Skip to main content

5 Ways You Can Miss A Whitetail

5 Ways You Can Miss A Whitetail

There's no debate that there are more ways to miss a shot at a good buck than there are ways to hit one. Take these factors into account before -- and when -- your shot arrives, and your odds of connecting will increase.


Aside from "buck fever" (a subject for another discussion), there are three basic reasons you'll miss easy shots at deer: geometry, collapse of shooting form and unrehearsed shooting positions. Geometry is most easily conquered. The tendency when shooting from elevated positions is to shoot high. Many archers blame gravity, but this simply isn't true. That animal is simply not as far away as it appears. You're aiming for a straight-line yardage when the target is actually only as far from you as the distance from the base of the tree you occupy to the animal.

Applying geometry's Pythagorean Theorem (which uses stand height and straight-line distance to determine real yardage) it's easy to see the phenomenon in action. Say your stand is 30 feet high. The straight pop from your rangefinder tells you a buck is standing at 25 yards. By using your 25-yard pin you'll shoot high -- "back-strapping" him at best and likely shooting over his back. That deer is closer to 22 yards than 25.

On a more practical basis, while getting settled on stand, go through a quick inventory of ranges around your position, ranging trees well up their trunks, at the same height that you're sitting. You've then received actual ranges for anything at the base of those trees.

Of course, laser rangefinders with built-in tilt compensation have arrived, providing ballistically compensated ranges to targets addressed from elevated positions.

A second option makes shots from elevated tree stands even more fail-proof. Choosing a pendulum bow sight allows point-on aiming at nearly any reasonable range from any elevated position. These simple one-pin models sit in pivoting cradles, automatically swinging to adjust for shots from directly beneath your stand to as far as 30 or 35 yards.


Form is more problematic when shooting from a treestand. Most archers drop their bow arm to compensate for the downward angle and aim accordingly, instantly changing anchor point and making it difficult to maintain proper back tension. To ensure proper shooting form, learn to first lock into proper T-form, as if aiming into the trees at the level at which you're standing, and only then bend at the waist to address the target. Time spent in a stand practicing this maneuver will make it second nature.

While practicing, it's also wise to go through a full dress rehearsal, assuring the insulated duds that keep you warm won't restrict draw cycle or catch the string after release. An armguard used to compress puffy clothing normally solves such problems. This is also the time to become accustomed to working in and around your fall-restraint system and from those unrehearsed shooting positions that can cause a miss later. After discovering a shot that causes trouble, practice to master that shot scenario.


There are other factors unique to whitetail hunting that make missing easy. Most commonly, sitting for hours in cramped, cold treestands makes executing a clean shot difficult. Prevention is the best medicine. Invest in quality cold-weather gear, including toasty base layers, lofty mid-layers and windproof outer layers. Stash chemical heater packs in interior pockets to trap warmth, or invest in a battery-powered "core-heat" vest.

To keep my hands functional, I used to wear clumsy glove-mitts. Lately I've given them up in favor of a waist-mounted muffler holding a hand-warmer. This allows me to wear thin gloves for dexterity but keep hands warm and prepared. Likewise, some 75 percent of heat loss occurs through your head. I find an open-face fleece or knit balaclava, with a windproof, pile-lined wool or fleece hat pulled over, quite effective in the coldest weather. Arctic pack boots rated to, say, minus-45 to -65 degrees Fahrenheit, 800- to 1,200-gram insulated boots combined with chemical toe warmers, or standard hiking boots covered with "boot blankets" are all viable options. In short, if you're not reasonably comfortable, you'll seldom shoot your best.

Being even slightly hypothermic saps brain function, which can lead to rash decisions. You may not even care if you shoot well, simply wanting to end the discomfort. Stiff muscles that make it painful to draw your bow can also inflame creeping target panic. Don't be a tough guy. When you're shivering, you're better off climbing from your stand and calling it a day, or warming up and donning more clothing before returning. Hot chocolate or hearty soup helps warm you quickly and get you back on stand. Electrolyte-laden sports drinks also help you stay warmer.


Another factor in missing an easy shot is an unexpected opportunity that catches a shooter completely off guard. You'll panic, forget all you know about shooting your bow and simply fling one. Afterwards you think, How did I miss that shot? The truth is you just weren't ready physically or more pointedly, mentally. If you're to make your shot count, it's important to first gather your wits. If there isn't enough time available to make the shot count, you're best advised to pass it completely. This requires a healthy dose of discipline, but deer demand your best efforts, not poke-and-hope desperation.


Legal shooting hours aside, conditions such as heavy forest canopy and overcast evenings can leave you wishing for additional shooting light when that buck you've been waiting an entire season for finally appears. Fiber-optic pin points backed by long hanks of spooled, wound or extended material, or tritium pins, are your options if entering your trophies in Pope & Young record books is important to you. I'd call two to three feet of material optimum. Tritium is a radioactive -- though safe -- material that emits a soft, natural glow. Encapsulated at the terminus of a fiber-optic pin, you receive a lit pin no matter how dim conditions become.

The bigger problem is precisely aligning your peep. The solution is to install the largest peep available -- normally around 1/4 inch, combined with a round pin guard sight. The bigger the peep, the more light is allowed through and the more clearly you see the target. Using a round pin guard allows you to center the entire sight aperture inside the peep instead of an individual pin, giving up nothing in accuracy but gaining a low-light edge. Also, keep both eyes open. Two eyes gather more light than one.

The bowhunter who cares nothing of record books has many battery-operated options, from old-fashion pin lights to projection dot sights. The only caution I'll offer is to avoid pin lights that overwhelm the sight picture, making it difficult to concentrate on a specific aiming point. Also understand such options aren't legal in all states, so check regulations carefully before bowhunting with one.

Missing is inevitable, as we're only human, after all. A clean miss is nothing more than a blow to our egos and confidence, but when a miss translates into a wounding shot and lost game, it becomes something else entirely. We owe the deer we hunt our best efforts, meaning reducing wounding shots to an absolute minimum -- and ideally eliminating them altogether. Smart practice and preparation can make this a reality for you this season.

GET THE NEWSLETTER Join the List and Never Miss a Thing.

Recommended Articles

Recent Videos

North American Whitetail Magazine Covers Print and Tablet Versions

GET THE MAGAZINE Subscribe & Save

Digital Now Included!


Give a Gift   |   Subscriber Services


Buy Digital Single Issues

Magazine App Logo

Don't miss an issue.
Buy single digital issue for your phone or tablet.

Buy Single Digital Issue on the North American Whitetail App

Other Magazines

See All Other Magazines

Special Interest Magazines

See All Special Interest Magazines

GET THE NEWSLETTER Join the List and Never Miss a Thing.

Get the top North American Whitetail stories delivered right to your inbox.

Phone Icon

Get Digital Access.

All North American Whitetail subscribers now have digital access to their magazine content. This means you have the option to read your magazine on most popular phones and tablets.

To get started, click the link below to visit and learn how to access your digital magazine.

Get Digital Access

Not a Subscriber?
Subscribe Now

Enjoying What You're Reading?

Get a Full Year
of Guns & Ammo
& Digital Access.

Offer only for new subscribers.

Subscribe Now