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How to Avoid Stupid Bowhunting Mistakes

How to Avoid Stupid Bowhunting Mistakes

In its original form, the "KISS" approach stood for Keep It Simple, Stupid — as if to imply that one might be stupid. In today's kinder, gentler culture, calling someone stupid might get you sued, while 20 years ago it might have just gotten you a bloody nose.

Either way, we are going to venture into this harsh world where we could end up wearing the dunce hat if we mess up. At the very least, we might miss a few animals we didn't need to miss — and in my mind, that is the very definition of stupid!

This month's column is all about finding a simple bow and arrow system that is idiot-proof. That's more name calling, but the excitement of bowhunting can turn even the most rational people into idiots. Your goal when setting up a hunting bow is to anticipate these mental meltdowns and come up with a system that prevents blunders before they occur. Here are seven of the most common equipment mistakes and how to beat them before they beat you.

Ignoring Penetration

Part of being idiot-proof is accounting for small misses before they happen. If you miss the sweet spot in the vitals, the single most important quality you can have at that point is an arrow setup that maximizes penetration.

Shoot as much bow as you can handle, but not more. If you can't draw the string straight back and hold it at full draw for at least a minute without undue stress, you are pulling too much weight.

Over the years, I have shot numerous animals in the shoulder. One was an elk, one was a caribou and the rest were deer, including one mule deer. In all cases, I was able to get enough penetration to kill those animals quickly. I was shooting heavy, small-diameter arrows carrying broadheads with conservative cutting diameters. In other words, the priority for setup was penetration. I am certain I would not have recovered those animals — or not have recovered them as easily — if I had been using a lighter arrow with a wider broadhead.

Pretty much any good broadhead and arrow combo will kill an animal quickly if you hit the vitals, but that cannot be said of all other hits. Yes, if you know you are going to hit them back, then a larger head is the best choice, but a smaller head will kill the animal in this situation also.

However, the same can't be said of a forward (shoulder) hit. If you hit them in the shoulder, you are seriously limited by a large broadhead, a lightweight arrow or one with a large diameter. To be safe, I set up to kill cleanly no matter where I hit. The only way to achieve that goal is to make penetration the top priority.

Poor Low-Light Accuracy

In my early bowhunting days, I had some embarrassingly bad 3-D rounds and missed some very nice bucks because of small peep sights. Under low-light conditions, your sight picture can really suffer if you choose a small peep sight.


The aiming system I use now is designed to maintain accuracy and visibility during all legal shooting hours. I use a big (quarter-inch diameter) peep and center the entire round pin housing inside the peep rather than just centering one pin. This permits precision and maximum visibility. Combined with bright fiber-optic pins, it is the ideal setup for low-light shooting.

Wrong Draw Weight/Length

You can't always count on perfect shots when the adrenaline is flowing. I have already mentioned the fact that the spot where you aim on an animal is only a few inches from the shoulder. A slight miscue, and the arrow will hit heavy bone. Part of the penetration formula is a high draw weight and long draw length, but there are limits, and pushing past yours will do more harm than good.

You've exceeded your maximum draw weight when you can no longer draw the bow with your bow arm held straight in front of your body and then hold it at full draw for a minute without shaking. That is my acid test.

When you hit your accurate draw length, the forearm of your release arm will line up perfectly with the shaft, and your release-side elbow will point straight away from the target. It is common when trying to max out draw length to end up with your elbow pointing around behind you, no longer pointing straight away from the target. When that happens, you put sideways pressure on the string and release that results in swerving, inaccurate arrow flight.

Straight Fletching

A knuckleball pitch in baseball is so hard to hit because there's no spin on the ball — it can drift anywhere. Hunting arrows need to spin too. Based on all the questions I receive about the viability of using straight fletching, there are still too many bowhunters confused on this subject.

Helical is the only acceptable fletching orientation for hunting arrows.

I started out using straight fletching on my arrows because that's what my dad did. It worked fine for slow arrows with fieldpoints, but I quickly learned I couldn't stabilize broadhead-equipped hunting arrows at any real speed with straight fletching.

The best choice for bowhunters is helical fletching — the most aggressive you can apply to your small-diameter arrows without having adhesion problems.

Too Many Pins

At the moment of truth, it can be tough to remember simple things, so don't overburden yourself with a bunch of extra pins. I once hosted a well-known bowhunter who showed up at my farm with a bow carrying a 7-pin sight. Predictably, he shot his buck at 15 yards!

Many whitetail hunters do fine with a single pin set for their most common shot distance. Based on my studies, a 25-yard setting is the best choice, because it offers the greatest margin for error in range estimation. If you routinely take longer shots, start with a 20-yard pin and add pins at 10-yard intervals until you reach your maximum realistic hunting range.

Using the Wrong Rest

The ultimate rest solution is one that never lets the arrow out of position. This could be either a drop-away rest with a retaining arm that won't let the arrow fall out of position once loaded or a full-capture rest such as the Whisker Biscuit.

When jostling a bow around in the tree or pulling it through the brush as you make the final move on an elk, the arrow can easily dislodge from the rest and out of position when you start to draw. If you don't catch it, you will miss the shot. Eliminate that concern entirely and use a rest that won't ever let that happen.

Using a Cheap Bowstring

Your bowstring is by far the single most important accessory on your bow, yet we overlook it all the time. Most of the bows on the market today come with decent strings, so we just shoot them without thinking twice. But some strings are better than others. Two aspects of a string determine its quality.

First, a good string won't stretch or twist. Once you break it in with a few dozen shots, you should be able to tune it, sight it in and not have to worry again about whether string stretch has changed your nock point positon. Similarly, you should not have to fight peep sight twist once you have the bow set up.

Second, the string's center serving must be very durable and tight. If it gaps or slips, your accuracy will suffer. If in doubt, I automatically reserve my new strings with a tight layer of BCY Halo or Powergrip serving material.

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