Wild-game meat is delicious and makes a rewarding meal. But before you can enjoy venison roasts or wild-turkey pot pies, you must execute well-placed shots.
Lethal shots are vital to bowhunting’s ethics, a strict code that guides decisions in the field. We must do all we can to ensure quick, humane harvests of every animal we pursue. That requires us to know our abilities, the distance to our quarry, and when and where to place the shot.
Every bowhunter must decide their confident and comfortable shooting distance. These individual decisions require careful thought because shooting at animals is a far greater challenge than shooting at targets. If you can hit bull’s-eyes on a target at certain distances, that doesn’t mean you’ll translate that consistency to bowhunting. Your maximum distance requires 100 percent confidence you’ll hit where you aim.
That distance can vary by weather conditions or recent practice. If it’s windy, you should decrease your max distance. If you’ve had a rough practice session, you should also decrease your distance.
Know your capabilities and stick with your self-imposed maximum shooting distance.
Rangefinders and Estimating Distances
How do you know when your quarry is at or near your maximum distance? Judging, or estimating, distances to animals is vital for accurate shots.
Laser rangefinders are valuable tools for acquiring distances. Bowhunters keep them handy to quickly read distances. Rangefinders also help you practice judging distances. Guess the distance to your target – or rocks, stumps or other objects – and then check it with your rangefinder. Frequent practice will turn you into a human rangefinder.
Shot placement combines angles and anatomy to determine where to aim at deer, elk, bears and other quarry. Your arrow’s broadhead must cut through the vitals – lungs and/or heart – for a quick kill. The vitals are located in the chest cavity, which presents a large target. Depending on how the animal approaches, you must wait or adjust your aiming point to ensure a lethal shot.
In a perfect world, your quarry would always stand broadside or slightly quartering away at close range. Broadside shots present a large target. The vitals are fully exposed, so placing an arrow just behind the shoulder inflicts a double-lung hit.
Before drawing and releasing, make sure the animal’s nearest shoulder is forward. If it’s back, the shoulder can block part of the vital area. Wait for the leg to move forward, and shoot.
In a quartering-to shot, the quarry faces slightly toward you. This angle leaves little room for error because you must place the arrow tightly behind the shoulder. A slight miss left or right can wound the animal. With so little room for error, pass on this shot. It’s best left to confident, experienced bowhunters who know anatomy and take this shot only at short range.
It’s not uncommon for quarry to walk toward you and present a straight-on shot. This is not a good shooting option on most animals. Straight-on shots offer a small vital area, and the animal will likely spook as you draw, aim or shoot. Wait for it to turn broadside or quarter away.
Quartering-away shots present a forgiving vital area, In addition, the animal is facing away so it likely won’t notice you drawing your bow.
Instead of placing your arrow right behind the shoulder, visualize the arrow’s path through the chest cavity. Aim your shot so the arrow exits behind the animal’s far-side shoulder. That means you must aim farther back in the ribs. Visualize the arrow’s exit point.
As you can see, bowhunting requires a great combination of archery, distance judging, animal anatomy and angle-calculating skills to make lethal shots. Each requires practice, and the offseason is an excellent time to improve these skills. To make your shots count each fall, take archery lessons, shoot your bow, and compete in 3D tournaments throughout winter, spring and summer.