Bowhunting: The Last 5 Seconds Are Critical

The author shares some tips that will help seal the deal when a deer stands broadside and in bow range.

Matt Adcock | September 1, 2007

The author arrowed three does during his first week of bowhunting last September. He attributes part of his success to being prepared for the last five seconds before the shot.

After 15 minutes of trimming limbs, I finally settled comfortably in my climber. It was a cold and clear November afternoon, and I had a good feeling about my stand location. In early November, I would usually be waiting on a mature buck, but this time I needed venison for the freezer.

I had been sitting quietly for about an hour when I heard something approaching from my left. I stood up and turned as three does crossed a small woods road in front of me. I was ready, but there was just too much brush for me to get a good shot. The deer were angling back behind my tree, so I had to rotate all the way around to try to get a shot on the other side of my tree.

Once in position, I came to full draw and grunted softly with my mouth. All three deer stopped and listened. There were a lot of limbs between us, but if I leaned out slightly I had a shot. The last doe was 22 yards away, and all I had was an off-balance shot through a 4- or 6-inch hole in the limbs. It would either be a good shot, or my arrow would ricochet off the limbs, and I would be lucky to find it. I found my spot, covered it with my pin and slowly touched the release.

The doe fell in her tracks. It was still early, so I just sat back down and waited. About 30 minutes later, two does came from my right and stopped on the edge of the small road in front of me. I had an opening for a good shot, so I quickly came to full draw. The back doe saw my movement and became alert, so I found my spot on the lead doe, covered it with my pin and slowly touched the release. I made a perfect shot, and the doe went down after only 20 yards. There was still an hour before it got dark, but with two deer on the ground, I called it a day.

Even though the brush provided an added obstacle, I was able to make good shots on both deer because I followed my normal shot sequence that I practiced. There is a lot of information to process right before you shoot at a deer. How you handle that information often depends on how often you bowhunt and how much experience you have. The more you bowhunt, the more you learn. The more you learn, the easier bowhunting becomes, even those last five seconds.

Thought Process: Throughout my life, I have always had to use my brain to get me through difficult times. Whether it was knowing all the routes for all three wide-receiver positions for my high-school football team or running a gas-chromatography experiment, my brain has always outweighed my brawn. You would naturally think I could use my intellect to my advantage when deer hunting, right? I wish it was that simple. No matter what I do or what I try, when it comes to crunch time and I am about to release an arrow with ill intentions, my brain can fail me.

I was always taught to consciously think “pick a spot” or “pick a hair” to help me focus on making a good shot. With each shot on the practice range, I focus and “pick a spot.” The problem I had in my first years of bowhunting is when I saw a big buck, I would get so excited and focused on the deer that I did not remember to focus on a spot. The only thing that corrected this was years of bowhunting.

The saying I now often say is “aim low.” That is a saying for everyone to remember. I think “aim low” often, but it is still not 100 percent of the time. Nothing will help you concentrate more and be more consistent than repetition. The more you bowhunt and shoot at game, the easier it becomes.

When practicing, be sure to focus on the target. Your pin should cover the exact point where you are aiming and not move until the arrow impacts the target. Too many bowhunters release the arrow and move their bow to see where the arrow is going. That habit can cost you when bowhunting. Do not let the excitement affect your shooting. Your pin should remain on the target until after the arrow hits its mark.

Consistent Release: In the last five seconds before you shoot, you must be calm enough to have a consistent release. Consistent is defined as constantly adhering to the same principles, course, form, etc. When you practice, you need to do all you can to adhere to form so that you can be consistent. Set up a video camera on a tripod, and video yourself shooting a few practice rounds. Make a special note of anything you might have done differently and what effect it had on your accuracy. You might be surprised at what you find.

One of my good hunting buddies is Scott Taylor from Marianna, Fla. Every time I practice shooting with him, I always get a good laugh. Scott’s approach to touching the trigger on his release is “unique” to say the least. I really don’t think words can accurately describe his technique, but it has been said that his finger sneaks up on the release and pounces on it. He even describes it as a “rattlesnake striking.” But make no mistake about it; Scott has one of the nicest walls of bow-killed whitetails anywhere in the Southeast. The question is, how can his mechanics be so “unique,” when he is still able to shoot extremely well in hunting situations? Consistency is the answer. His form is certainly different from what you would be taught from an archery instructor, but it is the same every time. Like Jeff Bagwell or Vladimir Guerrero in baseball, your form can be different and successful as long as you can repeat it.

