Tactics

Mastering Bow Hunting Preparation

September 6, 2023

L. Dekeyser

L. Dekeyser

You can watch a buck all year, pattern his movements, know which field he will eat in every morning, and where he beds after that.  There is a whole trail cam folder on your computer to prove it.  You have the perfect stand placement to intercept him.  Finally the wind is blowing perfectly in your favor.  You have waited all year for this bow hunting opportunity.

You step out of your truck into the cool crisp morning air, gather your gear, and start your hike in.  Your phone vibrates.  You ignore it and keep walking.  Five minutes later it starts ringing.  Frantically now you reach into your pocket to stop the noise! Pulling it out you fumble it onto the ground.

It stops, now you are trying to find your phone in the dark.  The walk in is easy and mostly field.  The thought of bringing a flashlight never occurred.  It seems like hours before you finally feel the smooth glass screen.  Picking it up you think “man I hope I didn’t spook any deer off.  I can’t believe I had my ringer on.”

Who the heck would be calling you at 6:00 in the morning anyways?  Then you see the text from you wife reminding you that the kids soccer game is at noon.  You reply and continue on your way.

Waiting for the Deer

You get to your stand without too much extra trouble.  You settle in and wait.  7:45 rolls around.  He should be walking by anytime now.  10 minutes go by.  15… Nothing.  Suddenly you see a coyote trotting along through the woods.

Right in between you and the field the big buck should be feeding in.  How could this be?  Why is this happening?  Is that why he hasn’t come.  Your mind starts thinking about how you need to start coyote hunting.

It’s now 8:45.  As the sun gets higher into the sky the wind starts picking up.  It is still a cool 50 degrees.  Not bad for early October.  However the wind has started to swirl now.  Your frustration grows…  Then suddenly you catch a glimpse of movement.

Not from your left where the buck usually comes from, but straight ahead.  Now, directly down wind.  You have taken every precaution for scent.  You hope he doesn’t bust you.  One slow step at a time the object moves closer.

The thick foliage of the early season makes it hard to see very far.  You can tell it’s a deer, but can’t quite make out a….. RACK. No there is a rack! Its him!  Your heart starts pounding even harder than it was already.

Messing Up the Big Moment

He is not on his normal path, but is still moving towards a shooting lane.  Everything is moving fast now.  With each step he takes you try to calm your breath and heart beat.  You can hear the blood pounding in your ears.  As he walks into the shooting lane, he stops to nibble on a small bunch of green leaves.  His head is pointed away from you.  Everything is lining up perfect.

He’s just past a tree that you marked off at 35 yards.  You know he is right around 40.  You have a relatively new bow, and your farthest pin is set for 30 yards.  You decide to take the shot.  Pulling back slowly, you place the pin just above his vitals.

You take one deep breath in, let half of it out, and slowly squeeze the trigger on your release… The arrow makes a faint whistle as it sails through the morning air, and… thud the arrow sticks deep.. into.. the ground over his back.

He jumps, not overly startled.  Runs about 15 yards.  He is looking right in your direction now.  He tilts his head up, curls up his lip a little, and instantly smells something he doesn’t like.  As if he stuck his nose right in your armpit, he lets a loud wheeze and bounds off through the woods, off your property and onto the neighbor’s…

Why Bow Hunting Preparation Matters

Unbelievable… How could this happen?  Your sights must be off.  At least that’s what you tell yourself.  The reality of the situation is that you have only shot your bow about 6-7 times in the last month and a half.  With every 5 to 10 yards of distance the difficulty of making a good shot increases.

If you have never been in this situation, great.  I hope you never will be.  The above story is one not entirely made up.  I have missed deer simply due to lack of practice.  When that happens, the feeling is terrible.  Even worse, what if you had hit him and made a bad shot.  Losing a deer is an incredibly terrible feeling.  Yes, I hate to admit, I have done that too.

Modern technology has made bows today highly accurate.  They will shoot exactly where you point them.  That doesn’t mean it’s easy.  For the past few years I didn’t practice enough.  I practiced enough to know where my limits were.

