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The archer’s dilemma

August 24, 2009 at 11:52 AM

Many years ago I ran into the same problem I’m sure many experiences archers have noticed. Shooting from the ground at a one-dimensional target is nothing like shooting from a tree at a three-dimensional, live deer.

Since those days several advances in technology have helped bow hunters like myself immensely. Alas, the same general problem tends to persist albeit on a much less formidable scale.

As bow speeds increase and new materials and design advances in arrow development, the average archer may think consideration toward practicing for real hunting situations can be eliminated. Oh how wrong. 

With the new, more accurate technologies, I have found many archers have used the added accuracy not, to improve their percentages at their nominal shots but, they have extended the out reaches of their comfort zone in taking shots in the field. 

In addition, time was, even into the mid 1980’s that many archers were still hunting from ground blinds nearly exclusively.  As the ‘90’s rolled in and manufacturers flooded the markets with hang-on and climbing tree stands, deer archers tended to rise in to the trees to take their quarry from above.

Today, even as ground blind hunting has found resurgence, I see a problem that persists for those of us who still prefer to hang out with the birds and squirrels to harvest our deer. Shooting from the ground at a two-dimensional target little resembles shooting from an elevated position at live game.

The problem of knowing more accurately how far away you target really is, in horizontal measures can easily be accounted for with the purchase of a Nikon, Archer’s Choice, laser range finder. This is an excellent tool to use and can even be used for short range firearm hunting like, slug-gun deer hunting and even turkey hunting.

But there are issues other than actual bow-to-target range beg to be addressed. Included in these issues and in this article are: How much practice and what kind of practice do I really need? How high should I put my tree stand? And what is the difference between point-of-aim and point of impact and why is it important?

So you think you’re a bowhunter?

So you bought a new bow and now you think you are a bow hunter? Buying a bow makes one about as prepared to bow hunt for deer as buying handcuffs makes one ready to be a policeman. Bowhunting, more than any other kind of hunting, with the possible exception of a sling and stone (check your local game regulations for the legality of hunting with a sling) takes more practice than any form of hunting I’ve ever done. 

As with any hands-on tool, the bow and the firearm must work with the body, be almost part of the body, to be most accurate. In firearm hunting, at least rifle hunting, the essentials to be accurate are, a good eye, and a steady trigger finger. I know, some of you firearm hunters are grumbling about that statement but, compared to shooting a bow, it’s so true. Back in college, in the ‘80’s, I started to research a kinesiology paper on the muscles, nerves and bones involved in shooting a bow.

It took me about two days of reading to change to a paper on casting a fishing rod, (from a seated position). It was simply overwhelming, the sheer number of muscles alone in holding a bow, pulling it back, aiming and releasing an arrow. In archery the body itself is more a part of the tool than the tool a part of the body. How in the world does a person become accustom to making their body part of the bow?

The answer is, practice, practice, practice. As a kid, I remember a guy coming to my father, a long-time archer, for help in shooting. Apparently, the man had missed a deer that morning. The first thing my dad did was tell him to fetch his bow, line up at our archery target and just start shooting. Even at the green age of 10, I could see right off the guy’s problem. He couldn’t hit the broad-side of a small barn from 20 yard, literally. As he stood there, bow drawn, he gyrated like a dancer of that ‘70’s era. Upon release, the arrow had movement that would put a sidewinder missile to shame. 

My father, Ed Sr., as he is still called today to differentiate from me, explained to him that his bow had too heavy of a pull for him and his cedar arrows were splined too light.

Today’s compound bows are adjustable and the aluminum and carbon arrows on the modern market are of such a variety that nearly any person with experience in archery can take care of these problems. Still, a good bow shop will almost always assist the shooter in setting up his bow/arrow combination at little or no charge. Charts of information are available from the arrow manufacturers so to properly fit arrow spline to bow design and speed.

Shoot and shoot more

After all the kinks of mechanics are ironed out, there is still the issue of the shooter himself. The only real way to condition oneself to shooting is to shoot in near excess. As a football and strength coach, I borrow from the theories of over-coaching and the overload principle.

One must put a bunch of shafts into a target before one is ready to put one shaft in the air toward a deer. The general rule I have for myself is as follows: With a totally new setup, I strive to put 1,000 arrows into a target before I shoot at a deer. If I use the same bow from the past for which I am already comfortable, I can reduce that number down to 250 to 500 arrows. Any significant change in my setup requires an additional 200 arrows per change before I hunt.

