One of the most common reasons bowhunters miss opportunities to take an animal
is because of the excitement of being close to their quarry. “Target
Panic” or “Buck Fever” may cause them to forget completely
the fundamentals of shooting and miss the shot. Planning a shot strategy before
the animal arrives increases the chance of taking game. Shot strategy, which
involves determining possible pick-off points and shot angles in a given hunting
area, can be accomplished best through visualization and simulated practice.
Visualize and Practice Your Strategy
Mentally run through all the likely routes the game animal may take and identify exactly where and when you’ll take your shot if the animal comes from the left, from the right, from behind, or in front of you. Take a few practice shots,
and log the distance to each spot. Your shot strategy will help you concentrate
on making a good hit when the moment actually arrives.
Choose the Proper Shot Angle
The shot angle is the angle at which the animal is standing in relation to
the bowhunter. Knowing which angles offer the most effective—and least
effective—shots is an essential part of being a responsible bowhunter.
This angle gives the best shot for the largest big game animals: elk, moose, caribou,
buffalo, musk ox, grizzly bear, polar bear, brown bear, and Kodiak
The heavy hair and thick hide of these animals tend to absorb blood
and close wounds. As a result, both an entry and an exit wound are
necessary to cause sufficient blood loss for trailing and death.
the thickness of their chests, a broadside shot offers the shortest
distance through the animal’s chest cavity.
This is the best angle for a double-lung hit.
For most big game, the aiming spot is straight up from the back side of the front leg, one third of the way up from the bottom of the chest.
To avoid hitting the shoulder blade, wait until the front leg is
For the best opportunity, wait until the animal looks the other way
or is feeding.
This angle offers a good opportunity for a killing shot on antelope,
white-tailed deer, mule deer, black bear, and other big game of similar
size or smaller.
The animal is usually looking away from the hunter.
The aiming spot will be farther back than with the broadside shot; the
exact spot varies depending on the degree to which the animal is quartering
away. The opposite front leg is a good reference point for the aiming point.
If the angle is too narrow, it may not be a good shot for larger
game such as elk and moose because their massive stomachs and intestines will
get in the way of a clean shot through the lungs or heart.
This angle offers a poor shot opportunity and should not be taken.
Heavy shoulder bones shield the majority of vital organs from penetration.
The animal is typically looking toward the hunter and will likely
spot the hunter’s movements.
Head-On and Rear-End
These angles offer very poor shot selection and should not be taken.
Heavy bones in front and muscle mass and non-vital organs in back
block penetration of the main vital areas.
Consider Your Location
The bowhunter’s location above or below the target presents additional
Above the Target
A tree stand or elevated platform offers good shot opportunities,
especially for the broadside and quartering-away shot angles.
As a bowhunter climbs higher, the vital area becomes a smaller target area because
the animal’s shoulder bone and spine shield more of the vital
The shooter needs to “bend at the waist” and not drop
the bow arm while at full draw. Often the reason a hunter misses when shooting from above is because the point of aim and impact has changed.
Below the Target
It’s possible to shoot from below the target, but it’s
not a high-percentage shot.
The aiming spot is lower on the body, and the sternum (chest bone)
may shield part of the heart at this angle.
Broadside—particularly a double-lung shot—and quartering
away offer the best shots.
The Risk of Long Shots
Although the average hunter has a maximum effective range of 30 yards,
most bowhunters shoot game from a much closer range. They know that the chance of wounding game increases as distance increases because:
It becomes more difficult to hit the vital areas
The arrow may be deflected by unnoticed brush
The longer the arrow is in the air, the greater the chance the animal will move
When bowhunting, you should never take a shot when a deer or other big game is looking at you because it is difficult to remain undetected when drawing your bow.