My wife, Michelle, has been bowhunting for the past five years. Though she killed a couple deer with a bow during her second and third season in the woods, she also blew a plethora of “gimme” opportunities. That’s part of it.
But she killed a nice buck the second week of Kentucky’s bow season last year, and after that, something clicked. She arrowed two deer right out of the gate during opening week this year, including a good velvet buck I reported on in a Mid-South Rut Reporters entry. Despite her lack of a goatee (have we run that in the ground yet?), she became a certified Bad-Ass Deer Hunter.
Her confidence has soared. Curious, I asked her what changed; what one thing had she learned above all else that helped her to begin consistently killing deer with a bow? Her answer: when to stand up and when to draw.
What a spot-on observation. Collectively, neither of those two actions will take more than two seconds. To a seasoned bowhunter, they can seem second-nature. But when it comes to spooking deer, they’re the riskiest maneuvers a treestand hunter has to make.
I practice shooting from a sitting position and have killed several deer like that. But shooting a bow while sitting down destroys many important aspects of good form and limits the shots you can take. Given the chance, it’s always best to stand up.
Attempting to stand with a deer right under you is obviously risky. But standing too fast can back-fire, too. When you’re standing, you move more. It’s tougher to keep your arms and legs still while you’re balancing in your stand, holding your bow, than it is while you’re sitting down. I get busted by more deer while I’m standing than sitting, and I bet if you think about it, you do, too.
As a rule, I don’t stand up as soon as I see a deer out of range. Instead, I get my bow in hand when I can, and try to stand only when the deer is within 75 yards and headed my way. If I’m surprised by a deer inside 40 yards, I usually sit tight unless it steps behind thick cover.
Knowing when to draw is even more critical. I struggled with this in my formative bowhunting years. Many times, I drew too soon and got stuck holding at full draw with no shot. Drawing as a deer is walking and just about to step into a shooting lane is best. That’s my usual routine, followed by a soft mouth bleat to stop the animal and take the shot.
But so long as a deer isn’t looking right up at me, I don’t hesitate to draw on an animal standing in the open, either, especially if it’s 20 yards or farther away. A good lesson to learn here is to keep the bow in front of you and draw straight back. The odds of a deer catching sky-lined movement from your arms are minimized that way.
Of course, much as I attempt to explain it, these two skills are truly learned only through experience. I often preach for new bowhunters to not worry so much about killing a big deer, but to focus on just killing deer–does, small bucks–whatever gives you an opportunity. Few things will help your hunting more than confidence. And nothing boosts your confidence more than killing a deer.