Make The Most Of Shot Opportunities

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Shot opportunities are rare and fleeting; when that narrow window opens, we often have little more than a few precious seconds to make it count

Sore and tired, I cautiously belly-crawled through a subtle depression. Peering through the grass, I noticed a mature pronghorn antelope running several does less than 100 metres away. After executing several stalks that day, the 30-plus-degree heat and incessant wind was taking its toll. With the sun on its way down, this would be the last stalk of the day.

Without hesitation, I nocked an arrow, lifted the silhouette and jabbed it into the ground. I’ve learned over many years of decoying antelope that bucks can, and often do, race in, giving you little time to respond; and that’s precisely what this one did. He instantly reacted, galloping in on a dead run. As he charged toward the decoy, I knew I would have only a few seconds to make the shot. Soon he broke the 40, 30, and then 20-metre barriers and finally slowed his approach a mere 15 metres away. Then he began to turn and move to my left. Soon he would notice my form behind the one-dimensional silhouette and it would be game over. In one smooth motion I drew back, locked my top pin on his chest and, knowing I would only have a fleeting moment to make it happen, I entered that inevitable no man’s land that every bow hunter understands all too well. His body language told me I was out of time and I released. My arrow flew true, passing through his chest. The buck ran only a few steps and collapsed. Unlike so many unsuccessful attempts, on that particular set up I had done everything right and made those precious seconds count.

Comparatively, when I think of so many different tree stand hunts for whitetail deer, one in particular comes to mind. It was a late season bow hunt. The first estrus had come and gone, and the second round was just getting underway. As I heard branches snapping underfoot, several does appeared out of archery range. Trailing close behind was a great buck. He was clearly interested in the does, so I used a bleat to get his attention. Calling several times, he eventually broke from the group and began making his way toward me. I was hunting in a stand of huge, old growth trees, but the forest floor was wide open. I had to take extra care to draw only when his head was behind a tree. Fortunately, he gave me an opportunity to draw when he was about 20 metres away.

It was no more than a four-second window of opportunity and I took it. Had I drawn before or after that, I almost certainly would have been detected. Then, only a few steps from the base of my tree, as he stopped, I sent the arrow on its way. The buck went down instantly and he was mine.

I share these stories to illustrate that timing, and doing certain things, as much as not doing certain other things, is what it’s all about with bow hunting. No matter what situation you find yourself in, bow hunting is a close encounter game. As such, there is always a point of no return that we all have to face – that critical time when we risk detection as we move to draw our bow, take aim and, as long as all is right, send the arrow on its way.

 

Timing is critical

As bow hunters, we all experience heart-pounding interactions with game. Think back to encounters you’ve had with deer, moose, elk, bear or any other big game animal. Whether you were able to draw your bow or not, you recognized that sweet spot in time when it’s either go time or the opportunity will vanish forever.

When shot opportunities come about, we often have little more than a few seconds to capitalize. Whether we are proactively sneaking in close or waiting motionless in a tree stand, timing your draw is imperative. We all go through a steep learning curve when we first begin hunting with a bow and, at least for the first few encounters, it involves a few failed attempts. In time, as we gain experience, we learn to read the body language of the game we are hunting and look for tell-tale signs indicating when our window of opportunity is about to open – and close, for that matter.

Take, for instance, the most basic of baited bear hunts. With a little experience, bears can become somewhat easy to read. If they look relaxed when they come into a bait site, chances are they may linger for a while. If, on the other hand, they are cautious and timid, you may want to take the first opportunity you get. Either way, it’s always smart to draw when they are looking the other way or pre-occupied with the provisions.

With an animal coming to a call, we have to be on our toes if we want to capitalize. That heart-pounding time when you know you have a bull coming in on a string is the time to settle down and focus. Regardless of whether he is approaching fast or slow, it’s a matter of using your judgment and estimating the best time to draw undetected. Do this too soon and you risk fatigue and consequential inaccuracy when you finally release. Miss your window of opportunity by drawing too late and you will almost certainly get busted, with the end result being no shot opportunity at all. With many of today’s high percentage let-off compound bows, most of us can hold at full-draw for over a minute, and, in extreme circumstances, several minutes. I don’t recommend this, but it is not out of the question if you are in shape and have been shooting a lot. As a rule, I always try to draw immediately before the animal comes into view. Yes, this requires speculation. Indeed, it is not an exact science, but with experience comes at least some degree of proficiency. In a perfect world, I try not to hold for more than 30 seconds. Certainly most hunting situations are imperfect, but that is most ideal.

 

Dos and don’ts

Rare is the archery shot opportunity that lasts for more than 10 seconds. In my experience, many of my own chances tend to be about half that. One of the most common mistakes bow hunters make is rushing the shot. Send an arrow prematurely and accuracy goes out the window.

As you approach game or it approaches you, take extra care to listen and watch for visible signs that they are either relaxed or nervous. If they are calm and don’t know you are there, you’ve probably got time. If they look restless, than your window may be closing fast.

Pay close attention to wind direction, and shifts in wind or thermals. Keeping game upwind is most ideal, but not always possible.

As you finally close the gap, if you are lucky enough to get to full draw undetected, be patient. Here’s where the fine line is drawn. Every bow hunter has to balance the need to capitalize on the shot opportunity with the absolute ethical and practical requirement for pinpoint precision. It is truly astounding when you think about all the variables that have to align in order to make a lethal archery shot, and yet we do it time and again. Waiting for a standing broadside or slightly quartering shot at a distance within your own effective range is our goal.

It’s fair to say that every bow hunter has been caught drawing his or her bow, resulting in game running the other way. We bow hunt because of the challenge and indeed archery adds an unparalleled dimension, one that imposes the requirement to move, often when game is only a stone’s throw away. Learning to judge and act accordingly, to capitalize on those precious seconds when a shot opportunity is presented, will inevitably make us better bow hunters.

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