July 15, 2022
Making a great shot at the end of a long hunt should be an extremely rewarding experience. However, if the deer is gone when the arrow arrives, you will miss and it’s anything but.
Amongst all the negative experiences a bowhunter can go through, there are few that are more painful than having a deer of a lifetime jump the string. The reason it’s so hard is that you may have done everything exactly right, yet you failed. Nothing under your control could have changed the outcome. (See "Part 1" of this series for more on that.)
"String jumping" is not a good descriptive term for this phenomenon — it is a misnomer. However, the phrase has been part of bowhunting’s lexicon for a very long time, so I will continue to use it here. The term originated before the advent of the video camera and slow-motion replay. By studying slow-motion video we know that a deer in the standing position cannot jump up or spring forward without preloading its legs by crouching or dropping down first. Deer crouch down and then jump forward or crouch down and spin in an attempt to escape danger.
It is my belief that when a deer drops down it isn’t intentionally ducking the arrow. Rather, I believe it is merely reacting to perceived danger and just getting the heck out of Dodge. This reaction to a loud noise gets deer moving quickly and instinctively, without thought. It just seems like they are dodging the arrow because they are gone by the time it gets there.
Deer will occasionally jump straight up when an arrow hits them, but again, as slow-motion video has proven, they crouch down first in order to preload their legs for the jump. This particular reaction is probably related to the trauma associated with the arrow hitting them.
There is a longstanding debate over what causes a deer to jump the string. Some argue that it is triggered by the animal seeing the arrow in flight or by the movement of the bow and/or archer at the time of the shot. This may have been true when we were shooting very slow bows and the arrow seemed to hang in the air like a popup fly ball, but I do not think this is often the case nowadays. My theory on this is supported by the string jumping we see when shooting from ground blinds and treestands. In these situations, the likelihood of the deer seeing the hunter move or the arrow in flight is pretty slim.
Causes of String Jumping
Obviously, the exact cause of string jumping may vary from situation to situation, and it may even be triggered by a combination of things. Unless the deer sees movement at the time of the shot, string jumping is most often caused by the sound of the bow, and to a lesser extent by the sound the arrow makes sailing through the air.
For the purpose of this column, we will assume that string jumping is triggered by deer hearing the sound of the bow or the arrow and then reacting quickly in order to escape danger. Fortunately, there are many things you can do to decrease the likelihood that a quick-moving critter will jump the string and dodge the arrow. I’ll mention the top five here and we will explore all of them in upcoming columns:
- 1) Quieting the bow and arrow
- 2) Shooting a faster arrow
- 3) Getting closer before the shot
- 4) Shooting from a longer distance (So the sound of the shot is minimized)
- 5) Aiming ‘off’ (Aiming where we think the vitals will be when the arrow arrives)
How to Quiet Your Bow
In order to reduce string jumping, your bow needs to be deadly silent. This means it has to be completely quiet when you are crawling through the rocks and brush, when it is being drawn and most importantly, when it is shot (The first two scenarios are important to prevent deer from being on high alert after hearing you on your stalk or preparing for the shot).
It’s relatively easy to modify a bow so that it is quiet as you are drawing it. You need to lube the cams and wax the cable slide. If your bow creaks or pops when you draw it, the noise is most likely caused by the limbs rubbing against the limb pockets.
The best remedy for this problem is to take the bow apart and apply wax around the base of the limbs and on the inside of the limb pockets.
If I’m hunting whitetails from a treestand where absolutely no noise is acceptable when drawing the bow, I put moleskin on my arrow rest launcher arm so the arrow glides back quietly.
I apply moleskin to any area around the sight window that my arrow might accidentally hit. I also put it anywhere my bow might tap a rock when I’m stalking.
We’ll resume this topic in my next column, so stay tuned!