How to Stay Mentally Tough at Crunch Time: Knowing When to Shoot & Draw
Posted on May 26, 2013
Exclusive BOW & ARROW HUNTING Feature Series: Check out this excerpt from Joe Bell’s recent book, “TECHNICAL BOWHUNTING, The Ultimate Guide to Shooting Performance.” Learn how to stay mentally tough and deliver at the moment of truth. This segment covers how to learn when to shoot and when to draw. If you missed the first segment on the importance of practicing; part two on the pre-shot checklist; and part three on gaining confidence, be sure to check them out first!
Shots at big game are precious for most of us; you may only get one chance during a long hunt. When that chance comes, it’s important to recognize it. Interestingly enough, a lot of bowhunters fail miserably in this department. A whole lot of factors come into play that will define the right time to shoot. Animal behavior, shot angle and personal shooting comfort are key factors. However, the key, in my opinion, is to recognize the first good opportunity, not the very best one in the world.
A lot of hunters are looking for those hallmark chances—an animal at 20 yards that is relaxed, perfectly broadside or slightly quartering away—a gimme shot, really. That’s great, mind you, but the reality of it is that this kind of shot may never come during a week’s hunt. You may have to settle for a more challenging, but certainly doable, shot, like a buck standing 37 yards away with its vitals only exposed through a 12-inch circle in the brush.
Don’t take me wrong, now. By no means am I advocating unethical shots on game (desperation shots are for fools), but if you’ve practiced like a madman all spring and summer long, and you know your arrow’s flight trajectory inside and out and confidence is reigning, I say take the shot. Don’t mess around. “I take the first good high-percentage shot within my killing/confidence level,” says Chuck Adams. “A lot of bowhunters tend to dawdle when faced with animals in their effective range, waiting for the best shot in the world. In the end, they go home empty-handed.”
A few seasons back, I stalked three nice mule deer bucks, all 4x4s with 26- to 28-inch spreads. The deer were feeding in the open with nothing but pine needles and a few scraggly bushes separating us. When the moment was right, I crawled a bit closer and got within the outer edge of my personal effective range. It was a pretty long shot, but I knew I could make it. I knew, because I had no lingering doubts—that’s your greenlight go ahead.
From there, I went into proactive mode. Once the first deer disappeared in a cut in the terrain, I hit full draw. I tracked the second deer, but it too dropped out of sight. When the third and smallest buck stopped momentarily, the shot was off and the arrow made a resounding thump. Later that day, as I was packing out deer quarters, it was obvious I had made the right decision.
In that example, I could’ve done many things differently. I could have been more patient, waiting for the deer to possibly get closer—you know, for that slam-dunk opportunity. Or, I could have waited for any of the bucks to reappear again, hoping they’d calmly graze once more, so I could shoot at a motionless 3-D-like target. Yes, I could’ve, but no guarantees exist in any of that. Why gamble when a good shot opportunity was already before me?
Experience is the true indicator of what constitutes a good or bad shot for you. However, after years of bowhunting, my advice is this: Be as proactive as possible when animals are within your effective range. Think, but be ready to react quickly. There’s a fine line between all this. Exercising patience is crucial; if there’s any doubt about the shot angle, don’t shoot. The last thing you want to do is ruin a potentially great shot opportunity by forcing things and shooting at the wrong time, perhaps causing a superficial wound or a lengthy blood trail that begins, but leaves you going home empty-handed.
“I think inexperienced bowhunters often rush the shot,” says Ulmer. “They’re so excited to finally get a shot that they want it over with. They are afraid the deer is going to get away. If they would take an additional 10 seconds, they would shoot more deer—an occasional buck would get away but, in the long run, they’d have more success. You usually have more time than you think to execute the shot.”
If there’s a time to slow down, it should be during the shot phase. Focus on the steps of the shot and carry them through. As was stated earlier, this will help you keep your cool.
When to Draw
If the shot’s a go, the next step is to get drawn, unseen. This is a huge battle in most situations, and again, many bowhunters do it wrong.
Mistake No. 1 is drawing within view of the animal’s eyes. The sharp eyes of a bull or buck will catch such movement every time. Wait until the animal’s eyes are obscured by a tree, bush or rock, then hit full draw.
Mistake No. 2 is not drawing early enough into the encounter. When an animal is too far for a shot, but is moving in your direction and you predict a likely shot encounter, it is the time to get to full draw. Most bowhunters seem to want to wait until the animal is in the wide open before placing the rangefinder on the animal and then coming to full draw.
This works only some of the time, given the animal turns his head so you can draw undetected. But, most of the time, the animal never turns and, in this case, drawing your bow is impossible without being seen.
Fact: Visualize the perfect shot before attempting to take one. By doing so, you increase the chances of it becoming a reality.
In cases like these, predict where the animal is likely to travel, pre-determine shooting distances to these windows using your rangefinder, and be ready to strike—that means waiting at full draw as the animal pops into view. I can’t emphasize this enough. This is all part of recognizing a good, high-percentage shot.
Here’s a great example. A few seasons back, while hunting Sitka blacktail deer on Kodiak Island, Alaska, I spotted a group of deer grazing along a snow-covered slope. Noticing there were three decent bucks in the bunch, I stalked in from below, totally hidden by snow and brush. However, as I eased upward, I could see the tops of the deer, including one good branch-antlered buck.
Instantly, I figured the distance by placing the rangefinder on his polished horns, and drew my bow. I walked up the hill 5 more yards before the snow bank was clear of his chest. At the very instant the buck snapped his head in my direction, the arrow was on its way.
Maneuvering until I had a clear shot on that buck, then drawing my bow would have proved to be a huge mistake in this case. The deer would’ve surely caught my movement and likely bolted, ruining the shot opportunity all together.
Stay tuned for the remaining segments of this exclusive series!
And be sure to pick up your copy of Technical Bowhunting, available at www.up-publications.com or by calling (866) 834-1249, and requesting item #216. Cost is $21.95; shipping extra, CA residents pay sales tax. Direct dealers e-mail or phone Becky Silvas at firstname.lastname@example.org; (800) 332-3330, x259.
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