May 24, 2021
By Randy Ulmer
You will probably make many awkward shots during a lifetime of bowhunting. To be consistently successful, you must be able to shoot proficiently under all circumstances and in every type of habitat, terrain and weather.
Because a very high percentage of big-game animals killed with a bow each year in North America is taken from treestands, you must be especially well prepared for these elevated shots.
Some of the most awkward shots I’ve ever taken have been from a treestand. Unlike spot-and-stalk hunting, when you are in a stand you have very limited options when it comes to your movement and positioning. So, you must improvise and compromise. You will likely find yourself in a variety of shooting positions you never expected — and certainly never practiced. There will be times you’re leaning and twisting to shoot around the trunk of the tree or squatting to shoot under a branch or standing on your tippy-toes to shoot over an obstruction.
Continuing on our theme of extreme practice, we’re going to go over the best way to increase your chances at success by practicing extremely difficult treestand shots.
Maintain Your Posture
Obviously, almost all shots from a treestand are taken at a downward angle. The number one mistake bowhunters make when shooting from a stand is failure to maintain proper body angles. This holds true for downward shots as well as all other awkward shots. The tendency of most archers when shooting downward is to lower the bow arm and tip the head forward; however, doing this changes the all-important relationship between your release arm, bow arm, draw length, torso, head, eye and bow.
When shooting at moderate downward angles, try to bend fully from the waist and keep your bow arm at a 90-degree angle to your torso. If you haven’t practiced bending at the waist, it can feel very awkward at first. That’s why you need plenty of practice time from a treestand before you start hunting. Until you are able to subconsciously maintain good form on these downhill shots during practice, you certainly won’t do it properly during the excitement of a shot on game.
An extreme example of a downward shot is the straight-down shot. Whitetail hunters tend to set up for, and expect, shots at deer 15-30 yards from the base of their tree, where the angle won’t be so severe. During the rut, however, bucks are likely to take the most direct route to get where they are headed, regardless of where the trails are. This holds true especially if you use a call, because they will home in on your exact location. They may stop directly under your stand, forcing you to shoot straight down. Needless to say, these shots are extremely awkward. I consider the straight-down shot one of the toughest shots in bowhunting. In fact, I usually advise against taking these shots because of the high risk of hitting just one lung. If at all possible, wait for the deer to move off a bit to give yourself a better angle.
Even when practicing downhill shots on the steepest ranges, you will never experience a shot at much more than a 45-degree angle. If you are shooting any steeper than that, you will be shooting off a cliff where you risk falling, unless someone is holding onto you. However, in a treestand, you have the luxury of being attached to the tree with a safety harness, so you won’t die if you topple overboard.
Moderate to slight downhill shots require only small changes in body angle from level-ground shooting. Straight-down shots, however, require you to bend in ways you never will on the range. This positioning forces you to use form that is radically different than normal.
There are two keys to making these shots. First, you must focus just as hard as you would on a longer shot. These shots appear extremely easy because of the close proximity of the target. So, you tend to hurry them. The shot seems like just a formality before putting your tag on the buck; however, you need to bear down and pick a precise aiming point, because at this extreme angle there is little margin for error. Your shot placement must be perfect.
On these straight-down shots, it is very important to spread your feet and really open up your stance. I want you to know what I mean when I say really open up your stance. So, I’m going to run you through a little drill.
First, just pretend you are shooting as you normally would on level ground at a target 20 yards away. As you draw the bow, your body is not facing the target but rather is facing 90 degrees to the right of the target. This is normal shooting form. Now, slowly lower your aiming point until you are aiming straight down.
You should be aiming just to the left of your left foot (if you are a right-handed archer). Aiming straight down with this form is extremely uncomfortable and shaky, because you are bending your waist in an unnatural direction; however, there is a better way.
Start over, but this time change your stance so your body is actually facing the target. Draw your bow and aim at the target. You’ll feel awkward, because your stance is turned 90 degrees to the right of normal. Now, lower your aiming point until you are aiming straight down. This time, you will be aiming between your feet. This is an extremely open stance that allows you to bend more easily from your waist while still maintaining the proper, 90-degree angle between your bow arm and upper torso. It is much more comfortable and accurate to shoot straight down this way. Practice this until it becomes second nature.