The Ethical Side Of Bowhunting

Although my bowhunting experiences began more than 15 years ago, the lessons I learned then still accompany me now each time I head to the woods in pursuit of the elusive whitetail. 

You see, in my beginning days I knew very little about my quarry or my equipment. Had it not been for my husband, John, who took the responsibility of becoming my mentor, I would have had a difficult time. The hands-on experience he shared with me only added to my love of the great outdoors. He taught me everything from holding a bow to field dressing a deer.

As we pass on the traditions of hunting, it is important to always keep in mind the following guidelines, as well as teach them to new hunters.

Effective Shooting Range
Effective shooting range differs from one hunter to another. Learning your effective shooting range can be accomplished through practice. There are those that can shoot a bow with precise accuracy at 30- to 40 yards, but I prefer shooting 25 yards or less, simply because that is my comfort zone. When the arrow is released toward the deer, at that distance, I know chances are good it will pass through the vital lungs.

Shot Placement
Controversy exists over the best place to aim at a whitetail. There are those that claim they always aim for the heart of a deer because the animal will rapidly succumb. Since the heart sits very low near the belly, just behind the front leg, and measures approximately 6 inches x 4 inches in an adult deer, it makes a much smaller target than the lungs. The inflated, football-shaped lungs measure approximately 9 inches x 6 inches. Moreover, since the lungs are located in the middle of the deer, just behind the front shoulder, there is more room for error while still providing a lethal shot. 

A veteran hunter can add their expertise, which could be the difference in harvest success or failure. (Photo by John and Vikki L. Trout)

Out Of Frustration

Frustration can be the worst enemy of the bowhunter. Let’s face it — we spend countless hours in all types of weather, waiting for the shot opportunity to present itself. No one likes to have a deer within range and not shoot, but taking a shot that we hope will get the job done is not acceptable! I am not saying that every arrow loosed will produce a perfect hit; it’s just that shooting just to be shooting can end up with a missed deer and a depressed deer hunter — or, even worse, a wounded deer!

I remember an occasion where I had a nice 8-point buck heading toward me after I had grunted. He walked a fence line and stopped only 15 yards from my tree, perfectly broadside. However, I was forced to turn totally backward in my tree. As I drew my bow, my arm hit the safety harness strap, and I could not get to full-draw. The buck turned and walked straight away from my stand. Of course, the strap was no longer in the way, but if I were to shoot, all I would have had to aim at was its hindquarter. It was hard to watch that beautiful rack head due south, but I knew he could pass my way again on another day.

Following Up
Action taken after the shot is as important as what transpires before shooting. As you release an arrow at a deer standing broadside or quartering away within your effective shooting range, it is vital to watch the arrow. This provides valuable information as to what organ/organs have been affected by the broadhead. However, you must continue aiming and following through as you watch to ensure arrow accuracy. A perfectly placed arrow without follow through can end in disaster. Allow me to explain.

There are those that shoot and immediately start tracking a wounded animal even if they are unsure as to the exact location where the arrow entered. Getting in too big of a hurry could severely impact the chance of locating a downed deer, however.

Although we all strive for a clean, ethical kill, we are human and mistakes do occur. For instance, a double-lung shot deer will go down in seconds. Taking up the trail immediately would not affect the recovery. However, waiting to track the animal is usually best in case you were off target. My husband and I usually wait 30 minutes or more before tracking. If we ever suspect the arrow hit too far back, we even allow hours before taking up the trail.

I would also suggest you call a hunting buddy for help if necessary. Some hunters think that if they ask for help, they have failed. This is so far from the truth. Asking for help trailing or asking for advice is the honorable thing for ethical hunters to do.

It is wonderful to see new and veteran bowhunters in the field practicing sound ethics. When a beginning bowhunter tags that first deer, it is an absolute thrill even though taking a deer is not a top priority. Knowing they are watching nature at is finest provides the serenity every soul requires, and gives the veteran hunter the satisfaction of knowing they contributed to the tradition of hunting. 

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