Written by: Fred Eichler
“You missed him.” “No I didn’t.” “Ummm, yes you did.” “Are you sure?” “I am looking at the video, you missed.” This conversation took place in a treestand in Montana. It was not exactly what I wanted to hear from Jimmy who was running the camera on a whitetail hunt in Montana. The buck was 28 yards and when I let the string slip through my fingers, I knew that buck was mine. He was a big buck and I was bummed. What we learned from watching the video frame by frame is that I didn’t miss….well, I did but I didn’t. What I mean is my arrow flew right where I was looking. It was streaking its way toward the buck and would have hit the buck in the center of the lungs. The amazing thing to watch on slow motion was that the buck wasn’t there when the arrow got there. So I missed, but I kinda didn’t…see what I mean? It was like when my dad was trying to spank me one day when I was little. He tried to hit me on the bottom but I was jumping around and he smacked me on the back of the leg. He missed, but he didn’t either if ya know what I mean. Missing that buck stung almost as bad.
Fortunately, my arrow flew harmlessly over the bucks back taking a few hairs with it on the way. We aired the footage to show people how fast a whitetail can be. What I learned the next day is that another bowhunter had missed that same big buck a few days before I did. I watched the footage over and over and the simple fact was that my arrow would have nailed him if he would have just held still. Problem is, almost all animals react to the sound of a bow. Some more than others. In reviewing footage of over forty whitetails I have taken on video, it is the exception to the rule when one doesn’t react. Some just flinched, others turned inside out. I often wonder how many fellow hunters out there have just thought they missed a whitetail when they may have made a perfect shot but the animal just wasn’t there when the arrow arrived.
Whitetails in my opinion are one of the toughest things to harvest with a traditional bow. Just because they are so fast. It seems hard pressured whitetails are the worst. I shot a nice buck in Texas on a pressured ranch that I actually would have missed if he wouldn’t have ducked into the arrow. I was forewarned to shoot at the brisket because the deer were so spooky. As it was I shot to just miss the buck low and he dropped so fast I caught the top of the lungs.
I had another buck in Iowa that had come into my grunt call. He spotted something he didn’t like in my tree. “Pretty sure it was the camera” and he decided to head back out where he came from. The shot was close to thirty yards and the buck dropped when he heard my bow. I was lucky and my arrow struck him in the spine dropping him on the spot. In watching the video had the buck not ducked it would have been a good shot.
Although in my experience more often than not whitetails react to the shot, some don’t at all. I shot a nice whitetail in Colorado a few years ago that was about the same twenty five to thirty yard range that didn’t even flinch when I shot until the arrow went through his chest.
I have tried my best to gauge reactions by watching video of whitetails getting shot or shot at. From my experience it seems whitetails are less likely to react on loud days or in a loud environment where the noise from a bowstring is muted. For example on windy or rainy days, or if your set-up is close to a loud creek, river or even a road. Oftentimes bucks that are following does or rutted up are slow to react to a bowstring as well. I used to believe that deer that were in a calm state were slower to react, but slow motion video has repeatedly shown me that they can react just as quickly. Nothing is guaranteed but a calm deer is always your best bet, just don’t hang your hat on it. On longer shots where the deer doesn’t sense an immediate danger they also seem to react less. The problem with this is the increased chances for a marginal hit.
In my observations situations where deer are more likely to react include, quiet days where sound really travels. Also deer that are traveling by themselves are usually more likely to react immediately to sound. Deer that are nervous or that may have gotten your wind or that have been pushed by other hunters or predators are also more likely to react to the string. Also like my hunt in Texas, if the deer are pressured a lot you can count on them doing the old duck and roll almost everytime.
As for me with whitetails, I try and keep my shots twenty yards and in and I still aim at the bottom third of the chest so I am still in the vitals if they start to react.
The advantage to a traditional bow for whitetails is that longbows are usually extremely quiet and recurves that are tuned properly are not far behind them.
The video research I have done has shown me that the first reaction is for a deer to drop down to load its muscles to run. That is why most missed shots go high. To test this or just to have fun try videoing yourself. Start from a standing position or walking and suddenly try to run. You will see on the video that you will have to drop down a foot or more to engage your muscles before you can move quickly. The next reaction a deer makes after going down and sometimes while dropping is too whirl away from the sound. It is these two quick reactions to an unnatural sound that cause the most misses on whitetail deer.
Next time you are out whitetail hunting try keeping the shots close and low and I hope you can bring home the whitetail of your dreams. And if it is a doe, more power to you. I think they are more of a challenge than a rut stupid buck anyway.