If you use a sight with multiple pins, these pins can tell you exactly where your arrow will be at every distance between you and the target. If you fully understand your arrow's trajectory, you can slip your arrow over or under any obstacle that stands between you and a trophy.
Here's how it works: Hold your bow in front of you as if you were aiming. I'll assume for the sake of this column you have 20-, 30- and 40-yard pins. Aim at something with the 40-yard pin and then look at your 30-yard pin; the space it occupies is exactly where your arrow will be when it is 30 yards from your bow. The same thing goes for your 20-yard pin. It points to the exact spot your arrow will be 20 yards from the bow. If there also happens to be a branch in that space, you have a problem. By using this reasoning, it is easy to map your arrow's trajectory from your bow all the way to the target.
You can use this method to determine if your arrow will pass over or under an obstacle. For example, suppose you reach full draw and begin aiming at a mule deer that is 40 yards away, but there is a branch right in line with his vitals. Will your arrow hit it? You can take a chance and shoot, but if you're wrong, you've just squandered a prime opportunity and risked wounding an animal. It's much better to keep your composure for a few seconds longer and make sure you know the path is clear.
Here's how: First, estimate the distance to the branch and then look to see whether the corresponding sight pin lines up with the branch. If the branch is 20 yards away and your 20-yard pin is well above the branch, your arrow will pass over it. You can aim directly through the branch right to the buck's vitals with complete confidence.
You can use this same logic to determine if your arrow will pass under an obstacle. As long as the pin that corresponds with the distance to the obstacle is beneath that obstacle (with some margin for error, of course), the arrow will fly to the target without deflecting. There is only one situation where your sight pins won't help you avoid trouble, and that's when the obstacle is very close to your bow.
Close Range Obstacles
Your arrow comes out of the bow roughly three inches below your line of sight. If there is a nearby stick or limb (or the bottom of a ground blind window) just below where you are aiming, chances are you'll hit it. It's very hard to see these obstacles once you're at full draw, so you have to be conscious of what is in front of you before you draw.
Build A Routine
Most missed shots aren't caused by poor execution. Rather they're caused by mental errors during the final seconds before the shot. The only way to prevent these mental errors is to develop a thorough pre-shot routine.
There's little hope of staying totally calm when facing a giant buck or bull, so don't expect that you'll somehow make great decisions in the heat of the moment. Instead, you need to make the shot process instinctive – one that happens by itself without any thought on your part. Minimize the need for rational thought.
Mulling over a new-and-improved pre-shot routine, I came up with a simple step that should keep my arrows out of the branches. As I'm settling the sight pin, I quickly look for any branches inside the pin guard. If they show up above the pin I'm using – and lie between me and the target – an alarm is now programmed to go off in my brain. Even a branch that is slightly above the 20-yard pin could be a problem if it is less than 20 yards away. The arrow's looping trajectory may still cause a deflection.
This quick glance, added to your pre-shot routine, will red flag any problems. If there is a branch in the way, you can take the time to determine if it's in the arrow's flight path by taking a more detailed look at your sight pins. In the heat of the moment, it's usually easier to squat down a little or look for a different opening rather than sort out which branch is in front of which pin. Make it simple on yourself.
The only way to ensure you'll use this pre-shot routine when you shoot at game is to make it part of every shot you take during practice. Before every shot, make a conscious effort to check your line of flight – not just your line of sight. Even though you know there are no obstacles on the range, checking for them anyway will make this important step habitual and will virtually guarantee you'll do it when hunting.
Just because you have a clear view of an animal's vitals doesn't mean your arrow's path is also clear. Deflections are a part of bowhunting, and avoiding them should be a priority every time you draw your bow.