Last year I knew I would not take a shot over 25 yards.  Sure most of the time my shots where in the kill zone at 30, but every 6 or 7 shots there would be that outlier. The one that I knew was a gut, or shoulder shot.

My Bow Hunting History

I have only ever hit one deer with a bow that I didn’t recover.  I was 13 shooting an old Hoyt, 32lb max draw weight, fingers, no peep sight, and iron pins.  It made a complete pass through at 15 yards.  I swear I hit double lungs.  There was tons of blood, yet we never found her…  My dad and I looked for hours.  It still bothers me today.

Hunter drawing bow string bow hunting

I never missed a deer until I was much older.  By the time I was 18 I had become pretty confident with a bow.  I shot in a 3D league for years, and even took 3rd at state in 4H one year.  Every year I shot a little less, and a little less.

When I was about 20 I missed a deer.  Well under its stomach at what I had thought was 30 yards.  Turns out it was much closer to 40.  All I could think about was man what if I had made a bad shot.  A couple years later I missed one over its back.  I shot too fast and pulled it.

Life has a way of teaching you lessons in the order they should be taught.  I learned at a very young age the guilt felt for harming and animal, and then not knowing what its ultimate fate was.  Archery can be an extremely efficient way to harvest an animal, especially with today’s bows.  There are so many variables in hunting you have minimal to no control over.  Your shooting skills don’t have to be one of them.

Shooting a Bow isn’t Like Riding a Bike

When I was young I shot nearly every single day.  As I got older I falsely assumed that my years of practice would get me through.  The truth is shooting a bow is NOT riding a bike.  You have to set limits for yourself.  You can’t just pick up your bow and shoot a half dozen times and know what those limits are.  Some days you will be dead on, and some days you won’t.  You have to know your ability on your worst days to set ethical shooting standards.

compound bow elk hunting bow hunting

This year I vowed that I would get my comfortable shooting distance back out to 30 yards.  When I say comfortable, I mean 100%.  I joined a winter 5 spot league.  I started shooting once or twice a week in early July.  Halfway through august, I was not yet comfortable shooting a deer at 30 yards.

I started the 15 for 15 challenge where a handful of friends and followers joined me in trying to shoot at least 15 arrows for 15 days straight.  Thanks guys it really helped to see you shooting everyday as well!  I knew I would probably miss a few days here and there, and I did.

I made it to something like 9 days the first time, then something like 11 the next.  Life happens and you miss a day.  But I eventually did before my set deadline of October 1st.  I have shot many days in the dark under floodlights.  I even parked my car with the lights shining on the target at times.  I usually shoot close ranges of 15 yards in the dark, but still it helped me gain control and consistency.

Know Your Bow Hunting Limits

I am happy to say that I am comfortable shooting a deer at 30 yards.  I am very close to reaching the 40 yard mark.  I will continue to shoot everyday throughout the season.  The truth is, you do have time. 15 arrows doesn’t take long.  However I urge you to shoot more than that if you can.  Shooting accurately at farther distances takes strengthened muscles.  Anyone that works out knows you don’t gain strength from putting in minimal effort.  Push yourself slowly to farther distances.  Don’t jump from 10 to 30.

Knowing your limits doesn’t mean anything if you can’t judge the distance out in the woods.  Buy a decent range finder if you can.  If you can’t afford one, pace off some markers.  Yes you will run the risk of spreading scent around, but if you don’t know how far away the deer is, it would be better that he smelled you anyways.

I’ll leave you with a few bow hunting bullet points that I now live by.  When your hard work and the stars align, there is one variable you must control.  Your shot placement!

Bow Hunting Tips

  1. Shoot on a daily basis.
  2. Know yourself on a bad day.
  3. Set your limits based on your bad days.
  4. Stick to your limits when you are out in the field.  The animal you are after deserves that respect.
  5. Set distance markers in the woods.

Article and photo courtesy of Harvesting Nature. Click here to subscribe to the quarterly Harvesting Nature magazine, And Click here to enjoy the latest episode of the wild fish and game podcast.

Learn how to choose the best compound bow on iSportsmanUSA.

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