How To Shoot From Elevated Stands
by Chuck Adams
(Reprinted with permission from Bowhunting World magazine)
Back in the heyday of recurve bows, an average hunting arrow speed was 180 feet per second. This meant very arcing trajectory and very tricky shooting from a treestand. The difference in point-of-aim between a deer right below you and a deer 20 yards away was dramatic because arrow flight flattened big-time at steeper, downward angles. 

By comparison, a modern archer shooting a compound bow or high-tech recurve bow has treestand trajectory by the tail. With a reasonably lightweight arrow flying more than 210fps, compensating for downward shooting angle is really no big deal. Even at very sharp angles, arrows hit only slightly above level-ground point-of-aim. Holding 1, 2, or perhaps 3 inches below normal usually does the trick inside 20 yards. The farther the distance and the steeper the shooting angle, the lower you need to aim. 

Even 25 years ago, when I was shooting deer with my 53-pound recurve bow and horrendously arcing 2020 aluminum arrows from elevated stands, I always felt the issue of arrow trajectory on downward shots was exaggerated. Bowhunters certainly tend to shoot high on deer that walk below them, but factors other than flattened trajectory often amplify this phenomenon. 

Deer look smaller when viewed from above, which causes archers to overestimate distance. The result is high hits. And deer often jump the bowstring when shot at from a tree, partly because shots are close, and partly because bow noise travels especially well through air with no close terrain or ground-level-foliage to absorb game-spooking racket. 

String-jumping deer always crouch before they bolt, which causes high hits or evern higher misses. This happens so fast that a bowhunter seldom sees the deer drop its body before the arrow arrives. Treestand trajectory gets blamed, when deer movement is the real problem. 

A third factor that sometimes alters arrow flight from a tree is shooting posture. If you do not bend at the waist on downward shots, you won’t retain the same upper-body geometry that you’ve practiced so often at ground level . This will increase your draw length on downward shots, pull the bowstring much closer to your chest, and severely narrow the angle between your line of sight and where the arrow is pointing. 

Altered upper-body posture on downward shots opens a large can of worms. Standing or sitting bolt-upright, instead of bending toward your target, can cause high hits because you draw your recurve bow farther or pull against the stops of your compound wheels. Increased muscle tension plus a bowstring closer to the body will throw arrows to one side - usually to the left for a right-handed shooter. The angle between your line of sight and true arrow direction is usually reduced because of your poor treestand shooting posture, which might mean low hits if this change is severe. 

It’s easy to solve all the foregoing shooting bugaboos. Simply practice, practice, and practice some more from elevated stands before hunting season begins. 

Mark precise distances around your practice stand with stakes, rocks, or other markers, and take note of how high your arrows actually hit at various ranges and angles. You will quickly develop a feel for aiming beneath the target. 

Wear a treestand safety belt, and adjust this belt so you can safely lean into it when you take shots while standing up. This will help you to bend at the waist and retain good upper-body shooting form. 

If you wish to shoot from a sitting position -- which I prefer whenever my stand setup allows it -- you should learn to lean toward the target and bend at the waist as you sit. You should also decide early on whether the lower bow limb should go between your knees on sitting shots or outside both knees. I shoot better with the limb just inside my left knee, because this best duplicates my open, face-the-target style of stand-up shooting. An open style moves the bowstring away from the upper body, preventing a collision with bulky cold-weather clothing. 

If you have always shot from a tree in a standing position, let me recommend shooting from the seat. Sitting is less tiring on long waits aloft, which might mean steadier aiming when a deer shows up. Standing up just before you take your shot risks noise and movement that might scare game. From both comfort and stealth standpoints, drawing and shooting from a fixed or swiveling stool makes sense. 

Before the hunting season, you might consider trying some sort of treestand bow sight. A conventional pendulum sight by Keller, Browning, or other reputable firms eliminates the need to aim low on targets, and does a fair job of rangefinding to targets within 25 or 30 yards. The higher you are in a tree, the more accurate such a device is because sharper shooting angles increase the pendulum’s precision. 

A super precise tree sight called the ABC Pivotal Sight has recently reached the market. This creation’s aiming pin does not describe a true arc, which means it is more accurate from a tree at longer ranges and lower tree-platform heights. Check it out at your archery store; the Pivotal Sight really works! 

Here are some tips on actually shooting at animals from a treestand. 

  • First, always identify shooting ranges around your stand with distance markers or reliable landmarks. If you know the range, you won’t be tricked when a deer looks smaller and farther away that it really is.
  • Second, remember that a deer’s chest cavity is almost exactly the same size when viewed from any angle. If you aim about 4 inches directly above the “elbow” of a deer’s front leg, you will skewer the heart/lung area more or less dead center.
  • Finally, don’t be afraind of sharp downward shots. I actually prefer these for three important reasons. 
    1. First, game is less likely to see me draw my bow. 
    2. Second, my broadhead is more likely to exit low in the body, creating a superior blood trail on the ground. 
    3. Third, a deer that jumps the bowstring sharply below me is crouching more or less directly away from me, minimizing movement of the vital zone.
With preseason preparation, treestand shooting can be a snap! 

*Retain upper-body shooting posture by bending at the waist. 

*Decide whether to stand or sit for the shot, and practice shooting from your chosen position. 

*Shoot at known ranges around your stand, and develop a feel for downward trajectory before the hunting season begins.