With a new bow, this process becomes scientific for me. Once I get used to shooting my bow, I slowly get to know what my set up is capable of. I use a small notebook to record generalities of my shooting one day to the next. After getting my new set up “zeroed in” at a particular distance, usually 25 or 30 yards, I then methodically, record the point of impact starting at 10 yards and every 5 yards out to where the arrows are nearly dropping off the target butt. This gives me a general idea of what the bow is capable of as far as effective range is concerned.

With modern compounds one may find a trajectory of something like this; 10 yards,-5” high, 15 yards-6” high, 20 yards-4” high, 25 yards-2” high, 30 yards-2” low, 35 yards-6” low, 40 yards-12” low, 45 yards, 20” low and nearly off target area.

This will help determine several things. One can determine the number of pins needed on a site for the type of hunting one is involved with.

It will help determine point-blank range for each site pin as well. Point-blank range is the effective impact on a target area while using the same point of aim from a minimum distance to a maximum distance. Therefore, the top site pin must have a point-blank range from nearly zero yards to where the point of impact nearly rises out of the vital area and then falls out of the vital area on a deer during it’s early trajectory. Likewise the second pin would have a point-blank range that slightly overlaps but ends further out.

8-inch vital zone

In my practice, I use a 9-inch foam plate, with a smaller, 2-inch orange adhesive dot within it as my target area. The flat 8 inches of the plate is my vital zone.  Some may squawk that a deer’s vitals are bigger and they are but, I over-coach myself. If I am assured I can hit that 8-inch vital zone on the practice range, I feel more confident I can hit the vitals of a deer in the real scenario. 

Once I’ve got my set up where I want it, I practice extensively at extended ranges of 40 and 50 yards. Many would think me crazy for considering a shot at that range. I would likely be included in those minions. I practice at those ranges because, at those ranges, any flaws in my pre-release and follow through are magnified and result in flyers and sporadic groups. 

Also, any minor adjustments for windage and elevations on the general site frame, (not the individual pins) are more easily recognized at extended ranges.  An additional bonus is the possibility that someday, I might stumble into a chance to take a deer in an unobstructed scenario at an extended range and I’ve already been practicing.

Once you’ve been shooting from 50 yards for a few days, you will likely find keeping a tighter group at 30 yards is not nearly a problem.

A buck story

The buck walked nearly under me. I was at full draw. Standing less than 10 yards out from my tree, the buck was clueless to the events about to unfold. I was clueless as to the end game as well. I relaxed my fingers and saw the Easton XX75 2018 missile downward at a sharp angle. The broadhead entered the buck‘s torso at nearly the exact spot I’d aimed at, following up the font leg to one-third of the way up the torso. 

The buck kicked like a bronco and tore off through the woods…never to be seen again.

In my early days, I had the above happen to me. I undershot the vitals and by best guess “one-lunged”, at best, a really nice deer. From a tree stand, things are different than from the ground. Angles change and distances are deceiving. I’ve wanted to write about this for some time and now, I’ve finally gotten my thoughts, my ideas in picture and print.

The best way to overcome these differences is to practice from an elevated position. However, many archers still struggle to see the whole picture when it comes to point of aim and point of impact as to archery from the trees. 3D shoots are fun but likewise skewed. The 10-ring on a 3D deer is right over its heart, right?

Not so fast. Its right over the heart when the decoy is set up on a horizontal plane with the shooter. Put the shooter 15 feet higher or lower and the 10-ring on the surface of the target doesn’t quite align with the heart of the torso. Alas, the conflict in my mind for a couple of years. Out of that conflict, came the following efforts.

Setting sight pins

On my current bow, a Hoyt Alpha Max 35, I have determined that I can use my top site pin out to 30 yards. The next pin is set up for a little high at 35 yards to 45 yards. The third pin is high at 45 and out to near 55 yards. The fourth pin is 55 to 65 yards and since I have a fifth pin, high at 65, dead on at 70 and lower one-third of the vitals at 75 yards. 

Through practice and more practice, I have determined that my effective range on a deer size target is no more than 50 yards. That is actually only on a perfectly calm day in the wide open, from the ground. Said another way, I’ll likely never take a shot over 40 yards but, one never knows. Who knows, I may hunt elk in the future as well!

