In football, it’s called the “red zone”–that last 20 yards separating failure and success. We bowhunters have our own version of this, and any mistake made now could ruin the season. Follow these steps to increase your chances of bringing home any buck that enters your red zone:

Watch the buck carefully to determine the angle and direction he’s traveling. Then look for an open shooting lane along his route.

Shift your feet and body into shooting position as soon as you’re confident of the buck’s path. Usually, moving slowly and silently is critical. But if the buck is coming quickly, you’ll have to respond likewise to get a shot.

Draw your bow when the buck’s head is behind cover or when he’s looking the other way. Then concentrate on proper shooting form. I run through the same mental checklist that I use during practice sessions (grip, anchor, peep, aim) and find this calms me before a shot.

Pick a spot to center your sight pin on. Focus on a tuft of hair or the outline of a rib. If you’re uncertain of an aiming point, picture the buck’s opposite shoulder–the one facing away from you–and aim for it.

Stop the buck if he’s running, trotting, or walking fast. A soft grunt usually works, but if leaves are crunching under his feet or the buck is breathing hard, you may have to whistle or utter a sharp “Hey!” Don’t try this with a slowly walking or feeding deer, as it may spook him.

Wait for a broadside or quartering-away shot, which allows maximum penetration through the vitals. When a buck approaches your stand head-on, just watch him until he’s past you. Let him walk if he still doesn’t present a high-percentage shot. If you don’t spook him, he should be back again tomorrow.

Aim slightly low if the animal seems nervous or has spotted you. An alert buck can duck several inches before your arrow arrives, and a lower arrow path accounts for that.

Follow through after you release by “looking” your arrow into your aiming point. Don’t lift your head; it destroys accuracy. Check your hit only as the deer runs off, and mark the spot where you last saw him. That will help you follow the blood trail and recover your trophy.

MOMENT OF TRUTH: Your whole season comes down to a few crucial seconds. Will you be prepared?