As the last few drops of rain lethargically roll off the bill of my hat, I slowly begin to peel away the shelter of clothing from around my damp face. Suddenly, without warning, I spot him approaching. He is moving like a meteorite. I quickly shuffle my feet and begin swinging my bow arm around for the potential shot. I reach full draw just as he comes to an abrupt halt within my shooting lane. “How lucky I am!” I think to myself. All I can see through my peep site is his extremely wide, chocolate colored rack. For a few seconds, I simply admire it. I sense my bow arm drop, bringing the pin somewhere near his vitals. Before I realize it, I punch the trigger on my release-aid….and the arrow is gone. Much to my amazement, it zips harmlessly over his rain soaked back and into the unknown reaches of the lonely forest. Just as quickly as he had arrived, he is gone. I watch his broad headgear sway from side to side as he makes his poignant escape. And just like that…I remember how cold and wet I really am.
Today, I look back on that incident with fond memories. No, not the shot itself, but the experience; specifically what it taught me. Sure, I would love to be writing about how my perfectly placed arrow passed through both lungs, resulting in a short trailing effort and plenty of smiling photos. But, I can’t. However, what I can do, is share with you what I learned in those moments just before launching my doomed arrow, and the days after it had found a new home somewhere in that rainy forest.
Knowing that success hinges on one fleeting moment is hard for a lot of bowhunters to handle. However, a solid game-plan and shooting strategy will greatly increase the odds of making a good shot when the opportunity arrives.
If you’ve ever struggled to live up to your expectations during the moment of truth, you’re not alone. It happens to the best of us; myself included. Every time we enter the stand with the intent of releasing an arrow at a living, breathing whitetail….lessons will be learned. Some are easy, and some go down like a glass of spoiled milk. Regardless, the trick is to take something from the good days, as well as the bad, and use it in order to become a better bowhunter. Applying that philosophy, lets break down my “shot in the rain”; dissecting the 3 costly errors I made that eventually led to another birthday for a wide-horned, WV buck.
Practice ApproachYou’ve probably heard the old saying “practice makes perfect”. Well, my college football coach didn’t buy into that philosophy. His motto….”perfect practice makes perfect.” Every part of our practice had a purpose; an objective. If it didn’t, it was quickly discarded and replaced with something much more effective. Consequently, we were always engaged in an activity that was not only going to make us better; but one that also mimicked actual game conditions. That was football. This is bowhunting. But you know what….it doesn’t matter. The same attitude still applies.
My “shot in the rain” is a perfect example of practice without purpose. Starting well before opening day, I chose to prepare for the season within the comfort of my own backyard. It was a change from my usual “treestand” practice sessions from the previous year, but I figured what harm could come out of preparing on the ground as opposed to an elevated position. After all, a shot is a shot, right? Besides, practicing from the lawn was easier and much more convenient than climbing up and down tree-steps after every round just to retrieve my arrows. It wasn’t long until I eventually began placing arrow after arrow into the sweet spot of my 3-D target with machine-like accuracy. Each passing day my confidence grew until, at last, it was time to start the season. And that is when things fell apart.
Months of standing flat footed, practicing on the lawn, did little to prepare me for the shot I would later face on that wet November morning. When that buck came rushing in, I quickly put my sight pin on him; expecting the best. However, in the process of aiming, I had unknowingly made my first costly mistake. When shooting from an elevated position, it is important to remember to always bend at the waist.
“Situational” practice is the only way to really prepare for the shot. This applies to whatever method you use to get within bowrange of your target animal. Back yard shooting, while popular, isn’t very good at preparing you for the real thing.
This simple step ensures that the angle from your peep sight to your eye remains the same (as if you were shooting straight out in front of you) while still allowing you to get your pin on a target that is actually beneath you. Simply dropping your bow arm (like I did), in order to get your sight pin on the target changes the angle between your eye, the peep sight, and the pin and usually results in a high miss. That is exactly what happened to me that fateful morning. I hadn’t practiced “bending at the waist” that summer; therefore, it wasn’t ingrained into my shot routine….The result of my blunder? You already know the answer. Lesson learned.
Pick a SpotIt sounds so easy. Yet, in the clutches of your “shot of a lifetime”, it can literally be one of the hardest things to do; sometimes impossible. A lot of archers, and I was once one of them, tend to aim “at the deer” while under the pressure of a live shot. However, nothing will undermine your chances of success like shooting at the entire animal. That may sound weird, but if your aim is directed at the “whole” deer, then you’re really not focused on where you want your arrow to impact. And if you really don’t know exactly where your arrow is going to land, how can you logically expect to hit anything with it?
