Why We Miss At The Moment of Truth!
By Bill Vaznis
I slipped forward until I reached the edge of the field, and glassed across the knee-high briars and golden rod. Nothing.
I began sneaking along the edge of the field looking for the buck that I knew had to be still nearby when something caught my eye just out of bow range. It was the white throat patch of a buck. Not a big one mind you, but a racked deer nonetheless that was zigzagging his way back towards me, obviously seeking out that hot doe.
By now it was light enough to shoot, so I, too, began zigzagging across the field, trying to keep the buck in view without spooking him. At thirty yards he dropped down into an irrigation ditch. I knelt down, quietly slid an arrow from my quiver and nocked an arrow all in one fluid motion. When the buck popped back into view he was sneaking 20 yards past me at a broadside angle and oblivious to my presence. I immediately came to full draw and focused on a spot behind his near shoulder. When my single pin covered that patch of hide for a full second I relaxed my fingers sending a Phat Head-tipped shaft to its mark. I found the buck piled up 100 yards distant, dead from a double lung pass through.
That was my 25th whitetail tagged by still-hunting with archery tackle. I would like to say I never missed a buck once I set my sights on him, but that has not always been the case.
“I have missed some embarrassingly easy shots over the years,
but those misses have taught me what to do and not do
when the moment of truth presents itself.”
1. DON’T MAKE ANY LAST-MINUTE EQUIPMENT CHANGES
We must come to full draw with confidence that our equipment will function flawlessly. In some cases however that can be a false sense of security. Why? Any changes you make to your bow after it is tuned can have a deleterious effect on arrow flight.
The most common mistake is to increase your draw weight just before the big hunt, but attaching a different quiver, stabilizer, or brand of broadhead can also cause your hunting arrow to fly off into the wild blue yonder.
The solution to this problem is simple: Don’t make any last minute changes to your hunting equipment unless you have absolutely no choice. If you must, however, be sure to take a few practice shots to make sure everything is still in perfect working order before stepping afield.
2. DON’T SECOND GUESS THE SHOOTING DISTANCE
Always estimate the shooting distance before you come to full draw. Still-hunters rarely know the yardage before the animal appears, but if you hunt from a tree stand or ground blind, you can use a range finder to learn the exact yardage to several likely shooting locations before you begin your vigil.
When the moment of truth arrives however, do not change your mind and add a few yards “just in case” the buck is further away as you will surely shoot over its back. Look back over your own career, and count the number of times you underestimated the shooting distance. I will bet that that figure is quite low when compared to the number of occasions you overshot the animal.
Indeed, in the last two years I skewered two long-distance whitetails, one at 40 and the other 42 yards. I estimated the shooting distance before I came to full draw, and then stayed with my initial calculations. Your first estimate is almost always the most accurate.
3. DON’T ALLOW CLOTHING INTERFERENCE
Be sure to practice in your hunting clothing prior to the season, paying close attention to anything that can interfere with arrow flight such as unbuttoned pockets, puffy arm sleeves and draw strings on hooded sweatshirts. However, we can still manage to get an arrow off course by adding something to our attire later on when we finally step into the field.
Pinning a compass to your jacket for example is a sure way to get it ripped off by the bow string. Not only will you destroy your compass, but it will also deflect an otherwise perfect shot. Get into the habit of tucking grunt tubes and binoculars inside your shirt or jacket and out of harm’s way. And keep your compass in your back pack.
4. PRACTICE UNORTHODOX SHOOTING ANGLES
It makes little difference if you bow hunt from a tree stand, ground blind or on foot, sooner or later you will be presented with a difficult shooting opportunity. The buck may pass behind your tree stand for example or you may have to shoot from a hunched position on foot or from inside your ground blind.
What can you do about it? Do not limit your pre-season practice sessions to standing shots on level ground at 20 yards. Try stump shooting at unknown distances from sitting and kneeling positions or climb into a tree stand and practice shooting around the tree’s trunk from awkward angles. These exercises will help prepare you for any shot that might come down the pike.
5. CHECK FOR ADEQUATE CLEARANCE
Before coming to full draw you must quickly determine if there is anything along the projected arrow’s route that could cause a deflection. We have all missed because our arrow contacted an unseen twig or an overhanging branch.
