In Part 1, I discussed where to shoot game in bowhunting situations. Here are some more important considerations in contemplating bowhunting shots on game.
Front, Rear Angles
Front and rear angles — this is the perspective on shooting game that probably generates more controversy than any other subject. I have been told many times by knowledgeable bowhunters to never take a frontal shot on an animal. After butchering many animals and examining many of their anatomies, I began to have more and more doubt about this restriction, and finally had the opportunity to test it last September on an Idaho elk hunt. The bull answering a call approached to 15 yards and stopped to look at me at full draw. I looked him over carefully and noticed that he was slightly angled to his left so I picked the spot just to the left of his sternum and let fly.
He dashed and made it about 25 yards before hooves were in the air. Our autopsy revealed that the arrow was completely inside his body and achieved a devastating 40 inches or so of penetration.
There were a couple of things required to make this a legitimate shot. First of all, I carefully considered what I was doing and how and where I would aim when the shot presented itself. Second of all, I practice enough to be able to make the shot in this situation with a relatively small target area of about the size of a baseball.
Also, the bull was standing at just the perfect frontal angle. He was not facing me directly and he was not angled so much that his front leg bone covered his vitals. At this slight angle, I had the maximum frontal target between his breastbone and his leg bone.
Rear shots are another matter. They can be very lethal to be sure, presenting a lot of arteries and again at that angle that will allow a devastating, full-body-length penetration. Even so, I have never tried to harvest an animal with this shot angle simply because it does not sit well with me. I have, however, finished off a couple of wounded animals and the results are quite satisfactory. In such a situation, imagine a line to the animal’s heart. An accurate shot will almost always be lethal if it does not encounter bone.
Shooting at moving targets is very iffy. Making an accurate shot is hard enough on an animal that is standing still, much less when it is moving. Even at a slow walk, the target is much, much trickier than when standing still. It is much harder to keep your sight on, it may hesitate as you shoot, or walk behind a bush causing a deflection and the worse case scenario, a wounded and unrecoverable animal.
Many bowhunters do not realize how much penetration is affected as well as accuracy. Many years ago, I did a lot of recurve shooting and became proficient at shooting moving targets. Once I made a shot on a buck as he hurried across a meadow toward a group of does. The shot was almost perfect, but to my horror, I saw the arrow strike him and then flop back along his flank because the relatively slow-moving arrow had lost much of its penetration ability because it got turned at an angle as it began to penetrate.
If an animal is walking fairly slowly and presenting you with a good shooting angle, you have the option of either taking the shot or trying to stop the animal. The danger of trying to stop the animal is that, first of all, he may not stop. He may bolt, although that is rare. But in all cases, when you do stop the animal with a noise, it puts the animal on alert and the chances are better that he will react to your shot and possibly dodge your arrow. It is a judgment call. On slow, close, broadside shots, I usually take the shot while the animal is moving. If it is a little too far, there is too much brush, or the animal is running a little too fast, I will stop the animal before shooting.
On the subject of animals reacting to the shot, this is probably the No. 1 reason why well-practiced bowhunters miss.
Generally, the smaller and more alert the animal is, the more likely it is to jump the string. I once took a 35-yard shot at a whitetail doe that I had stopped in my shooting lane with a bleat. By the time the arrow got there, the doe was not only pressed belly to the ground, but was facing the opposite direction from when I touched off my shot! This again is a judgment call, but in situations where you think there is a strong chance the animal may react to your shot, aim at the bottom of the chest cavity. If the animal does not react and your shot is good, it will be a heart shot.
If the animal does react, it will be by crouching to leap and the arrow will likely catch it in crouch and hit somewhere higher in the lungs.
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