October 26, 2023
When I began bowhunting, I had many bad habits plaguing me. Over time I whipped most of them; however, one habit I have not been able to overcome completely is hurrying the shot during the moment of truth. When shooting at a big buck or bull, my patience goes out the window and I often loose the arrow before I have really settled-in for a good shot. I am much better now than I used to be, but no matter how much I fight the urge, as soon as the sight makes it to the deer I have an overwhelming urge to send the arrow downrange immediately.
I am certainly not the only bowhunter to experience this phenomenon. I think to some degree or another we all feel it. I have seen many of my hunting buddies miss great opportunities at nice bucks by shooting too quickly. I have many friends who are great target archers and seem to have ice water in their veins when they are shooting tournaments. However, put a big buck in front of them at 40 yards and they fall apart, hurry the shot and miss. Just recognizing that this affliction is real will help us deal with it.
Why We Rush
I believe hurrying the shot is tied to the same fight, flight or freeze instincts we experience when faced with dangerous or high-pressure situations. When adrenaline and cortisol are coursing through your bloodstream, it is extremely difficult to be patient. I am convinced that this primordial impulse is the biggest reason animals can slip through our fingers when we should have them dead to rights.
I hurry the shot because I have an overwhelming urge to get the action over with as quickly as possible to ease the incredible tension in my mind and body. I am afraid the animal will detect me and run away, or turn and walk away, giving me no more shot opportunities. So, I hurry the shot.
The strength of this impulse seems to be directly proportional to the size of the animal. I do not experience it when shooting at does or small bucks — only the big ones.
One of my friends recently told me about a terrible shot he made a few years ago. As we discussed it, he confided that it was a big buck, and for the first time in many years he could not remember settling the pin in the kill zone and going through his shooting routine. He simply put the pin on the buck in the general area he wanted the arrow to go and punched the trigger. He hit the buck in the shoulder, and after spending days looking, he finally gave up. Because this buck was the biggest my friend had ever drawn on, it brought forth a flood of excitement and he simply rushed the shot.
The urge to rush also tends to be stronger when we're not in full control of the situation. This is especially true for me when I am in a treestand, at full draw, waiting for a deer to move into the open for a good shot. Most of my hunting is done out West, on the ground, with me calling the shots. When I’m in a treestand, I can only react to what the animal gives me — I can’t affect the situation myself. This can be very unnerving.
Because I am not in control, it feels like the whole encounter can unravel at any moment. The result is the urge to shoot at the first moment of opportunity. I can always tell when I have rushed the shot because I cannot remember all the details of the shot process, and I can’t remember where the pin was when the shot went off. When I make a good, patient, surprise release shot, I remember all the details.
We must be fully aware of this problem before we can fix it. Usually, we don’t realize we are rushing the shot until the arrow is gone; the entire shot process is a blur. We don’t remember what happened during the moment of truth. To fix the problem, we need to look back on it and ask ourselves some tough questions: What did we do wrong and why?
The secret to preventing this mental “blacking out” is to make all the actions involved in making the shot instinctive — to pre-program our nervous system to handle the psychological intensity — without rushing.
I have developed a system that works well for me. It may sound funny, but I have a mantra that I force myself to run through over and over as I get closer to the shot. Because most of my hunting is spot and stalk, I know when the shot is imminent. I tell myself, “Know the exact distance, use the right pin, pick a spot, squeeze the trigger and follow through.” I alternate that mantra with this one: “Patience seldom goes unrewarded.” Running these thoughts through my head over and over before the shot calms me down and helps me to have the patience to wait for the right opportunity, and the patience to take the extra few seconds it takes to make a good shot as opposed to a quick shot.
It also helps me to visualize the whole process repeatedly in my free time. Visualization has been proven to reinforce the same habits as actual practice. So, I mentally practice waiting for the animal to present a good shot, range him, choose the right pin, place it exactly where it should be and squeeze the trigger. I try to elicit the same emotions I would experience in an actual encounter, and I learn to deal with them as I visualize handling the entire process smoothly and successfully.