If you have the time, use your pins to insure you have a clear path for your arrow. If you are taking a 40-yard shot for example, and your 30-yard pin is centered on an overhanging limb, then by all means raise or drop your line of sight to take the shot.
But do not overlook the obvious. A friend of mine once missed a dandy buck because he rested the lower limb of his bow on the platform of his tree stand. He later explained he was shaking like the proverbial leaf and needed to anchor the bow to stop the sights from weaving all about.
6. AVOID SHOOTING AT ALERT ANIMALS
Your goal should always be to shoot at an animal that is relaxed and unaware of your presence. A buck that has you pegged, or appears nervous can fall back, jump up, leap forward, switch ends, drop to his knees or simply skedaddle before you can release an arrow. And if by chance you do manage to get a shot off the result is almost always a miss, or worse.
Indeed, I once caught a buck flat-footed as he fed along the edge of a cut corn lot one windy morning. He seemed a bit nervous, but when he turned broadside to me at 20 yards I released a vaned shaft at his vitals just as he stepped forward. Much to my surprise the buck suddenly hopped forward causing my arrow to sail harmlessly across the field. He then lowered his head and continued feeding before jumping a barbed wire fence and trotting out of range. I am convinced this nervous buck caught in mid stride heard the arrow leave the bow, and was already coiled to react instinctively to the strange noise.
7. AVOID THE WANDERING EYE
You should always pick a spot to shoot at BEFORE you bring your bow to full draw. In the excitement of the hunt it is easy to get rattled and stare at the rack (which you will invariably hit!) or look at the whole animal to which case you will surely miss him by a country mile. Picking a spot before you raise your bow forces you to block out other stimuli and concentrate on settling the pin on that specific area.
8. DON’T RUSH THE SHOT
One of the more common ways to flub an opportunity is to allow our emotions to short circuit our common sense. During the rut for example when bucks are prancing about it is not uncommon to be at full draw and have the buck suddenly take off in another direction. Your worse course of action now is to snap off a shot. We panic because we fear the buck is going to get away.
A sudden whistle or grunt will generally stop the buck long enough for you to settle your pin, but if that does not work let your bow down. You may be able to draw him back into range with some deer vocalizations.
9. DON’T SHOOT TOO CLOSE
We all know we should pass up shot opportunities that are beyond our capabilities, but what about those times when the buck is only a few yards away? Indeed, close range shooting can be as demanding as the long shots.
One problem that quickly comes apparent is where exactly to put your pin. I have taken several bucks under ten yards, including one seven pointer at three yards. However, I missed (gulp!) a mature eight pointer this past season at 12 feet because I failed to thread a broadhead through a small opening in a maze of low-hanging thorn apple branches.
Shooting straight down out of a tree stand is another conundrum. It is best to practice this shot before the season opens to learn exactly where your arrow will hit at ten or twelve feet. You may have to aim low. In addition, you need to be sure your equipment is up to the task. Arrows have been known to fall off the rest at the worse time.
10. DO NOT LET DOWN
I practice shooting through brush, tall grass and weeds to learn how a particular broadhead might react under hunting conditions. It is surprising what an arrow can pass through and still be on target, especially if the buck is standing in tall grass, and how a single pencil thin twig will easily deflect a broadhead.
Let me put it this way, I would not want to be standing in the goldenrod and have someone with average shooting skills firing arrows at me, and expect a few goldenrod stalks to protect me. Use your head here; you don’t always have to pass up the shot because the animal is partially concealed by vegetation.
Bonus Tip: DON’T PUNCH OR PLUCK
You can still blow an easy shot if you fever up at the last second and either punch the release or pluck the string.
I try to control the entire shooting situation by having a step-by-step mental check off list to rely on: First estimate the yardage and then pick a spot to shoot at. Now come to full draw while staring at that spot, and hold it steady for three seconds.
Now I tell myself, “you haven’t got him yet, you need a clean release.” It forces me to take one more second and concentrate on a perfect release with follow through.
I have learned that if I skip a step I am sure to miss, no matter how easy the shot appears to be. But when I adhere to this check off list, the odds of a solid hit and good blood trail are high.
Within a half an hour or so I can count on my ultra sharp Piranta hunting knife from Havalon to speed up the field dressing of my buck before rigor mortis sets in and the meat spoils. And that means tasty venison steaks and chops during those cold winter months. Good Hunting!
How do you avoid choking at the moment of truth? Share a tip.
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