No one likes a pessimist, but there are times when it pays to look for the dark clouds we hate to admit are there – to determine what can go wrong. While negative thinking is usually a curse, it can serve a purpose when you look at these possible outcomes and come up with a plan to fix them before they happen.
Looking for worst-case scenarios is a good plan for many outdoor activities, be it wilderness camping or bowhunting. These are unforgiving – you make one mistake, and the whole thing unravels faster than a cheap shirt in a patch of multiflora rose.
I am going to zero in on things that can go wrong during the moment of truth. It would be nice if we could just leave this until the time it actually happens, but those encounters come with a lot of adrenaline and not much time – both push cerebral capacity well past its limit. I must rehearse every possible outcome, or I will most likely misplay my big opportunity. Here are four things that can go wrong and ways to avoid the tragic ending:
Paralysis By Analysis
I once had a friend come to film my hunt, and I encouraged him to bring his bow. A nice, mature buck came through, but it was not one of the bucks I was after. So, I swung the camera over, and my friend grabbed his bow. The buck was within 30 yards for at least a minute, but my friend never drew. Afterwards, I asked him why not. "He never offered me a shot," Thad said.
I thought the buck offered him several shots, so I asked what he was looking for. As it turns out, Thad wanted something closer to the classic, broadside shot at 20 yards with the deer in the wide open and his head turned looking the other way.
I applaud the careful nature of my friend's shot selection, but that buck got away because my friend overanalyzed the situation. You need to be ready for the first good shot you get; don't wait for perfect when good enough is right in front of you.
Don't overthink – get your bow drawn as soon as the deer gets within range, and when you see a shot you know you can make, take it.
No Shooting Lane
I have another friend with a lesson to teach. Rod hunted a giant buck for two years before it finally followed a doe straight toward his stand. The doe went past on the "correct" side, walking right through my friend's shooting lane, but the buck circled the tree on the other side to cut her off.
Rod assumed no deer would pass on that side. So, he didn't have a shooting lane where the buck walked. Rod never had another chance at that buck. Never assume a buck will do a certain thing, because the one time he doesn't will really sting.
I remember shooting a buck back in 1991. I was in the stand for an hour and kept looking at two small trees that covered a possible shot to a nearby cornfield. Finally, I climbed down and cut the trees. Two hours later, a buck stopped right in that opening. I killed him only because I had cut those trees down. Play all the possible shots out in your mind once you get to the stand. If there is an angle that leaves you stymied, get your saw out and open a lane.
Clogged Nocks & Broken Pins
Another of my friends once had a great buck get away because he had dirt in his nock. The arrow didn't seat all the way onto the string, and when my friend drew back, the arrow pinched loose and fell to the ground. Of course, the buck was long gone before my friend could load another arrow. When Larry set the bow down at the base of his tree in the pre-dawn darkness, the arrow nocks pushed into the dirt and came out plugged. He didn't realize the problem until it was too late. After hearing that story, I always adjust my quiver so that my arrows don't stick out past the bottom cam and I look at them every time I pull the bow up.
I have had my own share of failures in the tree. I once had my bow snag on a barbed wire fence while I was pulling it up into the tree. Rather than climb down, I bounced it around for a few seconds until it finally came free. I can't remember what prompted me to draw the bow a short time later, whether a buck or doe, but I do remember my top sight pin – the one I needed – was no longer there! I broke it off when I bounced the bow. That deer got away because I made a mistake – not the bouncing part, but the lack of diligence once the bow reached my lap.
Both Larry and I could have avoided issues had we drawn our bows after loading our arrows and settling into the tree. You never know what issue your bow or clothing may have developed since the last time you hit full draw. A quick test draw and aim will shake out all these problems while you still have time to fix them.
I have had three good animals get away because my arrow hit a branch above my line of sight. It is easy to overlook these obstacles, because they don't seem relevant when aiming. However, because our arrows loop upward after they leave the bow, they fly above our line of sight.
Add an extra step to your pre-shot routine. Aim at the animal with the proper pin, but look just above the line of sight. If there is anything between you and the animal, you need to stop and take a few extra seconds before shooting. All pins above the one you are aiming with should be clear of any obstacles between you and the animal. For example, assume it is a 30-yard shot, but your 20-yard pin is right on a branch. You are very likely to hit that branch. Crouch down to clear the lane or wait for another shot angle.
Avoiding mistakes is not just luck. You have to anticipate them. Spend a few hours between now and the next hunt and list all the things that can go wrong. Have a way to make sure none of them happen, and your "luck" will instantly improve.