Skip to main content

When Should a Bowhunter Take or Not Take a Shot?

How do good bowhunters know when to take a shot, and when to pass for a better opportunity? Let the bowhunting debate begin...

Arguably the biggest drawback to hunting with a bow and arrow is that the weapon greatly limits your shot distance. If you consider yourself, first and foremost, a bowhunter, you are going to have days when a monster buck or elk wander across your path, 100 yards away, and you will have to just sit back and wave.

There isn't a bow in the world that can take an animal down at a football field's range.

Even if your bow could get the arrow there, the chances of it landing an accurate and deadly hit are zero. (The maximum effective shot distance for most bowhunters is between 40 and 50 yards.)

As a result, distance often becomes the main governing factor for bowhunters trying to decide whether or not to loose an arrow and take a shot. However, while distance is obviously an important aspect to take before firing any projectile, there are other situational elements that a good bowhunter considers before trying to bring an animal down. Here are a few of them:

The direction: This one applies to two different aspects of the shot. First, in which direction is the animal moving? Is there a chance that he or she will approach closer to your position, or is the current distance the best chance you are ever going to get?

Secondly, figure the direction and speed of the wind into the equation. Arrows can easily be knocked a bit off course by a strong wind. If it's a breezy day and the animal is a fair distance from you, cut your losses and skip the shot.

The animal: Are you staring at a 300-class elk or a small and skittish doe? Assessing the target is important for a number of reasons.

For one, a bigger target is easier to hit and may help negate the disadvantage presented by a long shot. For another, bigger targets are substantially more valuable than small ones, and it's easier to let a female deer walk out of your life forever than it is to miss your chance at a huge elk.

The adrenaline: You may be able to hit 10 bullseyes in a row in target practice, but when the biggest buck you've ever seen walks out of the woods 20 yards away, your adrenaline is going to kick in and change the game. As your heartbeat accelerates and your mind races with thoughts of bagging the animal, try to calm yourself down before you let go of your arrow. It's all too easy to make a mistake when the moment really counts.

The angles: From the path of your shot to the side of the animal that is facing you, bowhunting success is all about playing specific angles. Your best shots will be drawn from the angles and the shooting positions you have practiced most frequently, so if you feel uncomfortable with the angle of your shot - or if your angle is obstructed by vegetation, or the animal isn't giving you a clear kill shot - you might want to wait for a better chance.


Photo via Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation

you might also like

When Should a Bowhunter Take or Not Take a Shot?