What Happened? Diagnosing a Miss

Bowhunting Featured

A white-tailed deer walks into range. You try to calm yourself, stop shaking, and stay quiet. It walks behind a tree and stops. You slowly draw your bow, and wait for it to step out. When it moves, you zero in on its vitals. Your sights are on target, so you slowly squeeze your release’s trigger. The arrow zips through the air but blasts into the dirt below the deer’s chest. The deer whirls and flees, unharmed.

Everything seemed perfect. What happened?

Well, everything wasn’t perfect. Many things can go wrong when shooting archery, but that makes bowhunting even more exciting, challenging and rewarding when things come together.

To correct what went awry, start by evaluating your shot and the aftermath. First, verify you missed. Look for hair, blood, disturbed ground and your arrow at the shot site. Wounded deer sometimes won’t bleed for several yards. If you find no sign of a hit, diagnose your miss. Six common situations cause bowhunters to miss. Let’s review them to learn how to change the outcome next time.

1. The Problem: Your Arrow Hit a Branch

Make sure your shooting lane is clear. Photo Credit: ATA

If your arrow looked like it changed direction midair, it probably hit a limb or branch.

The Fix: Clear Your Shooting Lanes, Know Light Limitations

Arrows easily deflect off leaves, branches, tall grass, and other vegetation. Clear your shooting lanes in summer to ensure nothing blocks your arrow’s flight path. If you use a climbing treestand to hunt new locations, or you hunt public lands that forbid trimming, use binoculars to identify downrange twigs and obstacles you might not see with your naked eye. Also, the darker your surroundings at dawn and dusk, the worse you’ll see small obstacles. Don’t shoot in poor lighting, and abide by legal shooting rules set by wildlife agencies. 

2. The Problem: You Misjudged the Distance

If your arrow went above or below the deer, you likely misjudged the distance.

The Fix: Practice Estimating Distances and Use a Rangefinder

Accurately judging distances takes practice. Practice by guessing distance to trees, stumps and other objects once you’re set up. Then use a rangefinder to confirm the distances. Identify yardage markers to establish shooting boundaries, and only shoot deer within range. You should also practice judging distances in your everyday life. Pace 20 or 30 yards when practicing, and remember the distances and how they looked. When you’re out and about, judge distances to cars, buildings or other objects ahead, and check your guesses by counting your paces as you walk to each “target.” You’ll become more confident estimating distances, but rangefinders will always prove valuable, reliable and trustworthy tools.

3. The Problem: You Used the Wrong Sight-Pin

Check your sight pin before you enter the woods. Photo Credit: ATA

If your arrow hit high or low, you also might have used the wrong sight-pin.

The Fix: Think About Which Pin to Use

If you shoot regularly, the pin-selection process becomes automatic. Although instincts can be good, they can also create trouble. Don’t go through the motions. Carefully think about every step or action you take. Mental checklists ensure you cover the basics. Try these steps: One, judge the animal’s distance. Two, hook your release. Three, draw your bow to your anchor point. Four, ensure nothing is in your arrow’s flight path. Five, pick your pin. Six, hold your pin over the animal’s chest. Seven, slowly squeeze your release’s trigger. Some bowhunters like adjustable single-pin sights, which can quickly be moved to the shot distance. Get comfortable using them before the season.

4. The Problem: You Pulled or Rushed the Shot

If your memory of aiming is vague, you might have rushed the shot. It’s also possible you got so excited that you jerked the trigger, which can throw the arrow off course.

The Fix: Stay Calm and Slow Down

It’s easy to underestimate the time needed to shoot. Hurrying can cause a poor release after skipping steps in the shot process. Instead, be proactive. Visualize a calm, smooth, well-executed shot, and then make it happen. Remember to take deep breaths. Regulate your breathing to calm your nerves and minimize the chances of reacting without thinking. Take your time and make a deadly shot.

5. The Problem: The Deer Jumped the String

Deer instinctively duck, or drop their bodies when hearing a startling noise. That action coils their muscles to whirl or leap away. Unfortunately, one such alarming noise is a bow releasing an arrow.

The Fix: Aim at the Heart

Fast, quiet bows help, but most deer still react to a bowhunter’s shot, especially if they’re alert to possible threats. Bowhunters must read a deer’s body language to know if it’s alert or skittish. Compensate for the deer’s swift reactions by aiming lower in the chest at the heart. If it jumps the string, your arrow will still pierce the deer’s lungs. If it doesn’t jump the string, you’ll hit the heart or lower lungs.

6. The Problem: Equipment Failures/Mishaps

Check all of your equipment for damage. Photo Credit: ATA

Human errors cause most misses, but equipment mishaps and malfunctions happen. Limbs crack, strings break, peeps fall out, and sights get knocked from proper alignment.

The Fix: Practice Regularly, Check Your Equipment

Always practice during bow season to stay sharp. Practice also ensures your equipment remains in working order. Also regularly check your bow for wear, damage, cracks, frays and loose fittings; and check your arrows for loose fletching, broken nocks, and cracks on both ends of the shaft. By practicing and inspecting gear at home, you’ll avoid snafus while hunting. 

Most bowhunters miss deer at some point. Don’t get discouraged. Use the incident as a learning experience. To grow and improve as a bowhunter, identify why you missed, and strive to ensure you don’t repeat those mistakes.

Visit an archery retailer to learn to care and maintain your gear.


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