Examine other possible variables to understand the limitations on your maximum shooting range. If you hunt and shoot from a sitting position, check your accuracy under those conditions. Does it bother you when the wind produces sight pin movement that hinders your performance? If so, test under those circumstances. When determining your maximum shooting range, the test should be done with broadheads. Many archers discover that their broadheads may not group as tightly as their target points.
The 160-class buck headed toward my tree stand, frequently stopping to work over an occasional sapling. As he drew to a stop just within good shooting distance, he presented a 20-yard quartering-to shot. I didn't feel good about the shot, so I continued to wait patiently for a better opportunity. Moments later he walked forward into a broadside position, and I vocalized a doe bleat. He halted after several steps, but there were several small twigs in the way. Though I felt I could make the shot, I wasn't 100 percent sure, so I waited. Then the buck spotted a doe high on the ridge, and down went my hopes.
Should I have taken the shot between the twigs? I didn't, because I wasn't sure I could make a successful hit. I was rewarded three days later when I got a broadside opportunity at the same buck at 35 yards and the arrow passed through both lungs perfectly.
When should a hunter take the shot? When he or she is 50 percent certain of a clean kill? Or must one wait for 70 percent or 90 percent certainty? Personally I think that whitetail hunters should be nearly 100 percent positive, since the decision is based on one's shooting performance normally done under the serene conditions of the practice field.
The stakes and pressure levels are elevated when a trophy whitetail is standing in front of you. I have had many accomplished archers admit that they've missed a handsome buck inside 20 yards. If a positive, clean-kill shot can turn into a marginal kill, what could happen to an opportunity that commences as a 70 percent shot?
All bowhunters should know their skill levels and limitations. You can gather this information by spending time on the practice range. A good target to simulate deer hunting is a piece of cardboard with a saucer-sized circle in the middle. The distance at which you can keep nearly every arrow in the "saucer" is the distance at which you should be capable of shooting at deer. True, the effective kill area on a deer is a little bigger than a saucer, but the smaller size will allow you some leeway for error when you are nervous.
While shooting at the target on the practice range, attempt shots at unmarked distances. Quite often a deer will approach without warning and you will have to estimate the distance. There may not be time for a rangefinder, which could put a further limitation on your shooting skills. Another technique is to begin walking to the side of the target as you try shots from different angles. The farther to the side you go, the smaller the hitting surface of the "saucer" becomes. This simulates what occurs when the deer isn't broadside to you.
The more practice and testing of skills you incorporate, the more effective your shots will become. Practicing with a purpose and goal in mind will make you a more proficient archer. Concentrate on making a good shot, just as you would do if that big buck walked into your shooting lane. Once you have honed your skills, take them to the 3-D range. Don't be embarrassed or intimidated about shooting at a local range or tournament, because about half of the participants attending are average or below-average archers who are there to prepare for the deer season. Invariably they'll be a friendly group with whom you can enjoy spending the afternoon. Shooting at 3-D targets in life-like settings is excellent practice and will help you recognize your limitations.
My philosophy is to take only a good shot at a deer. If you do not scare or wound the animal, the odds are favorable that you will get another opportunity in the near future. The deer is comfortable and secure in that area or it wouldn't be walking and grazing there. If you leave the situation undisturbed, the next encounter might bring you a closer "chip shot."
One Christmas morning, I passed up a big 12-pointer twice, even though he was well within my shooting range. Because there was a strong, cold north wind hitting my body, I was uncomfortable with the shot. Three days later, when conditions were calm, I had another opportunity at the same trophy. He now hangs in a place of honor above my fireplace.
When should you take a shot and when should you pass on it? The answer will vary according to your ability. Some archers are very capable of making a 40-yard hit, while others should not be making a 20-yard attempt. By investing time with a practice target, you will better determine your maximum range and limitations. Then you have the ethical obligation to stay within the parameters that you establish. If you don't disturb the hunting area, a future trip may bring you the sweet reward of a prize whitetail!