Bowhunting Advice for Closing the Deal

Shooting tips for keeping it together during bowhunting’s moment of truth.

Bowhunting Advice for Closing the Deal

Hiking eagerly, I traversed the top of a ridge that would lead me right to my jumping off point from the trail. It was the last evening of a grueling backcountry mule deer hunt, and I had a great buck bedded, but I’d need to hurry in order to have any chance of filling my tag. The sun waits for no man. It was a last-ditch effort, and I was “all in.”

Upon my arrival, the buck was up feeding. I marveled at his velvet antlers floating above the brushline. He then bedded again for another hour before I’d get the opportunity I’d been grinding for the past week. As if he read the playbook, the buck walked out broadside right beneath me. Here we go, I told myself.

I pulled back my bow, aimed, and let it rip. And then I watched my arrow sail wide right, followed by the buck spooking and running out of my life. “How the heck did that happen?” I muttered. That’s when it hit me: I had completely forgotten to level my bow, and overall fell out of my normal shot process. It would be a long wait until next year. I had a lot of work to do until then.

Few and Far Between

In my early years of bowhunting, I remember daydreaming about what it would be like to be at full draw on a buck — what it would feel like to actually draw my bow back and see what a deer looked like behind my sight pins. Heck, I even remember longing to just miss a deer. What I’m getting at is shot opportunities with a bow don’t come easy. We work our tails off for each and every one of them, no matter if you’re spotting and stalking above the treeline, or sitting in a tree on the back 40. Getting to bend the limbs back on an animal, arriving at the moment of truth, is a privilege. And one with a steep learning curve.

There are many reasons why the archery shot opportunities we seek are so difficult to come across. However the biggest factor that sticks out to me, and the umbrella over it all really, is we learn best through repetition. Not good at something? Do it over and over and over again. You’ll eventually get better. I promise.

The problem with this when applied to bowhunting, though, is you can’t just get shot opportunity after shot opportunity in a wide variety of situations. It’s not that easy and takes loads of years to garner that type of wisdom one would get from doing so. With that being said, we all want to be successful sooner than later. So, how can we prepare best for a single moment in time among a sea of other experiences that we don’t get to practice for whenever we want? Well, we obviously cannot practice within a small window on an animal over and over again until we get it right. However, what we can do is work toward making the most of these moments when they do present themselves.

I’m going to go through a few key ways that have helped me make the most of the moment of truth. If anything, I hope it provides some useful perspective for your next archery hunt. Each one of the four steps I’m going to talk about has helped me immensely through the years and paved the way to more success behind the string.


1. Have a Shot Process and Use It

My first and most obvious shooting tip, and I was reminded of it when writing the hunt recap at the beginning of this article, is have a shot process and use it. And not just that, but stay in it at all times. For those who are unaware, a shot process is a physical and mental checklist of sorts; a series of steps we do or think about in order to most accurately achieve repeatability. Consistent accuracy in archery is all about repeatability. In its most simple of forms, it could look something like, “grip, draw, anchor, level, aim, pull through the shot.”

“But Josh, these are things I just do naturally. Why do I need to actually think about them?”

Here’s why: While moments of truth are few in occurrence, they make up for it with intensity. The feeling of being within bow range on an unaware big game animal is hard to explain to a new bowhunter. Hearing the animal breathe. Watching their eyes blink. Seeing how they taste the air with their nose. It’s incredible and a huge reason why many love bowhunting. But it’s also a huge reason folks choke under pressure. Some bowhunters get so taken over with adrenaline that their thoughts and actions aren’t as clear as they once were. And while these moments are indeed precious, having a shot process can give you something else to focus on besides the giant buck crunching through the leaves in front of you. It’ll also tremendously increase the chances of you making a great shot.

Have a shot process and use it, with every shot, at the range and during a hunt. Think about each step of the process as you practice.
Have a shot process and use it, with every shot, at the range and during a hunt. Think about each step of the process as you practice.

2. Make It Automatic

“I could do that with my eyes closed and hands tied behind my back.” I’m sure most of you have heard that saying. Of course, I don’t recommend trying to shoot your bow with your eyes closed and hands tied behind your back, but there is something to take from this no doubt. The more you do something, the more automatic it becomes.

Pre-season practice with your bow 100 percent matters and will make a massive difference come season. No, we can’t regularly practice shooting at animals. We can dang sure regularly practice shooting, though. This will not only build your confidence, but it will also create routine. And routine will help lead you to repeatability, which leads to more consistent accuracy. This is one of the most important tools you can bring on an archery hunt. Make your shot count for everything it’s worth.

3. Have Confidence in Your Gear

For years I fell into the trap of using gear I thought I was “supposed to use,” and following rules I was “supposed to follow.” All of this after putting down what I knew worked and what I had confidence in. It’s an uneasy feeling being drawn back on an animal and wondering if your arrow is going to hit where you’re aiming. For the better part of 2 years, I fed into a certain hype. The unfilled tags in my office and critters with a little extra scar tissue I hunted are proof of it, too. It wasn’t fun going through the process, but I’m glad I did. It was a wake-up call. I needed to listen to what my gut was telling me, along with what the gear was telling me.

