September 22, 2010
The first thing I do when I see a target buck approaching is stand up. I simply do not feel mobile enough to attempt a shot from the sitting position. For one thing, a buck on a course that would put him on the side of the tree from which I can make the shot might suddenly change direction and go to the wrong side of the tree. That would make it almost impossible to shoot from the sitting position. If I have to stand and re-position myself when the buck is only 10 or 15 yards away, he could easily see me and spook. It is imperative to be in a standing position with your bow in hand well ahead of the time you need to draw.
As the buck approaches, you should be thinking about which sight pin you should use for the shot and the exact spot on the buck where you'll be aiming with that sight pin.
WHEN TO DRAW BACK
Will you draw early as he approaches, or will you wait until he gets into position for the shot? This depends on a lot of things. If you are an experienced bowhunter, go with your gut feeling. Generally speaking, the more open the terrain and the more alert the buck is, the sooner you should draw your bow. The further away the deer is, the less likely he is to notice any slow movement.
If the area around your stand is thick and the deer seems to be fairly relaxed, you may decide to wait until the buck is close and either in, or nearly in, position for the shot. If there is a strong wind blowing that can hide your movement, you should be able to wait until the buck is in position before drawing back.
As the deer closes the distance to you, do not make eye contact. This seems to trigger a buck's sixth sense. Also, never re-position yourself unless the buck is moving or unless you cannot see his eyes. Mature bucks are survival machines. A buck's sixth sense is legendary. If you make one wrong move when he is close, he will vanish like a ghost.
Read his body language. This will help you decide when to begin drawing.
It's not always easy to know when to start your draw because no two situations are the same. Use extra caution when trying to move or draw your bow if the deer is nervous or fidgety. You may have to wait to make your move until the deer calms down, until his head is behind a tree, or until he is looking the other way. You may be able to get away with drawing your bow on a nervous buck if the wind is gusting and you move slowly. Of course, these ideal situations don't always exist.
Your next best option is to draw when the deer is walking. Watch the tail on a stationary buck. Be on the lookout for the familiar "tail flicker" that will let you know the deer is at ease and about to start walking again. I killed one of my most prized trophies by being aware of that deer's characteristic tail flicker. The benefits of watching a deer's tail are huge.
TALE OF A DEER TAIL
The deer I took on that unforgettable hunt is one of my most satisfying kills ever, even though it was a doe. I was in my 30s and I was bowhunting in Sinking Cove, Tennessee, close to the Alabama state line. As she slowly walked past my position, I quickly realized that this doe was one of the most cautious and alert animals I had ever witnessed in the woods. She was an old matriarch with several other does behind her. It was extremely dry in the woods, and each step she took made a loud crunching sound in the dry leaves. She seemed to be very intelligent. She obviously had developed a safe way of traveling that enabled her to reach an old age in a heavily hunted area.
She cautiously walked no more than five or six yards at a time before stopping. Then she would stand perfectly stationary for at least five minutes while surveying all of the landscape around her. Never once did she drop her head to feed, and never once did she stop looking for danger. The deer following her honored her perfectly and never took a step until she did. This tactic no doubt had saved her from many a hunter.
I realized that if I shot at her while she was standing still, this alert old doe would more than likely be able to avoid or "duck" my arrow. Because of the length of time she remained stationary, I knew I could not draw my bow and hold it until she began walking. I figured I had to draw as soon as she began walking so I could shoot before she stopped again, but this created another problem. If I waited until she was walking to raise my bow and draw, it would not give me much time to aim.
Furthermore, she was standing for too long a period of time for me to hold my bow up in a ready position. I had no choice but to lower my bow to my side and rest it. However, once she was within range, I watched closely for her tail to flicker as I mentally prepared to draw my bow. As soon as I saw the tail movement, I raised my bow and started my draw. As she began walking, I took careful aim at her shoulder and released. As expected, the noisy leaves under her feet prevented her from hearing my string release.
The shot was true, and the satisfaction was extremely gratifying.
NEVER RUSH THE SHOT
Once you've drawn your bow on an animal, force yourself to slow down. Relax your fingers on both hands. As you settle the sight pin on the exact spot you want to hit, start pushing slightly on the bow handle and at the same time begin pulling with your release elbow. Make yourself squeeze the release slowly and stay in the shot until the arrow hits.
Make this your mental checklist and mentally recite it before every shot at game: Settle your sight pin, relax both hands, push and pull, squeeze slowly and keep aiming until the arrow hits. If you force yourself to follow this checklist, there is no way you can rush the shot.
The overwhelming urge to rush the shot has caused more misses and high hits on deer than any other reason. The feeling that the buck is going to bolt any second will cause you to want to rush the shot. This will create problems, especially if you are accustomed to settling your sight pin on the target from above. If you rush the shot because of the urge to shoot quickly, you may release as soon as you see brown hair beyond the sight pin. If this happens, the shot will either be too high on the deer's body or over the deer's back altogether. Force yourself to slow down and control the shot by following a predetermined checklist. Most importantly, realize that you are shooting at a very large target. Never let the thought of missing enter your mind.
CALLING THE SHOT
Once you release, try to "call the hit" as a follow-up to the shot. Try to see where the arrow hits, and mentally or verbally tell yourself where you saw the arrow contact the buck. This will help you remember where your arrow hit later. Of course, watch the buck as long as you can and mentally note a landmark where you last saw him.
If you're confident the hit was good, you can begin trailing after a 30-minute wait. Use this short time while you are waiting to savor the moment. Replay in your mind everything that just took place. Take everything in and enjoy it to the hilt. You have worked hard and hunted a long time for this precious moment. The reward and enjoyment should be very personal. Appreciate the opportunity you've just had. After all, with the way this country seems to be headed, we never know how long we'll continue to have this privilege.
If you suspect you shot the deer too far back, slip out of the area as quietly as possible after sitting in your stand for 30 minutes or more. If you shot him during a morning hunt, wait at least six hours before you begin trailing. If the shot was made in the afternoon, wait until the next morning before you start your search.
I hope these suggestions will help you when your "moment of truth" arrives for trophy bucks.