Case in point: When that buck came trotting into my shooting lane, I wasn’t looking at the single hair or spot I wanted to hit. I was more concerned with his headgear; “lusting” over it actually. Sure, I placed the sight pin “somewhere” on him, but I couldn’t tell you where. Obviously, my aim was nowhere near where it should have been, otherwise, I would be writing about something else and he would be staring down at me from my living room wall. Picking a spot takes the focus off of the antlers and puts it back where it belongs….aiming. It essentially forces your mind to work when it otherwise wands to shut down. If I would have simply concentrated on a single tuft of hair or discoloration on his chest my mind would not have turned to gravy so easily, and I likely would have made a killing shot. Sometimes the hardest lessons are also the most educational.
Failure to pick a spot is typically the result of rushing through the moment in an attempt to get out of an uncomfortable situation…like drawing back on the buck of your dreams. While we all live for this moment, the ill-prepared bowhunter will try to get out of the situation as quickly as possible….releasing the arrow is the easiest way to do that.
Understanding how important it is to pick a small aiming point on your next trophy, you may be tempted to believe that you can wait until the moment of truth arrives before actually testing that theory. Don’t. In the heat of the moment, when your mind disengages, you likely won’t even remember to do it. The solution? Picking a spot must be part of your everyday shooting routine. It should be something that is performed on every shot you take from this day forward; in practice or in the field. Simply reminding yourself to do it, verbally or perhaps by strategically attaching stickers to your bow limbs, can’t always be relied on to pull you through the throat tightening process of a live animal shot.
Slow Things DownIf you’ve ever seen one of the movies in the popular sci-fi trilogy “The Matrix”, then you are familiar with the visually appealing scenes where everything seems to move in slow motion. I love those; in fact, they are my favorite movies. So what does my love of those films have to do with bowhunting? Well, when looking back on my successful shots over the years, the one thing that seems to stand out the most is that each of them appeared to happen in slow motion; just like one of those scenes from the movies.
I see the buck, I come to anchor, cut the shot and suddenly, time “decelerates”. The arrow seems to literally pull its way through the air until it impacts in just the right spot. Then, everything speeds back up. Eventually, I find myself following a very short blood trail. On the other hand, when examining shots that I have managed to bungle, it seems the common denominator is speed. Everything seems to be happening faster than I can keep up with. As a result, there usually is no blood trail to follow….simply because dirt doesn’t bleed.
Considering these two vastly different scenarios and their eventual outcomes, I have come to the conclusion that success indeed revolves around the ability to slow things down during the moment of truth. However, we all know that can be easier said than done. It’s simply not enough to tell yourself, “I am going to stay calm, not get nervous”. Don’t get me wrong, that sort of thing helps, and maybe you actually will stay calm. However, the best approach would be to have something reliable; a game plan so to speak.
Fast is bad when it comes to bowshots. Find a way to slow the process down and you will definately fill more tags. When that rain-soaked buck happened-up on me I had no game plan at all—nothing! I was counting on fragile emotions to pull me through the shot when I should have had a solid shooting strategy. The entire episode was over so quickly that I remember standing there thinking “what just happened?” As I mentioned, for me, slow is good, and fast is the kiss of death.
Like I said, I have since learned that in order to have any hopes of making a successful shot while under the influence of a racing heart and knocking knees, you need an effective way to control your thoughts. But how? Well, it’s really kind of simple. As soon as the decision has been made to shoot, mentally start reciting your pre-shot check list, maybe the numbers one to ten, the alphabet, or perhaps a verse from your favorite song. Anything to take your mind off of the overwhelming excitement you are feeling. For me, it is a Bible scripture that I quote to myself, over and over, until I cut the shot. The point is find something to occupy your “mind” with, other than the thought of melt down, while your muscle memory kicks in and pulls you through the shot. If you’ve put in your time on the practice range, your sub-conscience will know how to execute a perfect shot; as long as your scrambled mind doesn’t screw things up.
Quietly speaking words to yourself in the clutches of “the moment” will indeed cause you to operate in a slow, deliberate manner; increasing the odds of making a good shot. Especially if, for instance, you decide not to shoot until you’ve said your special phrase at least twice. If you can hold it together well enough to remember all of that, the odds are good you can keep your wits about you long enough to put your arrow where it needs to be.
When you have put in the time properly preparing for the shot…..blood trails are often very short.
ConclusionWhen it comes to bowhunting, remember, nobody is batting a thousand. You are going to miss. Everybody does. However, there are certain individuals that rarely return home with stories of disappointment and an arrow that missed its mark. What sets these bowhunters apart from everyone else is no mystery. They have a dependable plan of attack designed with one objective in mind….handling the whitetail shot. There is no better time than now to start working on your own system. One that ensures your dreams are won….. not lost.