May 18, 2022
Throughout the history of this column, I have focused on the many things we as bowhunters can control, picking them apart and dissecting them to eliminate any and all variables. One thing, however, is beyond our control — animal movement at the shot — often called "jumping the string."
We can do little about this movement, yet it has a direct impact on our ability to deliver a lethal arrow. We can’t ignore this part of our hunting accuracy simply because it is not easily managed. It is important that we recognize the uncontrollable factors involved in shooting at game, analyze the challenges they pose and do everything in our power to mitigate them.
No. 1 Reason for Missing
Over the last 25 years, I have been hyper-focused on hunting older age-class mule deer bucks. I spend all summer scouting to find the one buck I want to take and, after all this work, I refuse to take a marginal shot. The last thing I want to do is spook the deer or, worse yet, wound it. So, I limit myself to shots under 60 yards. This surprises some of my western hunting buddies, as they know my capabilities with a bow would allow for longer shots.
At the practice range, with my hunting bow and broadhead-tipped arrows, I can hit the vitals of a mule deer target almost every time at 100 yards. However, shooting at the range bears little resemblance to shooting at a live deer under true hunting conditions. So, I refrain from taking long-range shots in the field.
If a deer is within 60 yards and the conditions are good — like fairly flat ground, little wind, an animal standing broadside and I’m in a stable shooting position — I feel I am more than 90 percent effective. The factor that is out of my control, and causes most of my misses, is a deer’s ability to jump the string and move out of my arrow’s path. Of the deer I have actually shot at, I have lost more deer to this phenomenon than all other reasons combined.
Seasoned whitetail hunters might scoff at the thought of a mule deer jumping the string, since whitetail deer are obviously world-champion string jumpers while muleys are supposedly slow and stupid. Not so, my friends; not so at all!
I have noticed that the older a muley buck is, the more likely he is to react quickly to the sound of the bow. I have often observed bachelor groups of bucks at the time of the shot. The younger bucks will stand still while the older bucks seem to turn inside out and are gone by the time the arrow arrives.
An Invaluable Lesson
My first verifiable incident of string jumping came 25 years ago while I was after my first 200-inch muley. At the time, I thought I had experienced string jumping before, but I often played it off as just my imagination since I had no substantial evidence to prove it.
On this particular hunt, a friend was sitting a few hundred yards from me. He was hidden in the trees across a large draw from the buck and was filming with a fairly powerful zoom lens. I had stalked to within 45 yards of the feeding deer and as the buck looked away, I drew my bow and fired the arrow at his chest, which was perfectly broadside to me. At the shot, the buck spun more than 180 degrees and bolted over the rise — in the opposite direction he had been facing.
After waiting half an hour, we went to where the buck had been standing. We found and followed a great blood trail for a few hundred yards and located the buck piled up. Interestingly, my arrow had entered the buck’s neck on the opposite side of the side that was facing me at the time of the shot. This surprised me, because I felt I had made a perfect shot.
Baffled, we went back to camp and examined the video footage on a television screen. With a pointer, we marked the center of the buck’s chest at the time of the shot. By the time the arrow had reached the deer, he had dropped down and spun well over 90 degrees.
My arrow hit exactly where the center of the deer’s chest had been at the time of the shot. However, by the time the arrow arrived, that point in space happened to be occupied by the opposite side of the deer’s throat patch. Fortunately, the arrow connected with the carotid artery just below the deer’s jaw line and the results were fatal.
Is There a Solution?
It doesn’t matter if you are a world-champion archer. If an animal moves a significant distance while your arrow is in the air, you will miss. For me, the potential for game movement has more effect on my maximum effective range than does my archery skill.
I have not yet found — and I probably never will — the perfect solution to this problem. However, I have studied the issue to exhaustion and want to share my findings with you.
The logical remedy to this problem is to sneak closer. Unfortunately, this is not as clear-cut as it may sound. The closer you are to your target, the louder your bow sounds to the deer and the more it will react. Sound diminishes with the square of the distance. So, the volume of sound a deer hears at 20 yards is four times as loud as what it will hear at 40 yards.
Another issue with merely sneaking closer is that there seems to be a certain perimeter inside of which deer will absolutely not tolerate any disturbance without bolting. So, it’s risky to try to get too close. My theory is that this is the distance a mountain lion must be within to pounce successfully.
In my upcoming columns, I’ll address how animal movement affects your accuracy and what you can do about this.