8 Bowhunting Accuracy Mistakes to Avoid
Nothing will ruin your moment-of-truth bowhunting encounter faster than these eight cardinal sins.
Of all places, I was hunting from inside a powerless and somewhat-dilapidated abandoned homestead. The setting sun’s final glints illuminated the sparse trees dotting what was otherwise wide-open landscape. Deer, lots of them, meandered here and there — most were feeding, but several bucks were afflicted with mid-December rut brain. At that point in my life, it was the most incredible evening of whitetail hunting I’d ever experienced.
At least 50 deer surrounded me. Of them, three bucks were worthy of my 10-hour drive to North Dakota from Wisconsin. One particular 9-pointer, sporting a forked G2, caught my eye as he sparred with a subordinate buck. Following the gentle match, he headed my way. My heart pounded.
Soon, I was looking through my peep sight at my then-biggest buck. My top pin froze on his midsection; I couldn’t seem to push it closer to the shoulder. Then, against my will, my thumb crushed the trigger.
Instantly, my heart sank. Not only had my pin been placed too far back, but my bowstring also slapped my bulky sleeve, worsening the poorly executed shot. I’d failed on so many levels and botched a 9-yard gimme.
An anxious wreck, I left the buck overnight. Fortunately, I recovered him the following morning less than 200 yards away. However, that didn’t fix my mistakes. Plain and simple — I had work to do.
Mistake 1: Inconsistent Anchor Point
If you’ve mastered an anchor point while shooting your backyard deer target, great. Now, see if that consistent anchor point duplicates when you shoot your deer target from a treestand or similarly elevated platform and while wearing hunting garb. If you find it uncomfortable or difficult to hit your familiar anchor point, your form has changed due to the elevated angle.
Commonly, average bowhunters raise or lower their bow arm to acquire an inclined or declined target. This makes it nearly impossible to reach the same anchor point you developed while shooting on flat ground. And, when your anchor point changes, you’ll look through your peep sight differently. What happens next? Accuracy suffers. Add adrenaline and a heavy hunting jacket to the mix, and you’re practically promoting failure.
Fixing this mistake is easy. First, draw back as if you’re shooting on level ground. Once you reach your familiar anchor point and line up your sight housing inside your peep sight, bend forward at the waist rather than dropping your bow arm. Finding your anchor point prior to acquiring a target at a declined or inclined angle is critical.
Inevitably, some folks might still struggle to anchor consistently, perhaps even when shooting on level ground. If that’s you, have a kisser or nose button installed on your bowstring. Supplementing your peep sight with a second reference point will help you maintain a common anchor point, even when shooting from awkward positions.
Mistake 2: The Death Clench
How you grip and hold the bow influences accuracy greatly. I cannot count how many bowhunters I’ve watched put too much hand on the bow grip. I call it “the death clench.” This mistake produces minor to severe torque. In other words, the bowstring aligns left or right of the cam track. In turn, arrows leave the bow inconsistently.
Properly gripping a bow is a process that begins before you even purchase one. When shopping, examine the grip’s fit and feel on each bow of interest. If anything about a grip feels foreign, eliminate that bow. Be attentive to your individual preferences, and only buy a bow that feels like it’s meant for your hand. Believe me; a bow with an awkward grip will disappoint you, regardless of the brand.
Suppose you already own a bow with an uncomfortable grip. You have three options: 1) sell the bow and buy a different one, 2) purchase a more comfortable after-market grip and install it on the bow or 3) remove the existing grip and grip the riser directly. Choose any of these options, and your consistency will improve noticeably.
Next, it’s important to hold the grip correctly. Everyone grips their bow a bit differently. I shoot best with a low-wrist grip, my hand cocked back and the palm portion of my thumb making the only hand contact with the grip. I don’t wrap my fingers around the grip. In a sense, I’m not really “gripping” the bow because my hand doesn’t close around it.
If you find this uncomfortable, it could be that you’ve been gripping incorrectly for such a long time that anything else feels wrong. It might take time and practice to adopt the new grip. Or, it’s possible that you’ll need to experiment with a few different positions to find one that works for you. As you do, remember: the more hand contact, the more likely you’ll torque the bow.
Related: Speed Scouting for Whitetails
When gripping the bow, the less you involve your hand, the better. Bow torque — twisting the grip right or left, or up and down — will crush your accuracy.
Mistake 3: Bowstring Contact
Hunting in cold weather means dressing in thick, well-insulated apparel. If your sleeves have excessive fabric, it can interfere with the bowstring path. Unwanted contact can send your arrow off course, causing a marginal hit or miss.
Identify this potential dilemma before you hunt by practicing in your hunting clothes. If you experience any sleeve-to-bowstring contact, fix the problem immediately with one of these solutions: 1) purchase an arm-guard that shrinks sleeve bulk tighter to your forearm or 2) purchase a more form-fitting jacket.
If the issue persists, it’s quite possible that your draw length is too long. In that case, you might need to have your bow re-fitted, if adjustable. If it isn’t, the next step is to obtain a different bow that can be adjusted to fit you.
One final note. Speed bows with short brace heights (5 to 6 inches) are more likely to slap your sleeve than bows with a more forgiving brace height of, say, 7 inches. Today, most bows, even speed bows, are outfitted with some type of string stop or suppression system. These are designed to prevent the string from oscillating past the brace height, which reduces the likelihood of sleeve contact. If your current bow doesn’t have one, consider purchasing an aftermarket string stop.
