by Matt Coffey
There’s no denying it: You’ve practiced all offseason, you’re hitting the target where you want, and your overall form couldn’t be better.
But now’s the moment of truth: A deer is moving toward your tree stand. You stand slowly while grabbing your bow. Then it appears; the buck you’ve been waiting for. You aim, release and … nothing. A clean miss. What happened?
I know that scenario because I’ve been there. Sure, I’ve passed on shots I should have taken over the years, but more often I’ve missed shots when my mental process got off a bit off as adrenaline started pumping.
Here are some common mistakes I’ve made while bowhunting and a few remedies for them.
What seems the perfect shot at your backyard 3D target becomes a different game when you’re 20 feet up a tree. The most common mistake is not accounting for how the deer is standing, thus affecting the shot angle.
To account for downward angles, I recall basic geometry before releasing my arrow. The actual shooting distance is from the base of your tree to the deer, not the slightly longer shot from your stand to the deer. Also, picture where you want your arrow to exit the deer on its far side. By imagining that spot, picturing the arrow’s flight, and practicing tough situations whenever possible, you’ll be better prepared when the moment of truth arrives.
Forgetting your form
Although you might have practiced 1,000 shots at your backyard 3D target, having the real thing in front of you can rattle your nerves and make you neglect your form. My most common mistake in this situation is forgetting to pull down my facemask to get it out of the way. When you add a thin glove and facemask, it slightly affects your anchor point – the spot you touch with your finger or string every time you draw. My anchor point is my pinky under my earlobe. By touching that spot consistently, I know my anchor – and therefore my aim – should be solid. But forgetting that little bit of cloth can throw my mental game into chaos and affect where I anchor.
To combat this common bowhunting issue, I practice with my gloves and facemask on as the season approaches. That helps me adjust should I forget to tug down the facemask when a deer is broadside at 20 yards.
Moving while in the stand
I’m the worst about sitting still, and it’s cost me shots. It’s easy to spook deer if you move at the wrong time. Ideally, you move only when the deer is looking away. Don’t be fooled when they lower their heads. Suspicious deer try to bluff you into moving by dropping their head and then picking it up abruptly. Sometimes they’ll catch you trying to stand or draw your bow. Move only when you know the deer can’t see you.
Disregarding the wind
If a deer can smell you, it can avoid you. Granted, you can greatly reduce human odors with today’s scent-killing sprays and soaps, and scent-trapping clothes and air-purifiers. Still, it’s nearly impossible to stop all human odors. Therefore, keep the wind in your face whenever possible while bowhunting. Of course, winds seem to swirl at the worst times, so use good scent-control outerwear and place your stands so prevailing winds will help, not hinder, your hunt.
Judging distances takes practice, but there’s an easy and inexpensive shortcut: laser rangefinders. Even if you’re the world’s best range estimator and can judge distances to within 2 yards, use a rangefinder to ensure pinpoint accuracy. When adrenaline is surging, it’s easy to think a buck is only 20 yards away when it’s actually 30 yards away. Using your 20-yard pin instead of the 30-yarder can mean disastrous results.
These few lessons from a seasoned bowhunter can help you avoid lessons I learned the hard way. Regardless, have fun and know everything else will come into focus.