Don’t Shoot
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Don’t Shoot

By Mike Lamade

Oct 25, 2007 – 10:02:47 AM


A Bowhunter’s Guide to Responsible Shots

Strange title? Perhaps. But read on, for I’m about to tell you how those two little words-“don’t shoot”-can practically guarantee you a deer this season. For the experienced bowhunter, this is a refresher course. For you guys and gals just taking up this great sport, it can mean the difference between making a clean, humane kill, or having your deer get away, perhaps mortally wounded and unable to recover. Those of us who have bowhunted for a number of years have all taken a few shots that resulted in non-recovery. It’s a sickening feeling. The blood trail just ends, or even worse, a blood trail never exists! You search for hours and finally have to admit that you’re not going to find the deer. Some beginning bowhunters have given up the sport because of it, rather than analyzing what they were doing wrong.  Fortunately, I haven’t lost a deer in quite a few years because I’ve developed some simple rules to go by. Now, I never release an arrow if I’ve violated any one of them. If you put them to use, I feel confident you’ll put venison in the freezer this year.

The rules are really very easy-and they all begin the same way. Don’t Shoot!

Don’t Shoot!-unless you’ve practiced properly before the season. Properly is the key word here. Strange as it may seem, many of us over-practice. I believe shooting a hundred arrows at fixed distances for an hour or more probably does more harm than good. As our muscles tire and our concentration slips, bad habits are developed unconsciously. Shooting a bow is at least 80 percent mental after a good foundation is established. I now shoot a few arrows each day during the season to make sure my bow and my bowsight are functioning properly. I concentrate intently on each shot, and then put the bow down. Remember: practice doesn’t make perfect. Perfect practice does.

Don’t Shoot!-unless the deer is in range. If 20 yards is the maximum distance at which you are consistently accurate, don’t be tempted to take a shot that’s longer. This is one of the main causes of bad hits, especially for beginners. We see a deer-we get excited. We think he’ll spook and run away so we shoot before the deer is in range. What if he does run away?

We’ve got long seasons and plenty of deer. Another will come along, if not today, tomorrow. Don’t Shoot! Wait for the range to close.

Don’t Shoot!-unless the animal is presenting the proper shot angle for placement in the vital chest area tight behind the shoulder. There is no other acceptable shot with a bow-period!  I know that your buddy Joe got his deer with a neck shot; your cousin, Sam scored on the femoral artery in the hind quarter; and your neighbor, Bob, dropped his deer on the spot with a spine shot. But, believe me-Joe, Sam, and Bob all had one thing in common-they were lucky! These are all low percentage shots.  Give yourself a margin for error. Aim for the middle of the chest behind the shoulder, either broadside or quartering forward.  Wait for that front leg to take a step forward, getting that shoulder blade out of the way. The middle of the lung area offers the biggest target and produces a heart shot if low, and a liver shot if back a bit. Wait for the right shot! I drew on a Pope & Young bear in Canada last year five times because he kept turning before the shot angle was perfect. I waited and got him. Poor shot placement is probably the number one cause of nonrecovery.  Wait-the shot will come.

Don’t Shoot!-until you can place one arrow where you want it after sitting or standing for a couple of hours. Try it!  Before the season opens get in your stand with only one arrow-wait an hour-then take one shot at your target. It may be boring, but after doing it a couple for days, you’ll know if you’re ready. Shooting “tight groups” into paper plates doesn’t mean a thing when hunting. Ninety-nine percent of the time you’ll only get one shot, and I haven’t seen a deer with a paper plate on his side for a long time.

Don’t Shoot!-if the visibility is poor, either at dawn or dusk. Granted, this is often when the most deer movement occurs, but don’t risk a poor hit due to poor light. Unseen branches materialize out of nowhere in dim light conditions. If possible, move your stand closer to bedding areas to ensure better visibility if the deer are moving at the crack of dawn or last light in the evening.

Don’t Shoot!-if rain or snow is on the way, especially on an evening stand. A good hit is worthless if the blood trail is washed out by heavy rain or covered with snow. A string tracker could be used, but, personally, I’d rather wait until the storm passes. A good blood trail is essential for recovery.  Don’t Shoot!-at running game. There are very few of us who can place an arrow in the “boiler room” of a running animal. I know I can’t, and wouldn’t even consider it. Try a whistle or buck snort to stop the deer. If that doesn’t work-don’t shoot. A deer will come up that trail again-next time walking or browsing.

Don’t Shoot!-if you haven’t practiced with broadheads on your arrows and in the clothing you’ll actually be wearing on your stand. Field points of the same weight aren’t good enough. The blade configuration frequently causes different flight characteristics, enough to cause a poor hit. The extra clothing required for late season hunts can change draw lengths, anchor points and string clearances. Clothes, hats, jackets all make a difference. As the season progresses, practice and in clothing you’ll be wearing on that particular stand.


Don’t Shoot!-if you don’t have the time to recover your animal. This sounds foolish, but I’ve seen hunters take a shot on the last evening stand of an out-of-state hunt with a scheduled plane departure before morning! If any commitment prohibits you from having proper tracking and recovery time, don’t shoot. There’s always another day.

Don’t Shoot!-due to pressure to succeed. This causes more poor hits than I care to think about. Maybe you’re the only one in camp who hasn’t killed a deer. Maybe it’s the last night in camp, or worse, the last night of the season! So what?  Your time will come. I’ve heard it too many times: “It’s the last day-anything that comes by gets shot at.” Shots taken under this kind of pressure are most certain to be poor ones made out of desperation to succeed. Trying to keep up with the boys is a sure way to fail.

Well, there it is-my two-word “formula for success.” Follow it and I guarantee that when you finally do release that arrow, it will lead you down a very short trail to your hardearned trophy, whether buck or doe. More importantly, you’ll have the satisfaction of knowing that after all that waiting, you’ve become a responsible bowhunter-and that’s what it’s all about.

This story first appeared in Bowhunter magazine’s Deer Hunting Annual in 1986.  Although written 20 years ago, the message it presents is even more important today with the pressure on bowhunting from animal rights groups and the entire antihunting establishment. Responsible bowhunting is never out-of-date.


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