Mistake 4: Too Much Draw Weight
Think you’re a macho man or woman; think again. Frigid temperatures, stiff muscles and awkward shots all make your bow difficult to draw. Even a slight struggle to draw back can cause torque or change your shooting form and technique. Set your bow to a comfortable draw weight that you can pull easily when it’s cold or you’re ridden with adrenaline. A low-poundage bow that you can shoot accurately is deadlier than a high-poundage bow that you can barely draw.
Mistake 5: Punching the Trigger
Punching your release aid is not conducive to proper aiming and natural follow-through. Everything about a shot sequence must be natural. I’ve certainly seen the negative results of a rushed shot ending with a trigger punch.
One example is an elk I missed in Idaho. I was soaked from rainfall and cold to the core. I’d been shadowing two bugling bulls until mid-morning when the larger one pushed the satellite bull away from his herd. Bingo! The large satellite offered a 30-yard broadside shot, but my shivering body struggled to hold the pin steady, and I rushed the shot. Worse, as I punched the trigger, my arm anticipated the shot and it reacted prematurely. Yes, I flinched. The bull fled, unscathed fortunately.
If you punch the trigger in the backyard, you’ll punch it when hunting. Hunting situations elevate adrenaline, causing the sense of urgency to shoot to strike. In other words, the voice in your head is causing the incorrect response. Conquer trigger punch on the range first, or it will worsen under the pressures of the hunt. Furthermore, that voice will probably always be there when your pin meets hide, even if you’ve overcome trigger punching. Tune it out by focusing on your new routine for making perfect shots on any/every target.
Mistake 6: Forsaking Broadhead Practice
A decade ago, while visiting with Hoyt sales representative, Matt True — a successful bowhunter — at my family’s archery shop, we discussed mistakes that keep bowhunters from making good shots while hunting.
“Too many folks assume their broadheads will shoot exactly like field points,” True suggested, “but they rarely do. In this case, equipment may legitimately be the blame for a miss or poor hit. But, it’s still an oversight by the bowhunter, and avoidable. Designate a couple of broadheads for practice and check their accuracy before you hunt,” he suggested.
Personally, I don’t hunt with a broadhead until I’ve shot it at a target and found that it groups the same as my practice arrows. I often find flight variances; correcting the problem is usually as simple as tweaking my bow or pairing the broadhead with a different arrow from my quiver. The extra effort is always worth it. I hunt knowing — not wondering if — my broadhead-tipped arrows will hit where my pin aims.
The problem won’t always solve so easily, though. If you bought cheap broadheads, the ferrules could be crooked. Or, your arrows could be worn out or have poor straightness tolerances. In these cases, no amount of bow tinkering or arrow swaps will fix the issue. Buy high-quality broadheads with steel ferrules or straighter arrows.
Mistake 7: The Mental Meltdown
All of your preparations can build your confidence for the main event. But, if the only time you shoot under pressure is when a buck pauses in your shooting lane, it’s possible to botch even a slam-dunk shot. Pressure can go to your head and affect your ability to think clearly in a step-by-step manner like you do (or at least should do) while practicing.
Do you think this only happens to beginners or those who don’t practice enough? Think again. While interviewing Randy Ulmer for a “Pros Talk 3-D Archery” article, Ulmer shared that meltdowns can happen to anyone faced with a big shot opportunity. He conceded that imposing pressure while shooting is the only way to prepare for a real encounter.
“Most bowhunters have meltdowns when they’re about to shoot at an animal,” Ulmer said. “I hate to admit it, but it happens to me, too. Some folks suggest ignoring these emotions, but I find that you can’t lie to yourself. What helps me most is that I admit, yes, I’m scared to death, and, yes, my bow will shake. So, I resolve to make the very best shot possible under those circumstances. I find that if I have perfect form, even if my pin is moving, my arrow usually will hit in the center of that movement pattern.”
“Unfortunately, you can’t easily replicate this,” he continued. “Shooting competitive 3-D archery, even if it’s betting your buddy a buck-a-shot, is the only way to simulate those effects. Having experienced both, the rush of shooting competitively is so similar to shooting at a trophy animal. The only real differences are that, with an animal, you must determine if you have an ethical shot, and you must study the animal’s demeanor to determine when to shoot.”
Mistake 8: Attempting a Low-Percentage Shot
During our decade-old conversation, True shared another common bowhunting mistake.
“Tree limbs, misjudged distances and poor shot angles all become factors when hunters force shots,” he said. “When an animal you want to harvest comes within range, the temptation to shoot can be overwhelming. But, if a tree limb obstructs the vitals or the animal doesn’t present a high-percentage opportunity, letting it walk away could be your best chance to harvest it another day. If you miss or make a poor hit due to forcing a shot, it’s possible you’ll never see it again.”
I don’t care how much you’ve practiced; taking a bad, low-percentage shot is impermissible. In fact, it’s downright unethical and portrays a poor image for hunters and the hunting community. Take only shots you know you can make. It’s your responsibility.
This 90-yard group is the author’s personal best, but it doesn’t mean he attempts stupid shots in the field just because he did it on the range.
Mental management and equipment operation literally become second nature when you practice and prepare, persistently. People who don’t prepare in mind, body and equipment lack the confidence to shoot well under pressure. They make mistakes. They miss. And it sucks.
I’ve found that I consistently make better shots on game by avoiding the mistakes I’ve outlined in this article. You can, too. Remember these eight costly mistakes and prepare for them so they don’t bridle your shooting accuracy the next time you are faced with a tough bowhunting shot.