5 Reasons Why You Missed

By Justin ZarrAugust 12, 20144 Comments

LAST UPDATED: May 1st, 2015

Your heart pounds so loudly in your chest that you’re certain the buck who is quickly approaching is going to hear it. As he steps into your shooting lane you reach full draw and stop him with a soft mouth grunt. Freezing almost instantly the buck goes on high alert, looking for the source of the sound. You touch the trigger on your release and watch as your arrow sails over it’s mark, burying in the soft ground and leaves of the forest floor. As the buck bounds away you stare down at your bow and think to yourself “What just happened?”.

Big Buck Walking
Months of anticipation often lead to one fleeting chance to fill your buck tag.  Will you be able to succeed at the moment of truth?

If you bow hunt long enough it’s a pretty sure bet you’re going to miss an animal at some point in time. A myriad of factors must all work together in harmony to pull of the perfect shot when the opportunity presents itself. If any one detail goes wrong an errant arrow and empty freezer are sure to follow.

While missing may simply be part of bowhunting there are several common reasons your arrow strayed off course.

Bad Form

Bowhunters spend countless hours during the summer months relaxing outside in shorts and a t-shirt, shooting their bows from flat surfaces at motionless targets. These ideal conditions allow for nearly perfect shot execution time and time again yet fail to prepare us for real world bowhunting conditions. When time is of the essence and you must make a shot which requires bending over or turning at an odd angle your form can certainly suffer. When this happens you can bet your arrow will not impact where you want it.

The most common shooting form mistake that bowhunters make is dropping their bow arm when shooting from a treestand. While this may be the easiest way to point your arrow towards it’s quarry, it sacrifices proper form and will make you shoot high. Instead of simply lowering your bow arm make sure you bend at the waist and keep your upper body in a “T” shape.

Hunter at full draw in treestand
Maintaining good form is of vital importance when hunting from a treestand.  If your form suffers so will your shot.  Hunter shown wearing Lost Camo.

Misjudging Yardage

When I first started out bowhunting some 20+ years ago laser rangefinders didn’t exist. In order to hone our yardage estimation skills we shot a variety of unmarked 3-D courses during the summer months or simply went out “stump shooting” in our off time. Bows of 2 decades passed were much slower than they are today and yardage estimation was critical for hitting your target. Needless to say our skills were much more finely tuned then than they are now.

These days you can purchase an accurate laser rangefinder for under $100 which will tell you precisely how far your target is before you shoot. In my opinion there is no reason any modern bowhunter should be without this essential tool. In spite of blazing fast speeds from today’s hunting bows a miscalculation in yardage is still one of the most common reasons animals escape certain fate time and time again. If you miss because of a miscalculation in distance you have nobody to blame but yourself.

Bowhunter using a rangefinder
A laser rangefinder is one of those invaluable tools that a modern bowhunter should not leave home without.

Used The Wrong Pin

During the heat of the moment as you focus on when to draw and where to aim it can be easy to forget which one of your sight pins to use. I’ve been guilty of this in the past and it’s cost me a few nice deer over the years. While there may be no easy solution for this mistake aside from telling yourself to calm down before you shoot (easier said than done) switching to a single pin bow sight may help.

The vast majority of bowhunters are deer hunters, and most of us hunt from treestands. While today’s equipment allows us to shoot accurately and harvest animals at longer distances than ever before the majority of shots still happen under 30 yards, with most still falling under 20 yards. If this holds true for you a single pin bow sight, such as those made by HHA Sports, may help solve the confusion of which pin to use when the time comes.

Bowhunter in corn
Many bowhunters prefer a simple, single pin site like the HHA Optimzer Lite to avoid confusion over which pin to use when shooting at game animals.

Deer Jumped The String

In my opinion a deer jumping your string is typically a combination of several mistakes. The first is most likely misjudged yardage or using the wrong pin. Even if your bow is blazing fast a miscalculation of a few yards can put your arrow several inches off target. Now on a stationary animal who doesn’t move at the sound of the shot this small mistake may be overcome. After all, the vitals on a mature whitetail may be 10 inches tall or more, providing some wiggle room for errant shots.

However a shot that’s slightly off target can become a miss very easily if the deer is on alert when you release that arrow. Most of us have seen video proof of whitetails ducking and moving as much as a foot from the time the arrow leaves the bow until it gets to it’s intended spot of impact. While that’s not always the norm you can bet most of the time an alert deer is going to move several inches before the arrow arrives. Those few inches of movement combined with a shot that’s a little high can create a miss before you know it.

Hunter upset after missMost bowhunters will tell you if you have never missed a shot you simply haven’t been bowhunting long enough.  Missing can, and does, happen to the best of us.

In order to overcome deer jumping the string there’s several things you can do. First, try not to shoot at an animal who is on full alert. If that deer knows something is up and is stomping it’s foot or bobbing it’s head up and down you may want to pass the shot. Second, if the deer is somewhat alert but not quite ready to head for cover aim at the lower ⅓ of the vitals. This way if the deer does drop at the sound of the shot he will hopefully drop right into the shot.

The third, and most obvious thing, is to shoot as fast of a bow as you can. The faster the bow the quicker the arrow will reach it’s mark. However keep in mind that faster bows also tend to be louder bows so there is a point of diminishing returns. While a fast bow may help your best bet is to worry less about speed and more about shooting at an animal who isn’t on red alert.

You Rushed It

Possibly the most common reason for blowing a perfectly good shot is simply rushing it. When our brain goes into overdrive and tries to make something happen too quickly we often forget about the simple things. Whether it be yardage estimation, using the correct pin, bending the waist, aiming too high, looking around your peep, not setting your anchor point property or a dozen other mistakes most of them boil down to simply trying to do too much too quickly. Undoubtedly buck fever has been the cause of more missed shots than many of us care to admit.

So before you take your next shot remember to take a deep breath, pick a spot, squeeze the trigger and enjoy the moment.

Hunter in treestand
Stay Calm.  Pick A Spot.  Fill Your Tag.

Justin Zarr
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General Manager at Bowhunting.com
Justin has been bowhunting for more than 25 years, harvesting a number of P&Y whitetails in his home state of Illinois during that time.  He co-hosts the popular bowhunting show 'Bowhunt or Die' and is a frequent guest on numerous hunting podcast.  Justin lives in the NW suburbs of Chicago with his wife and 3 children.
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