When the moment of truth arrives in a bow hunt, you’re on your own. No one can whisper advice in your ear, give you a reassuring pat on the back, or help execute the shot. Your only allies becomes the countless hours of shooting practice and a cool, calculated head.
In the 15 years I’ve hunted seriously with a bow, one mistake ranks highest in the list of reasons hunters miss, or worse yet, make poor shots. Many bow hunters simply don’t wait for the shot to develop. Lack of experience, anxiety, and a driving desire to shoot are just a few of the factors and emotions at play.
Getting a deer or other big-game animal inside of easy bow range is just the start. The real skill is waiting until the range, shot angle, hunter’s position, and the attitude of the animal all spell out S-H-O-O-T!
It is anything but easy to make this process play out smoothly and according to plan. When you’re eyeball to eyeball with a trophy buck or other animal, the heat gets turned up in the pressure cooker. Anticipation of the shot and that ego-driven desire to score becomes almost unbearable. Anxiety fed by the fear of not getting a shot causes the hunter to draw when the situation hasn’t fully unfolded.
A panic button goes off and the hunter is facing a critical mistake. Drawing too soon and making a commitment that can’t be reversed forces the hunter to take a less than perfect shot or let the animal walk. What would you do?
Anyone who has spent much time bowhunting has made these mistakes. The moral is in learning from the mistake and using the information to prevent the same thing from happening in the future. Call it buck fever, target panic, rushing the shot, or simply not letting the shot develop. This often-tragic situation happens all too often.
A Word about Shot Angles
Shot angle ranks right up there with shot distance when the moment of truth arrives. While everyone dreams of the textbook broadside standing shot, the reality is shot angles vary greatly. The shot angle a hunter is ultimately faced with determines what vital organs can be hit and how much penetration can be expected. The options aren’t as cut and dried as you might expect. Let’s look at the possibilities.
A bowhunter’s dream come true is an animal standing broadside within easy bow range. Yet even a broadside shot can be wasted if the point of impact isn’t perfect or near perfect. The downward angle of the shot shrinks the effective double lung kill zone considerably, forcing the hunter to place the shot from the center to the bottom third of the chest cavity.
If the shot enters above the centerline of the chest and just behind the shoulder blade, the arrow may miss the front lung completely and perhaps only nick the back lung before exiting. The angle of the shot and the precise location of the hit are critical in this situation.
An animal hit in one lung is fatally wounded, but that animal often travels a considerable distance before expiring. It’s not uncommon for animals hit in one lung to travel 200 yards or more.
The perfect shot is dead center of the chest and just behind the shoulder blade or just a little below center. Both of these shots will enable the arrow to take out the lungs and exit with a low wound that promises an easy-to-follow blood trail.
A broadside shot from the ground is the best possible archery shot. From the ground, the hunter is on the same plane as the animal’s vital and any well-placed shot should take out both lungs. The perfect placement is dead center of the chest and just behind the shoulder bone, but the arrow can stray back to the last rib and still result in a quick kill.
The concern with this shot angle is placing the arrow too high. There’s a space between the top of the lungs, but below the backbone, that is roughly the diameter of an apple and the length of the chest cavity. An arrow placed in this slot will pass directly through, touching nothing but hair, hide and soft tissue. The arrow when recovered will be soiled with a thin layer of greasy fat and little or no blood.
Shooting too quickly, jumping the string, or misjudging the yardage are the primary reasons high shots occur. An animal wounded in this fashion will survive to avoid hunters another day.
Many hunters consider this shot angle to be perfect because it focuses the animal’s attention away from the hunter. A quartering-away angle presents an excellent shot opportunity, but the arrow placement must be accurate to take full advantage of the situation.
To insure maximum penetration, avoid driving the arrow directly into the opposite shoulder bone. It’s often suggested that using the back leg as a windage (left, right) positioning aid is the ideal situation. Actually, aiming at this point will drive the arrow directly into the heavy leg or shoulder bone. While the hit will take out both lungs, an exit wound may not result because the arrow will bottom out in heavy bone and tissue. The blood trail may be a little tricky to follow.
This shot is ideal for a firearm hunter who doesn’t need to worry about penetration. Bowhunters, however, would be better served with a shot that lands near the center of the chest and just behind the front shoulder. An arrow positioned here will drive through both lungs and exit in front of the back shoulder.
Stalkers and others who hunt from the ground often wait for this shot angle because it increases the chances of getting drawn without being spotted. The animal is facing away from the hunter and concentrating on objects in front of not behind it.
As with the treestand option, the best arrow position is to hit in the center of the chest and directly behind the front shoulder, driving through the chest and exiting in front of the opposite shoulder.
A low shot in this situation is a good opportunity to take out the heart. While going for a heart shot is difficult in most situations, from the ground a hunter has the best vantage point to drive the arrow squarely into the heart, which rests in the bottom of the chest protected by the front leg. Aim just behind the front leg about two or three inches up from the bottom of the chest line. The arrow should pass clean through providing an easy to follow blood trail.