, there is simply no solution other than practicing from a stand.

You can determine horizontal distance by using a tilt-adjusted range finder or taking your range readings to tree trunks that are at your height. You can also determine it by pacing off distances on the ground around your tree stand and writing the distances to these reference points in a small notebook that you always carry.

The conclusion is simple; if you plan to hunt from a tree stand, you must sight-in from a tree stand. Whichever system you use to determine the distance when sighting-in (horizontal or line of sight distance) you must use the same system when hunting.

To shoot a bow correctly, you need to maintain the correct 90-degree angle between your bow arm and your upper body. That means that you have to bend at the waist when shooting down. This will help you maintain your normal draw length, your proper anchor point and will allow you to make a good, crisp release.

I am one of the lucky ones that never have to hold low when shooting from a tree stand. I believe there are two reasons for this: I have a low anchor point and I shoot a fast arrow. Both of these factors help to reduce the affects of shooting down from a stand.

The low anchor point (I anchor with the large knuckle of my index finger pressed into the bottom back corner of my jawbone) produces a trajectory that crosses my line of sight farther out than a high anchor point would allow. Consequently, my arrow stays closer to my line of sight throughout its entire flight path than one of the same speed coming from a higher anchor point. The arrow is never far from my line of sight even on downward shots.

I shoot mid-weight arrows at 285 to 290 fps. This speed flattens my trajectory that, like the low anchor point, keeps the arrow closer to my line of sight. As a result, I don't have to aim low on shots of normal distance regardless of shot angle.

You may also miss high if the deer you shoot at hears the sound of the bow and drops before the arrow arrives. This common event is called string jumping. The deer is actually loading its legs in order to run. I've made a few assumptions about reaction time and done the calculations; if you shoot an arrow traveling 230 fps, deer can drop roughly six inches before the arrow arrives for a 20-yard shot from a tree stand. If you shoot an arrow traveling 280 fps, the deer is likely to drop closer to 3 inches. At 30 yards, a deer will drop roughly 17 inches with a 230 fps arrow while it will drop roughly 10 inches with a 280 fps arrow.

Knowing these numbers is not enough, you also have to read the deer's body language and decide before each shot if the deer is wired tightly enough to react. Typically, does are more likely than bucks to drop at the sound of the shot, but tense body language is a dead give away in all cases. If the deer appears alert, aim low or wait for a better shot when the deer calms down.

You can eliminate the high miss from a tree stand by focusing on three fixes: make sure you sight-in from a tree stand, bend fully at the waist to create the downward shot angle and study the deer first to determine if it is likely to drop at the shot.

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