Hitting the Hard Shots

How to handle those arrow obstacle courses

It’s simple at the range. You stand straight and tall, clinking arrows side by side into the targets with perfect form. Unfortunately, in the real world of hunting, shots almost never come that easily. There’s brush and branches to shoot around, movement to anticipate; you’re leaning to the right, kneeling, sitting and shaking. And don’t forget the adrenaline that’s sure to spike your heart rate.

Situations that challenge your shooting skills abound in the outdoors. Following are a few tips regarding the best ways to handle them.

** ELEVATION CHANGES **

Most hunters intuitively realize they have to aim low when shooting downhill to compensate for the flattening of an arrow’s trajectory. Few, however, realize that one also must aim low when shooting steeply uphill. Gravity has full effect on a shaft only when the arrow is flying level. Whether you shoot uphill or downhill, the rule is the same: Unless you aim low, you will hit high.

For example, when shooting down a 40-degree slope, which would be unlikely in all but the most rugged terrain, you must use the 30-yard pin to hit the mark when your range finder says it’s 40 yards away. Most bowhunters wouldn’t allow for that much compensation. If the slope flattens to 20 degrees, you must treat a 40-yard shot as if it were a 36-yard shot. These numbers are accurate for all arrow speeds ranging from about 200 to over 300 feet per second (fps).

Uphill shots are much the same. To hit the bull’s-eye, a 40-yard shot up a 40-degree slope requires that you aim as if the target were only 31 yards away. If the slope is a more gradual 20 degrees, you must aim as if the target were 37 to 38 yards away.

Determining the degree of slope when picking an aiming point requires a rough estimate. Since trees generally grow straight up regardless of slope, look at the angle between their trunks and the ground for a quick gauge of the acuteness of the slope.

MID-FLIGHT OBSTRUCTIONS

Being able to negotiate mid-range obstacles is an important skill in bowhunting. Because an arrow’s trajectory is looping, you often can shoot over obstacles that block your sight line. Here’s a quick way to size up your options: With your bow at full draw, aim at the target with the appropriate sight pin for the range of the shot. Quickly guess the distance to the obstacle. If the pin that corresponds with that distance is clear of the obstacle, fire away. Your arrow will fly cleanly to the target. Of course you also have to consider the range where your arrow first crosses your sight line.

SIDEHILL SHOTS

If you find yourself in a situation where you have to tip your fully sighted compound bow just to make the shot, you are about to step into the realm of the unknown. Unless you’ve practiced this shot a lot, the outcome is too unpredictable to justify releasing the string. However, it’s common for bowhunters to cant their bows without ever realizing it. This is especially true when hunting on steep hillsides. The common tendency,albeit a subconscious one,is to try to align the bow perpendicular to the ground. But even a small amount of lean makes a big difference in accuracy.

If you expect to be hunting uneven ground this season, it’s a good idea to install a bubble level on the bow sight to make sure you’re holding the bow straight on each shot.

ADJUSTING FOR WIND

Unfortunately, there’s more to shooting in the wind than simply aiming at a point a few inches upwind. Fixed-blade broadheads (as opposed to mechanical styles) are affected differently by crosswinds than field points. Fixed-blade heads actually turn into the wind and plane upwind. The wind catches the fletchings and turns the arrow into the wind and the blades of the broadhead steer it in that direction. Mechanical broadheads will act more like field points in a crosswind, howevver.

Don’t blindly assume that your broadheads will behave like field points without spending a few practice sessions shooting your hunting arrows in a stiff crosswind. What you learn during these sessions is invaluable.

TWISTING AND TURNING

Shots to the front from a sitting position are by far the most difficult for a right-handed archer (it’s nearly impossible to shoot to the right). Because you have so much torque on your upper body from turning, and on the handle of the bow because of the awkward angle of your bow arm, you will tend to miss to the left.

Of course, prevention is the best remedy. Stand up as much as possible when hunting from tree stands and always adjust body position as soon as possible after detecting game approaching your position. You still may be faced with this difficult shot occasionally. Relax your upper body as much as possible and hold the follow-through longer than you normally would so your body doesn’t turn on release.

Practice is always the key to pulling off perfect shots in less-than-perfect situations. Your season may depend upon how well you handle such unconventional shots.

ACCURACY FROM TREE STANDS

Proper form is important when shooting from a tree stand. Game is missed when bowhunters fail to bend at the waist when shooting downward. Keep the bow arm at a 90-degree angle to the upper body so your normal line of sight relative to the arrow isn’t changed.

Shooting from a tree stand is similar to shooting down a slope. You probably will hit a bit above the aiming point unless you compensate by moving your sight pin or learning to hold low. In tree-stand shooting situations, the downward angle decreases as the range increases, diminishing the effect of being in an elevated position. You probably will have to move your 20-yard pin somewhat for perfect tree-stand accuracy, but your 30-yard pin may not have to be adjusted at all.