I try to put my hanging stands at about the same height. Likewise, with my climber, I have a string to pull my bow up and that string is a precise length. My preferred treestand height is 20-25 feet. Of course that also depends on the canopy of the timber I’m hunting in. As I inch-worm up a tree, I continue, if possible, until I come to the gentle tug of my pull up string telling me I’m at 25 feet. 

Of course the string is not attached to the standing platform but the sitting platform so, in actuality the standing height is closer to 20 feet.

I practice from a similar height so that I am accustomed to shooting down at closer targets. As I develop my shot through the spring and into the summer, the idea of point of aim and point of impact come into play. No one ever said that your arrow HAD to hit right where you’re aiming now, did they. My ideal situation is this, at ranges of out to 20 yards, I want what I call a high lung/ low lung shot, entry on the high lung side and exit on the low lung side. Out past 20 yards, the high lung/low lung theory starts to fall apart as the angles of impact start to get closer to horizontal.

The pictures of the foam plate target are shooting from the ground. Point of aim on the foam targets and the 3D deer is the orange dot.

Shots taken at the 3D deer are from 20 feet elevation.

5 yards, 53-degree angle

Point of aim vs. point of impact horizontal

Illinois hunting and fishing

View of target from 5-foot elevation.

Illinois hunting and fishing

Point of impact side view.

Illinois hunting and fishing

Angle of entry frontal view.

Illinois hunting and fishing

Angle of penetration.

Illinois hunting and fishing

10 yards, 34-degree angle

Point of aim vs. point of impact horizontal.
Illinois hunting and fishing

View of target from 10-foot elevation.
Illinois hunting and fishing

Point of impact side view.
Illinois hunting and fishing

Angle of entry frontal view.
Illinois hunting and fishing

Angle of penetration.
Illinois hunting and fishing

15 yards, 24-degree angle

Point of aim vs. point of impact horizontal.
Illinois hunting and fishing

View of target from 15-foot elevation.
Illinois hunting and fishing

Point of impact side view.
Illinois hunting and fishing

Angle of entry frontal view.
Illinois hunting and fishing

Angle of penetration.
Illinois hunting and fishing

20 yards, 30-degree angle

Point of aim vs. point of impact horizontal.
Illinois hunting and fishing

View of target from 20-foot elevation.
Illinois hunting and fishing

Point of impact side view.
Illinois hunting and fishing

Angle of entry frontal view.
Illinois hunting and fishing

Angle of penetration.
Illinois hunting and fishing

25 yards, 15-degree angle

Point of aim vs. point of impact horizontal.
Illinois hunting and fishing

View of target from 25-foot elevation.
Illinois hunting and fishing

Point of impact side view.
Illinois hunting and fishing

Angle of entry frontal view.
Illinois hunting and fishing

Angle of penetration.
Illinois hunting and fishing

30 yards, 13-degree angle

Point of aim vs. point of impact horizontal.
Illinois hunting and fishing

View of target from 30-foot elevation.
Illinois hunting and fishing

Point of impact side view.
Illinois hunting and fishing

Angle of entry frontal view.
Illinois hunting and fishing

Angle of penetration.
Illinois hunting and fishing

Try it out for yourself.  In the end, you’ll have fun shooting and learn more about the set up you have.  All of this is a good thing.

The big thanks to all my HOBB friends at House of Banned Brothers.

Article and photos (exclusive of deer vitals cross section) property of Ed Smith aka illinoisdeerhunter. Reproduction without permission prohibited.

Your CommentsComments :: Terms :: .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)

Great article Ed… A perfect pre-season primer.

Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) on 08/25 at 04:16 AM

Good article. Really like the pictures.Helps understand what arrow angles do to your shot.
Very informative !
  Time to practice some more now after reading this.

Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) on 08/25 at 10:00 AM

Sorry Ed, article was a little too long to keep my interest, so you may have covered this already, but if one remembers to bend at the waist, and not just lower their bow arm, the point of impact from a elevated platform will be the same as one shot from level ground. But the point of aim at select distances was well written and kudos to the cutaway photos.

Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) on 08/25 at 09:28 PM

great story i enjoyed the info

Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) on 09/03 at 05:21 PM

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