I recently received a letter from a bowhunter who stated that the surprise release shooting style I advocate might be fine for Western hunters but is not effective when hunting whitetails. The author said shots at whitetails are often quick, and timing is more important than pinpoint accuracy.
There is only one situation where you have to make a perfectly timed shot, and that is when the animal is moving and it's not possible to stop it. Shots at moving targets require precise trigger timing, but you should still maintain all other aspects of good shooting form and not abandon squeezing the trigger slowly.
Now, this fellow had some good arguments, and in this column I'd like to explain why I think it's important for everyone -- including whitetail hunters -- to learn to shoot a surprise release. Then, I'll discuss how to shoot quickly and accurately when necessary without punching the trigger.
Shots At Whitetails
When hunting Western game, the hunter is typically the one moving to try to set up a good shot. In that setting, the hunter has more control over the shot than he would if he was stationary and the animal was moving.
When the animal determines the opportunity, as is typically the case when hunting from a stand, control of the situation is only as good as your ability to pick the right tree. And even if you select your stand site perfectly, you still have to contend with cruising bucks that can change direction on a whim.
When a moving buck changes directions and moves through small openings, he produces fleeting opportunities for a shot and timing becomes critical. However, that doesn't mean you should abandon good shooting form in favor of mashing the trigger.
I have done quite a bit of whitetail hunting and have friends who specialize in the craft. A couple of these guys have literally shot hundreds of deer. Pulling from their experiences and my own, I can say it is truly rare that you will have to abandon the trigger squeeze.
The only situation when you have to make perfectly timed shots occurs when the animal is moving through a small opening and it is not possible to stop it. Shots at moving animals require precise timing. All other shots permit time for proper shooting form and a surprise release.
Other than that single situation, there is no reason to shoot quickly -- and there are many good reasons not to.
There is a moment during every encounter with game when I feel a nearly overwhelming urge to hurry -- to get the shot off quickly. This irrational emotion is very real, and it is one small component of buck fever. It's the reason some guys shoot right over the back of a buck 20 yards away, though that same archer may be one of the best around when shooting on the range.
During the moment of truth, it's very hard to slow things down. That's one very important reason to have a surprise release built into your shooting routine for every shot you take, including those at whitetails.
While you are settling your pin, and then your finger on the trigger, the compulsion to hurry will pass and the panic of buck fever will subside as you force yourself to squeeze the trigger.
I want a shooting routine that will produce the best possible results, regardless of my emotional state. If my brain is tripping on adrenaline and I can't think straight, I still want to make sure that one shot is the best I can make. The only way to ensure that is to perform a surprise release. Making great shots while timing the release (commonly called punching the trigger) is extremely difficult to do. Very, very few archers are able to do it consistently.
On the other hand, the ability to make good shots while squeezing the trigger depends only on your ability to force yourself to do it. The outcome is not overly dependent on your mental state. You simply force yourself to make the surprise release, regardless of how you feel, and you will find that your performance and confidence will surpass anything you ever experienced. It is a simple matter of discipline. Just do it.
How To Shoot Quickly
You shouldn't shoot quickly by punching the trigger. And you should rarely, if ever, practice shooting quickly. Quick shots will take care of themselves when the opportunity demands it. If you try to practice quick shots, you'll find yourself constantly fighting all the same bad habits and target panic you've worked so hard to avoid.
When you truly have to shoot quickly, you can use the same routine you always use, just apply pressure to the trigger more quickly and the shot will be gone sooner than normal.
It is important that you understand this difference; a quick shot is not a punched shot.
Whitetail hunting may have its own challenges, and the shots may not be very far, but it is still critical that you stick with correct shooting form. Squeeze the trigger and produce a surprise release. It's the single most important step you can take to improve your results when facing the pressure of buck fever.