If you have spent much time hunting from a treestand or hunting in hilly or mountainous terrain, you have probably watched your arrow sail over the top of a buck or bulls’ back. The truth is one of the most common mistakes bowhunters make is misjudging angled shots.
Most of us do the majority of our practicing from level ground when gravity is tugging at our arrow from the moment it is released from the bow. Our bows are sighted in at 20, 30 and 40 yards based on the amount of gravity that tugs at our arrow at level ground. The problem is when we shoot at extreme angles, it changes everything. Gravity has less of an effect on an arrow when it is shot at an angle so even though the line of sight to a target is 40 yards—if you are shooting at an extreme angle you need to shoot the animal as if it was really only 30 yards. The horizontal distance to the animal in steep terrain can be less than the line of sight distance.
Using the wrong pin on purpose can be a nerve-racking thing, especially the first few times you do it. But, with practice, learning to compensate when shooting uphill or downhill gets easier. When in doubt, the rule of thumb is to aim low if you are shooting uphill or downhill but there are a few ways to ensure you hit your mark every time.
Use a New Rangefinder
Many experienced archers who hunted before advanced range finders were available used a mathematical equation to determine the steepness of a slope to be able to determine the exact yardage they needed to aim for when shooting at elk, mountain goats or mule deer that live in steep terrain. Lucky for us, modern day range finders do the work for us. In the last few years, a few companies have developed range finders that take the angle of the terrain into consideration when they give you a read out.
Old range finders gave you line of sight distance and didn’t calculate the angle of the terrain into the equation. I have a Nikon range finder that comes with ID technology. The ID technology provides an accurate read of the proper aiming distance, not the line of sight distance. Some may be thinking that it can’t make much of a difference, but in my testing with an old rangefinder and a new one with id technology, the difference can be great enough to cause you to hit an animal several inches high and wound it instead of killing it.
It is not uncommon in steep hunting conditions for the id rangefinder to give a reading five yards or more of a difference than a regular range finder. If you plan on using an old rangefinder, realize that when taking angled shots, you must aim low because although your rangefinder says it is 30 yards it might be 23 or 24 yards.
Practice and Hunt
Your sight pins can also be affected by hunting in high-altitude conditions. At high altitudes, the air is thinner, thus your arrows will hit high every time. Couple that with steep-angled shots taken from a mountain and you will hit even higher. To fix this problem, shoot a few practice arrows when you reach your hunting location and adjust your pins accordingly. I’m always surprised when I hit my mark every time in Michigan and the same setup hits a few inches high in Colorado. It only takes a few minutes to fix the problem and save yourself the headache that comes with missing or wounding an animal.
If you rarely travel to the mountains to hunt at high elevations, you still need to worry about the effects of gravity on your arrow. If you hunt whitetails in the Midwest, you probably practice in your backyard and hunt from an elevated treestand. You will have the same problem as the guy hunting in the mountains which is why many pros tell you to bend at the waist and use proper form when shooting at a deer from a treestand.
I hear a lot of hunters say aim low. Many hunters who miss a deer at 20 or 30 yards from a treestand shoot over the top of a bucks’ back because they miscalculated the distance because of the angle of the shot or because they didn’t bend at the waist, which results in proper shooting form. Shooting off the side of a mountain or a treestand twenty feet in a tree is entirely different than shooting on the ground in your backyard.
As they say, practice makes perfect. One way to solve the problem is to practice on side hills and from a treestand. My dad always screwed on a few judo points and shot at stumps in the sand dunes near our home when I was growing up. If you don’t have an angle-compensating rangefinder, practicing in hilly or mountainous terrain will help you greatly because when the hunting season arrives, you will know how low you need to aim. Practicing in hilly terrain and having a good range finder will make you even more deadly.
The same is true for treestand hunters. Each morning before I leave my treestand, I take a shot at a nearby leaf. This allows me to perfect my form, bending at the waist and shooting at a steep angle like I would if a deer was standing there. If you hit above the leaf, you know you need to practice more.
Last but not least, use a sight that has a bubble level. When hunting on unlevel ground or from a treestand, it is easy to think your bow is perfectly straight up and down with no torque but often your bow is tilted slightly when hunting off the ground or on steep terrain. A little bubble level will tell you if you are tilting the bow slightly. A sight with a bubble level makes you that much more accurate at that moment of truth.
With a good rangefinder and plenty of practice shooting at stumps and leaves in the woods, making steep angled shots will be fairly easy.