Jim Landrum buries his bow release in the palm of his hand.

This allows him to squeeze the release trigger with the first joint on his finger, like squeezing a tennis ball, which prevents him from snatching the trigger.

You might have heard or read about Marine sniper Carlos Hathcock. He was the greatest marine sniper of all time with 93 confirmed kills in the Vietnam War. One shot was from more than 2,500 meters. In hunting terms, that is a shot more than 2,700 yards. Carlos helped establish the Marine Corps Scout/Sniper Instruction School in Quantico, Va. In that school, they teach the proper position to place your finger on the trigger and to slowly squeeze it while controlling your breathing. Ironically, that is the exact opposite of what Carlos used to do as a Marine sniper.

He practiced so much, he could snatch the trigger back and through thousands of rounds of ammo, he became one of the best marksmen of all time. The greatest Marine sniper of all time might have had “bad” form, but he was consistent with it. When shooting your bow, I would never advocate that you go out and purposefully try to snatch or punch the trigger on your release, but if your archery mechanics are not the best in the world, perhaps you should work on being consistent.

Learn from Others: Jim Litmer of Third Hand Archery knows a thing or two about killing big deer. Last year alone, he harvested two bucks with his bow scoring 192 6/8 (Kentucky) and 138 inches (Ohio). Jim incorporates several tactics to help get him through those last five seconds when staring down a big buck. He first plays a mind game with himself. When he sees a deer he wants to shoot, he tells himself that the deer is not big enough, and he is not going to shoot. When the deer approaches, he tells himself he is just drawing to practice and to see if he can get drawn and remain undetected. When the shot presents itself, he takes it. That is when he says his emotions go wild. I know it might sound simplistic, but Jim swears by it. He said that once you take the “kill” out of the equation, everything changes from an emotional standpoint. I know I am going to try it out this year and see how it works.

Another tactic Jim uses to ensure those last five seconds go smoothly has to do with his anchor point. Jim takes his thumb on his release hand and extends it behind his neck. Often while in a tree stand, you are forced to shoot a steep-angled shot or a slightly off balance shot. If your anchor point is not  consistent every time, you are inviting accuracy problems. The thumb on the back of your neck holds your anchor point steady no matter how badly your knees might be shaking. Jim has been using this method for more than 20 years, and he is convinced that if more bowhunters practiced this method, they could shoot better and be more consistent with their groups.

I would be willing to bet that 99.9% of today’s bowhunters do not take bowhunting as seriously as Jim Landrum of Milledgeville. Jim has been bowhunting 44 years in multiple states and with a good season this year, he will take his 500th whitetail with a bow. But bowhunting is not just a hobby for Jim, it is also his profession. Jim has been with PSE Archery for 34 years, 20 of those as a regional sales manager. I asked Jim about the last five seconds and what goes through his mind right before he shoots. He said, “My brain is in overdrive making sure I do everything right. I am thinking ‘dot, dot, dot’.” This is Jim’s way of focusing on an imaginary “dot” where he wants his arrow to impact.

When I asked Jim if there is any- thing that he practices that might help an ordinary bowhunter, he mentioned a couple of items. The first tip involved the way he practices. Because of his hectic work schedule, he often does not have time to shoot shot after shot on the practice range like most people. So when he gets a chance, he goes out just before dark and shoots one arrow. Just one, it’s make or break. Jim says knowing you only have one shot makes you concentrate more than you would if you were shooting multiple arrows. This simulates a hunting situation a little more and helps prepare you for those last five seconds.

The second item Jim mentioned has to do with his release style. Jim shortens his wrist strap so that the release is buried in the palm of his hand. Instead of using the tip of his finger on the trigger, he places the trigger in the first joint of his finger. When using the release in this way, touching the trigger is similar to squeezing a tennis ball. This prevents him from having to reach his finger out to the trigger. This eliminates “punching” the trigger.

Words can not describe what goes through my mind just before I release an arrow at a deer. The rush of adrenaline sends my heart racing and my brain goes into controlled chaos. For me, those last five seconds are what hunting is all about.

If you have never bowhunted, you might not know what I am talking about. If you ever get a deer in bow range, just one time, you would be hooked for life.

And when I no longer get that heart-pounding rush of adrenaline, I will put my bow down and pick up a camera.

Jim Landrum shot this Jones County 8-pointer during the 2005 bow season. Jim has been bowhunting for 44 years, and this season he looks to take his 500th whitetail with a bow.

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