When our son asked me a few years ago if he could ride the four-wheeler over to a friend's house and blow up Tannerite with a .30-06, I remember thinking, That sounds like a good idea; what could go wrong?
When my best friend, who was sitting on the bank behind me as I cast for trout, started throwing big rocks to see how close he could get to my head without actually hitting it, my otherwise predisposed mind registered, That sounds like a good idea; what could go wrong?
"What could go wrong?" are the famous last words of many a YouTube hero. Fortunately, our son still has all his limbs and senses. I wish I could report the same result from my trout stream experience.
So, this month, I am going to explore what can go wrong when the focus of our season is standing right there, 30 yards away. Knowing what could go wrong, hopefully, gives us the chance to avoid the seemingly inevitable calamity.
I once arrived at an elk hunt only to find my bow was shooting so low I couldn't even hit the target at 20 yards. It was a hot week, and the bow was in a black case on the trip out. The string stretched. Fortunately, I had a portable press and was able to twist it back to the right length.
Your string is made up of several strands of soft extruded polyethylene. The word "soft" should immediately make you cringe. Almost everything else on a bow is made of something hard that can take a licking and keep on ticking.
The string can let you down in many ways. Obviously, it can stretch. The center serving can break or slip. The peep sight can stop rotating correctly. If you have an older string on your bow, or shoot several thousand arrows per year, it is wise to buy a new custom string and break it in before the season. This is the most important accessory on your bow.
After the string, your sight pins are the most vulnerable parts on your bow. I have had pins break and bend during the course of a tough hunt, and I have had the filaments break on plenty of cheap fiber-optic pins. The obvious solution is the best one: buy a better sight. The best sights now feature well-guarded pins that fully protect the fibers. If you have not upgraded your sight recently, you don't know what you are missing. The best have amazingly bright, well-protected pins and are a joy to shoot.
If you choose not to replace your sight, at least make a point of studying your pins several times per day to be sure they are sound.
I missed a good buck in the mid-90s because my rest got bumped at some point prior. I hadn't been shooting during midday, so I didn't catch the change. I shot right under that heavy 8-pointer as he worked a scrape just 15 yards away. Back at the target later that morning, the bow hit eight inches low at 20 yards.
Obviously, you have to shoot as often as possible during the season to head off these problems before they cost you a buck. That is the main takeaway from my sad day in the stand, but you can also prevent this from happening, to some extent, by selecting the right accessories. Now I only use rests with secondary setscrews that lock them in place, or I use rests that mount into pre-shaped cutouts in the riser. I no longer trust the notion that I can tighten a single retaining screw enough to keep a rest from pivoting if it takes a hard knock.
Oh, boy. Now we are in the same league as the four-wheeler, Tannerite and .30-06. There are a ton of things that can go wrong here. Let's look at the most obvious ones.
Rushing the Shot
This has cost me a couple of trophies over the years. We all have a built-in tendency to want to shoot quickly. I have more or less eliminated this problem by forcing myself to squeeze the trigger on all my shots. On the range it is not hard to do, but on live game this takes discipline and a very intentional approach. Force yourself to do it on every shot you take.
Three very good trophies (an elk, a whitetail and a woodland caribou) ran off unscathed because my arrows hit mid-flight branches that were above my line of sight. Your eye takes the laser-beam line, but the arrow arcs above this. The only way to prevent hitting these unseen twigs is to actually look for them!
Now, every time I hit full draw, my first mission is to make sure there is nothing above my line of sight. If so, I crouch down or pick a different shooting lane. Seems obvious, but it is very easy to ignore.
I have written about string jumping several times in this magazine, but it is such a huge issue it deserves another mention. Not handling alert deer correctly has been my curse in recent years. I am starting to get a grasp on it, but that education came at a terrible cost. Some really big whitetails have gotten away because I didn't aim low enough.
If the deer is alert, I now aim for the heart on 20-25-yard shots. I aim for the brisket on 30-yard shots. On shots between 30 and 40 yards, I aim increasingly below the brisket. I don't take shots past 40 yards on alert deer. In fact, given how quick deer are, 40 yards is a reasonable maximum range even on relaxed deer — no matter how well you can shoot on the range.
I hunt from blinds a lot more now than I used to, for a couple reasons. Number one, I am getting older and softer and like the comfort of a warm blind on a cold day. And second, because blinds are the most effective way to kill deer in a number of situations — especially on or near food sources. To set up a blind well so the deer can't see in, you have to keep the windows shaded. This means it is dark inside — making it hard to see your pins. I had a really big buck get away in 2012 because I used the wrong pin and shot right over him. To be accurate from a blind, even at short range, you need a lighted sight. I have added the optional light to my Fuse sights, and now I aim with confidence right up to the end of legal shooting time.
If you are vigilant for changes in the string, the sight and the rest, you will eliminate 90 percent of the nightmares your bow could inspire. But, when it comes to execution errors, things get considerably more complicated. I have found dozens of ways to blow big opportunities. All you can do is anticipate (and try to eliminate) the most obvious ones.
Someday, if I hunt long enough and hard enough, an absolute monster will come past. I don't want him to get away. It is just that simple.