Top 5 Hunting Meltdowns at the Moment of Truth

By Josh BoydOctober 16, 20191 Comment

It is absolutely no secret to any bowhunter who has spent much time in the woods that bowhunting is a game of highs and lows. We choose to recall those moments of triumph when we have successfully came through in the clutch, while shunning the moments of defeat that deal a blow to our resolve. With the good comes the bad, and through the understanding of this truth, we grow daily in our endeavors afield.

Few instances, bring about such a high level of anxiety and despair for a bowhunter as the moments following a blown shot opportunity. You have spent all summer planting food plots, checking trail cameras, and polishing your shooting form, all in preparation for this single climactic moment. Then with the release of a single wayward arrow, you feel the fruits of your labor slip from your grasp. You just experienced a hunting meltdown at the moment of truth.

The Anatomy Of A Hunting Meltdown

“What happened?” is almost exclusively the first thought that runs through the mind of a bowhunter, as he or she comes to the realization that they have just watched their hunt unravel before their very eyes. The answer to this question is often complex and multifaceted, however, what is certain is that a meltdown at the moment of truth has occurred. It is up to us, as bowhunters, to decipher the source of such a meltdown, and safeguard against any repeat occurrence.

At the root of most blown shot opportunities is the adrenaline addled state referred to by many as buck fever. The adrenaline fueled seconds, leading up to the release of an arrow, have a tendency to make even the most experienced of hunters melt under the weight of the moment. As the anticipation of the shot builds, and adrenaline courses through your veins, judgement clouds, heart rate speeds up, and the proficiency built by sending arrows down range during the summer months seems to fade away.

It is during these intense moments that mistakes are made, the once obvious is overlooked, and composure is lost. The subsequent unraveling at the seams that a hunter experiences in the midst of a meltdown leads to blown opportunities and much painstaking reflection. What follows is a list of 5 common accuracy robbing mistakes that are made during the course of a meltdown at the moment of truth.

velvet buck walking

As a buck makes his way into range, anticipation builds and adrenaline floods a hunter’s system. A fine line must be walked to avoid a meltdown at the moment of truth.

Misjudging Yardage

It is no secret that a misranged shot will more than likely lead to an errant arrow. However, in the case of a shot that is taken on a buck that you have diligently pursued for the duration of the season, a mistake of this nature has quite heartbreaking consequences. An untold number of opportunities are missed every year when an arrow is sailed directly over or under the vitals of a deer. In many of these cases, a hunter will discover that in reality, they grossly misjudged the distance at which their target stood.

Although it might seem as if this would be a difficult mistake to make, no one is exempt from the potential of flawed decision making when racked with adrenaline. In a number of these cases, a hunter will simply forget to range a deer prior to drawing for a shot. Once their bow is drawn, a split second judgement call is made through a sea of excitement, and the arrow is released.

hunter ranging

Many deer are missed each year when shot distance is miscalculated. This is easy to do in the heat of the moment and makes a rangefinder an invaluable tool for today’s bowhunter.

Improper Form

We have all heard time and time again about the importance of maintaining proper form when shooting from various positions required of us in hunting situations. Practice during the summer months from elevated platforms, or from a sitting position within the confines of a blind, are always advisable in preparation for season. However, all of the backyard practice in the world will never truly prepare you for the intense situation faced at the moment of truth.

Key points of proper form such as bending at the waist and maintaining correct geometry of our arms and upper body are often the furthest thing from our minds as the buck of a lifetime stands a mere twenty yards away. The importance of proper form in these circumstances is often not given thorough evaluation until a mistake has already come to light.

hunter shooting

Shooting from an elevated platform can easily change the dynamics of a shot, leading to improper form. Care must be taken to bend at the waist and maintain proper upper body geometry.

Unforeseen Objects

Many deer each year are spared by nothing more than the presence of a opportunistically stray twig or branch. Deflected arrows equate to heartbreak for a bowhunter and routinely cost an individual the execution of an otherwise infallible shot. Unfortunately, the existence of such objects are often not realized until an arrow is sent sailing to parts unknown.

Although it would seem as if the presence of a branch or other brush within the void between an arrow and the deer that it is intended for would be fairly obvious, this is not always the case when split second shot execution becomes a must. As a deer enters a shooting lane, and opportunity is fleeting, little observation is often made in regards to the pencil sized obstruction that could be your undoing.

hunting meltdowns - hunter with broadhead

Stray limbs and branches have caused many tags to go unfilled. Have you been the victim of an unseen object within an arrow’s trajectory?

Rushed Shot Opportunities

As a buck makes his way into range, and you are fighting desperately to hold yourself together before the moment of truth, seconds seem as if they are an eternity. You want nothing more than to release your arrow as soon as the opportunity arises. Unfortunately, this anxiety driven desperation can also be your downfall.

When decisions are made in haste, results are often not favorable. Sometimes the first shot opportunity that presents itself is not always the best. By taking shots through narrow shooting lanes, at distances exceeding our effective range, or at awkward or contorted angles in an attempt to get on target, we allow our rush to arrow game to outweigh our better judgement.

hunting meltdowns - velvet buck walking in field

As a buck closes the distance, it is easy to become desperate to seize upon the first shot opportunity. Unfortunately, this desperation can also be our demise.

Buck Fever Induced Target Panic

You have watched a trophy buck ease into range, you have drawn your bow without being busted, you have been mindful of your form, and now all that remains is to execute the shot with the utmost precision. You look through your peep sight and float your sight pins towards your target. Then suddenly upon acquiring a fleeting glance of your target through your peep, as if by total surprise, you touch off your release, sending an arrow flying. Upon the arrows departure you begin to wonder what happened, with no recollection of consciously centering your pins in the vitals.

This in the field onset of target panic can be extremely detrimental to a hunter’s ability to place an arrow as it should be. Adrenaline floods the body and the rationale that allows one to settle a sight pin with confidence, before triggering the release, seems to become inoperable. This spontaneous and errant release in the absence of calculated aiming can turn a sure bet into a blown opportunity in short order. By taking a deep breath, collecting your thoughts, and settling your sight pin as needed, this potential meltdown can be avoided.

hunting meltdowns - bowsight and arrow

Many shot opportunities have been blown due to anxiety over the shot. By carefully studying your point of aim and restraining your excitement, arrows can be guided to their intended target.

Hunting Meltdowns – Conclusion

As bowhunters, we will inevitably be forced from time to time to deal with the disappointment that a missed shot opportunity renders. As dejecting as this can be, our only recourse through which to move forward is to learn from our mistakes. Through caution and a diligent approach, we can work to safeguard ourselves against a meltdown at the moment of truth.

Josh Boyd
Josh is a die-hard hunter, free-lance writer, and a dedicated proponent of all areas of conservation. His main species of outdoor pursuit are whitetail deer, eastern wild turkeys, and waterfowl. Above all other outdoor pursuits, he relishes his time 20 feet in a tree with bow in hand, chasing Kentucky whitetails every fall. He is the president of the Barren River Branch of QDMA and a committee member for the KY Three Rivers Chapter of Whitetails Unlimited. He resides in Bowling Green, Kentucky with his wife and two children.
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