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Ready. Aim. Fire. Tips for Getting the Right Shot.

I recently saw a post on a Kentucky deer hunting Facebook page, where someone asked the following:

“Thoughts to ponder…quick humane kills, or shoot and hope it’s wounded enough to find later?”

As I read this, I didn’t know what to think. Every shot I take, I hope for a quick, humane kill. I want the animal to drop in its tracks and die quickly so there is no suffering. I responded with the following:

“I think (well, hope) that every hunter aims for a quick, humane kill. But unfortunately, it doesn’t always work out that way. And it’s not always the hunter’s fault or bad judgment. In the fraction of a second between the arrow leaving the rest or the bullet leaving the barrel, the animal can turn, step, jump, etc. An unnoticeable twig or blade of grass can deflect an arrow or bullet, causing a bad shot. It happens. Even the most experienced hunters don’t always make the perfect shot. But when a shot goes wrong, it’s important to learn from the mistake and be conscious of that for the next hunt. Every trip to the field or woods can be a learning experience.”

This question and my response got me thinking about the perfect shot and all of the things that can go wrong. Is there really such a thing as the “perfect shot,” and does it depend on the weapon, angle, animal, time of day, weather, and, of course, the hunter? To me, the perfect shot is double-lung pass through, the deer drops in its tracks and dies within seconds of the impact. This is immediate, and the least amount of suffering. But it doesn’t always happen that way.

There are so many factors that hunters should account for when getting ready to take their shot, and ways that we can prepare before we ever step foot into the field.

Below are tips on how to prepare before the hunt and what to look out for while in the field.

Before the Hunt

Practice, practice, practice! Probably the most important tip of all. When you practice at different distances, angles, positions, wearing different clothes, and in different weather and lighting conditions, you improve your chances of making a good shot when in the field.

  • Look at hunting magazines or game-camera pictures and practice pointing out the best shot placement on the pictures of animals. There are usually pictures at many different angles and you can judge where the bullet or arrow will hit.

  • Prep your hunting area by clearing shooting lanes, removing tall grass and low-hanging branches, and any other brush that could get in the way of a bullet or arrow.

  • Range find landmarks, such as trees, around your tree stand or blind prior to the season and mark them with paint or ribbons. In the event you don’t have a range finder with you during the hunt, or don’t have time to use it, you have a starting point for determining your distance.

  • Familiarize yourself with the animal’s anatomy so you can visualize where the vital organs are in relation to shoulder blades, ribs and non-vital organs.

Bowhunting Tips

  • If possible, go to a 3-D archery range that has different animal targets to practice shooting. This provides a more realistic scenario since many times they are set up in the woods, allowing you to judge distances and shoot at different angles.

Practice at 3-D archery ranges for a more realistic shooting scenario.

  • Account for any arch when you shoot your arrows. When looking from your tree stand or blind, you must be aware of not only what’s in your shooting lane when looking through the sights, but also what’s above your line of sight.

  • I learned this the hard way! I shoot a Mission Craze bow at 55 lbs., and at 40 and 50 yards, the arrow has a pretty high arch. During my first Idaho elk hunt, a cow elk stepped out perfectly broadside at 50 yards. I got ready, aimed and fired. Then watched my arrow hit a branch and fly left. Then watched the elk run off. Lesson learned.

  • If shooting from a ground blind, make sure your arrow clears the opening in the window so the arrow doesn’t hit once it’s released. Remember, your sight pins are higher than the arrow. Just because it looks clear, doesn’t mean it actually is.

  • Avoid pulling back too early to prevent muscle fatigue if the deer doesn’t step into range or a clear spot fast enough.

  • Make sure your broadheads are razor sharp. Dull broadheads will push or pass by blood vessels instead of severing them, likely resulting in little or no blood trail. Sharp broadheads will result in better pass through and bleeding, resulting in a quicker kill and better blood trail.

  • Be conscious of the wind. Wind can have a major effect on where your arrow lands. If you’re hunting on a windy day, try to wait for a break in the wind before shooting.

  • Invest in your own bow. If you’re going to bow hunt, you should have your own bow. Every archer shoots differently and if you’re using someone else’s bow that was set up for them and their shooting style, you’re likely to shoot inconsistently and you’ll have a higher chance of bad shot placement.

Gun Hunting Tips

  • If you’ve traveled with your gun prior to a hunt, make a practice shot to ensure the scope hasn’t been bumped in transit. A small bump can have a huge impact in a good shot to the lungs or a bad shot to the guts, or a total miss.

  • Make sure you have a steady rest. Whether you use a tree, shooting sticks or sit in a position to use your own body, you should be able to hold the gun steady with very little movement in any direction

Use shooting sticks for a steady rest, but be sure to practice with them prior to your hunt.

  • Wait for the right shot. Just because you’re using a gun, doesn’t mean you can take any shot. Straight-on shots are difficult because the target area is very small. It’s best to wait for the deer to turn to get an angled or broadside shot.

  • Shoot at a distance you feel comfortable with. If you’ve never shot 200 yards, are you willing to risk shooting a deer when it steps out at 200 yards? If you do, make sure you have a solid rest and a reasonable amount of time to get set up and aim properly.

  • Don’t rush your shot. Rushed shots often times end in bad placement. Steady yourself and your gun, look through the scope and confirm there is nothing that could deflect the bullet, such as twigs, fence wire or tall grass. Once you’re ready, squeeze the trigger slowly and don’t jerk the gun.

  • Make sure your gun barrel clears your rest or blind. Remember that your scope is higher than your barrel, and just because you have a clear visual through the scope, doesn’t mean your barrel is clear.

Regardless of the weapon of choice, another huge factor in making a good shot is getting your nerves under control when it’s time to focus. I admit that when I see a deer from my stand, I feel a rush of adrenaline take over. I take a deep breath and tell myself to calm down. Huntress View team member Jenny Burden knows well what effect nerves can have on shooting. In regards to a recent deer hunt, she said, “I was so nervous that I focused through my non-dominant eye and missed way wide.” It happens to the best of us!

And remember, some things can’t be avoided no matter how much you practice and how diligent you are about making the perfect shot. Unfortunately, that comes along with hunting. It’s the harsh reality hunters face, and one that isn’t usually shown on hunting shows on TV. Animals move when you don’t expect it, they duck arrows and bullets, and turn at just the right (or wrong!) moment. Huntress View founder Andrea Haas had a deer duck her arrow, which resulted in a shot to the spine and required a follow-up, close-range shot. Team member Emily Worthy Edwards wasn’t as lucky to get a follow-up shot when her target buck ducked and turned, resulting in a gut shot. She followed the blood trail until it ended, and continued to search for three days, unable to recover the deer.

All wasn’t lost for Emily. Weeks after her shot, while walking her hunting property, she found the deer carcass and was at least able to recover the antlers.

Ultimately, a lethal shot should be the goal of all hunters. It’s important to work hard to achieve that “perfect shot” with every arrow or bullet that you release, but it’s also important to understand that not everything is within your control.

Happy hunting, and good luck!

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