There is a lot of hype out there surrounding different levels of thinking on gear, especially with archery. Topics such as the heavy arrow movement, extreme FOC, heavy draw weights, and the shunning of mechanical broadheads to name a few. Bowhunting gear is similar to finding a pair of boots, though. All of our feet are different, and a boot that works great for one person might not be a good fit for the next. Gear for bowhunting is no different. You’ve got to truly take the time to see what’s best for you, your setup, and your style of hunting. And once you do find it, listen to the results regardless of what is “cool” at the moment.

If you have more confidence in shooting a 350-grain arrow at 65 pounds, and are more accurate doing so, then do it. A friend of mine just killed a great bull elk with this setup. The bull ran less than 100 yards and dropped. Oh, and before I forget, he was using a hybrid broadhead, and it was a 60-yard shot with a full pass through. By some of the “rules” today, this elk shouldn’t have come home with him. Many people fall into this trap, and they’ll do it at the detriment of their own potential success. Here’s what matters, though: accuracy, hunting skill and confidence. That’s what fills tags, not the latest fad.


4. You’ve Got More Time Than You Think

I had finally done it: There was an early archery elk tag in my pocket for my home state of Arizona. And after so many days of getting blanked, I had three bulls feeding not far away in eyesight. I’d just have to sneak my way over there to get a shot. Long story short, I slipped over there, and got antsy. For some reason, even though they had no idea I was there, I rushed my shots (yes, plural). I was thinking, I’ve got to shoot before they get away and I blow this all up. An empty quiver (and ice chest) later, I sat and stewed in my emotions.

It takes a ton of work to consistently get within bow range of animals. A lot has to go right and there isn’t a lot of wiggle room for error. So once it does happen and that animal is within bow range, there can be a sense of urgency in the air on our part. The goal is right in front of us. All we have to do is make the shot. It’s exciting as all get out. However, if the urgency gets too bad, mistakes can happen. We rush when more times than not there is no need to do so.

When it comes time to bring string to nose and focus, we need to do just that. And all it takes in most situations is a second or two longer than if we were to rush. That tiny blip of time can be the difference in notching your tag and not.

A good way to go about making the decision to spend the extra time is this: If you rush the shot, then the chance of you missing or wounding the animal increase dramatically. If you take a little extra time to compose yourself, then sure there is a small chance you’ll miss an opportunity. But if that arrow is released when you’re composed, then you’ll dramatically increase the chance of a critter laying at your feet. I say be a good hunter and do your best to make the best shot you can. Bowhunting is a balancing act between patience and aggression.


Bowhunting Is a Marathon

A year later, in the very basin I had missed that great muley explained earlier, I was again working my way down a long ridge in pursuit of a bedded buck. He was facing downhill, sleeping in a dugout under a tree. My wind was good and the stalking route seemed perfect. Everything was lining up and hopefully the second time would be the charm in this merciless high country.

At 100 yards or so, I dropped my pack behind a bluff and snuck the rest of the way along the ridge. I just had to reach the end of a small rise and the buck would be bedded right beneath me.

As I’d hoped, he was right there, unaware of my presence; 35 yards is all that separated us. When I drew back my bow, everything I had worked on throughout the year came to light. Staying in my shot process, knowing that my arrow was going to go right where I wanted it to, and being present.

Not kidding: I even let down on this deer, because I was unsteady at first. It was automatic. And just like that, my arrow zipped right through him exactly where I was aiming. I found the buck a short way down the ridge, and a hefty pack out would follow.

After missing a velvet buck in this same basin the previous year, the author delivered during the moment of truth from a distance of 35 yards. Success on a wilderness hunt or one on your back 40 comes down to a well-placed shot. Make it automatic.
After missing a velvet buck in this same basin the previous year, the author delivered during the moment of truth from a distance of 35 yards. Success on a wilderness hunt or one on your back 40 comes down to a well-placed shot. Make it automatic.

Bowhunting is not a race. It’s a marathon that needs to be embraced every step of the way. From when it hurts, to when it feels great, and the entire process of getting better. It is a gift being able to walk through Mother Nature with a bow. And we as bowhunters have only so many moments of truth in our lives. Make the most out of all of them.

Sidebar: My Favorite Shooting Drill

Archery practice for me ranges anywhere from shooting one arrow a day to shooting hundreds while playing archery games with my friends. There are some great shooting drills out there to help build accuracy. I like trying to put three arrows in the bull’s-eye consecutively every 10 yards until I reach the farthest distance I’m comfortable shooting. Whatever you do, the point is to shoot regularly. Have your bow be an extension of yourself. Make it automatic.


Photos by Josh Kirchner


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