Learning from a Poor Shot

By Harrison Hoegh

This past weekend at 9:30 on Saturday morning I watched a doe poke her head through some brush sixty yards west of me. Soon after, she caught the scent of my trail and skirted out across the bean field. I ranged her at fifty yards. A second doe followed her but cut fifteen yards closer to my tree stand. A buck followed behind the does and walked in between the two trails they had laid. I stopped him at forty-six yards and let the arrow fly. He began to turn after the arrow left my string, and I hit him high, he dropped in the bean field, regained his feet, fell again, wobbled up the hill, and fell one more time before slowly making it over the hill. Three hours later I tracked him for a quarter mile but his blood trail was only present when he rubbed against cornstalks and cattails. After the blood trail dropped off I searched known bedding areas. When I discovered where he was bedded the buck was still capable of running from the timber. On Sunday I returned to search more bedding spots and search for blood. I was unable to recover the buck. It was an unfortunate situation that I should be able to learn from. I should have approached the shot and the tracking differently. I will address how I should have tracked differently in another blog. For this blog I would like to talk about what I could have done differently before the shot.

Past results may make you overconfident

I have been able to recover every deer I have shot up to this point, and this contributed to believing that I was capable of tracking any deer I could shoot. So when this buck stopped at 46 yards quartering-to at 46 yards I took the shot. I believe 46 yards is in my range but a quartering-to deer is a small target no matter what the distance. I had not been able to shoot my bow the week prior I did not believe I should take a fifty yard shot this weekend.

Furthermore, I had to stop the buck and a tense whitetail can easily move at a shot at that distance. I am unsure if I adjusted slightly to hit high, or if his movement put the arrow higher than I would have liked. These factors attributed to my construction of a list of guidelines I should follow in the stand.

Things to Consider for Taking More Ethical Shots

  1. Effective range: what distance have you shot the week prior? Some weeks I know I am good at sixty yards, and other weeks I haven’t practiced at all. Being honest about passing on a shot that I would have taken the week before is challenging. If you consider what distance you were shooting at before a buck comes in you will more easily be able to pass on a shot just out of range.
  2. Effect of wind: have you shot effectively at that distance with the current wind? This is where practicing in all weather conditions is valuable. I find when the wind is over fifteen miles per hour shots over forty yards become much more difficult. Forty yards is the limit I set for very windy days.
  3. Will you take a quartering-to shot? This is one I had not considered while in the stand last week. And when you stop a deer at full draw it can be challenging to wait to see if he turns broadside. The shot is possible but it makes for a small target especially on a whitetail. Try to determine the distance will you no longer take a quartering away shot.
  4. What distance will you shoot at a tense whitetail? Many hunters don’t like to shoot at an aware whitetail past 40 yards because they can drop quite a bit before the arrow gets there. Other hunters compensate for a whitetail’s reflexes by aiming low. Either way, be sure to consider this while in the stand. Consider the phase of the hunting season and  aware that during the rut it is likely you will have to stop every buck that cruises by your stand.

When in the stand try to ingrain the shots that you will take and the shots you will each hunt. This can be difficult because there are hundreds of situations that can occur. But following these guidelines will limit the number of shots you regret in the future. Thanks for reading. Good luck.

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