By Bruce Beal
Timing your draw is the most important thing you’ll do with a deer in range
The attraction of bowhunting is the challenge. Much has to go ‘just right’ for a bowhunter to get his or her prize successfully. First, the prize has to be at close range and unaware of your presence. Then, you have to draw without alerting the animal. Next, you have to make an accurate shot for a clean kill. Finally, you must successfully recover the prize.
While each of these elements is vital to a successful outcome, drawing the bow unnoticed is one of the most important. This simple act will ultimately determine the result of the hunt.
So, timing your draw is critical and one of the most challenging skills to learn. A beginning bowhunter can hunt from a stand placed in the correct location by someone more experienced. After the shot, he or she can have someone else trail the animal and recover it. But at the moment of truth, when drawing the bow and making the shot, the outcome rests squarely on the bowhunter. Even inexperienced hunters can learn shooting form and accuracy, but drawing the bow with proper timing can only be practiced in real-time from the stand while in the presence of your prey. No amount of coaching can replace experience and time in the stand when it comes to this skill.
One mistake beginning bowhunters typically make is drawing too early. I regularly hear about a hunter drawing his or her bow while the deer is “behind a tree” or just before it steps into a shooting lane. Often, the deer either catches movement or hears the draw and instinctively freezes, with its vitals obscured by brush or the tree trunk.
This rarely winds up well for the hunter. The deer has no schedule and often stands still for several minutes while the hunter is holding the full weight of the bow, as well as the holding weight of the draw. Eventually, the frustrated hunter is forced to let the draw down, the motion often spooking the alerted deer.
A better option would be to wait until the animal’s vitals are exposed and then slowly draw when it is looking away or has its head down feeding. This way, if it freezes, its vitals are fully exposed for a shot opportunity. Watching a deer’s front feet will also help in this situation. Just before stepping forward into a clearing, the deer will lift its front foot. This will help you to be ready to draw and shoot before the deer crosses the lane.
The rules change when a deer is steadily moving. Deer that are walking steadily present a different challenge. It is generally best to wait for the deer to stop before taking the shot, but bucks are often on a mission and steadily walking. These deer can be stopped by bleating with your mouth; however, you need to be ready to release the arrow quickly because their focus will shift to you.
When a buck is looking your way and has his ears cupped towards you, your chances of successfully drawing on him aren’t very good. Upon hearing the bleat, a deer will naturally tense its muscles, preparing to flee until it identified the source of the unknown noise, increasing the odds of string-jumping. A good trick is to bleat after you are already drawn and on target, and as the deer is stopping, release the shot. This way, the deer’s momentum will prevent it from reacting.
It also helps to watch a whitetail’s body language before attempting to draw. We know deer make a wide variety of vocalizations, but most of their communication is through posturing and body language.
For the hunter, learning to read this body language requires a lot of time in the stand observing deer. Generally, it is best not to draw when in a deer’s direct line of sight or if its ears are cupped in your direction. This will usually result in a blown opportunity. Also, if a deer is visibly nervous or on edge, it is best to wait for the animal to relax before trying to draw. Multiple animals mean more eyes and ears and will only make drawing unnoticed even harder.
Time spent in the presence of deer will allow you to gauge the “mood” or “vibe” of the animal(s) in front of you. If they are keyed up, it is better to wait and live to hunt another day. Once deer identify your stand’s location, especially catching your movement at close range, your chances for success are slim to none.
Most lessons are best learned the hard way, and I have learned far more from blown opportunities than anything else. Each missed opportunity offers a lesson. Spend as much time in the woods as you can this and every season and learn all you can. Bowhunting is genuinely an art, and nothing replaces experience when it comes to perfecting your mastery of it.
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