Scanning the country ahead I was desperate to find the sika stag again after a hind lured him away and into the high tussock. In the distance an antler betrayed its position and Greg Duley and I hurriedly headed for it. I was cutting it fine, an afternoon hunt on the last day of a 5 day trip. The trip to date had been testing. I had been close on a number of occasions but I had been unable to close the deal. Fifteen minutes later as I eased my bow back into the valley I realised I may only be seconds away from achieving my goal, to shoot a sika stag.

The story of how I got to be a full draw started a year earlier after an exciting but unsuccessful three day trip after sika.  Returning home I decided to target a sika stag, preferably an eight-pointer. This would be my goal over the next 12 months. Having determined the goal I then had to plan the steps to achieving it. You need to have a specific pathway to achieve a goal and there will be several steps, “mini-goals”, to complete along the way.

I broke down my goal into the elements I needed, fitness, equipment/ shooting and hunting area.

You must write your goals down to help them become reality. In the case of my goal to shoot a sika stag I had laid out several steps. I wrote these down on a piece of paper which I kept beside my bed. I would look at them each night to reinforce what my goals were and cross them off as I completed them.

It is also important to leave notes stating these goals around the places you will see daily, work and home. Good places to leave notes around the house are on the fridge, next to your bed and in the room where most guys spend a lot of time reading, the toilet.

Your steps will change and need to be redefined, shooting better than expected, running faster than anticipated as examples.

Selecting a hunting area was the least complex of all of my mini-goals, I was fortunate enough to be able to book five days in April around the roar on Ngamatea Station, instead of three, giving me more time in the field. Deer can be very uncooperative when you are trying to kill them.

The more complex areas involved my fitness and shooting skills (under shooting skills can also be bracketed equipment).

Fitness goals may be to complete a run within a certain time, run a certain distance or squat a particular weight ten times. Running for example you may start out by wanting to run a particular distance without stopping, 10k for instance. After you have completed this goal then the next step would be to complete the run within a certain time. As you get fitter you will find you may wish to run more often, run further or faster.

One of the unique things with the bow is the shooter is the one who supplies the energy to propel an arrow. As well as this you have to be able to direct this energy to the right spot. Consequently a substantial portion of achieving a bowhunting goal must be devoted to your shooting.

I have to work at my archery: it has never come easy, so having shooting goals has always been very important to me.

Shooting wise you can start out with a simple mini-goal of getting five out of five arrows into a 6 inch circle at 20 yards (your effective range). As with the running example as you achieve the first goal then you need to target (excuse the pun) a higher standard of performance and/or achievement so you can go to the next level. To be able to do this your equipment must be up to it and your technique solid. Assuming your equipment is ok then your technique and ability to repeat it is what you will need to work on.

 In this case my shooting goal was quite ambitious, to win the Massey Safari. This is one of the major New Zealand tournaments, a prestigious two day shoot held in the last weekend in February.

While it was an event I have previously won I had to get all of my ducks in a row to do so. The shoot attracts a top field with between 80-90 competitors. My decision to select this event was two-fold, its timing in late February which would mean I would be on schedule for a roar hunt and the competition would be tough so my mental game would need to be strong.

The tournament was a blend of standard targets, standing in one spot and shooting one arrow and specialty targets which are a mix of timed, multi-arrow and moving targets. The idea behind the specialty targets is to simulate conditions experienced by bowhunters in the field. To score well on both types of targets a shooter needs to be accomplished across a broad range of shooting skills.

 Having won the tournament before helped decide my preparation for it. I broke this mini-goal into bite sized pieces.

Shooting form (which itself was broken down into a shot sequence), loading arrow quickly, loading an arrow after a run, shooting multiple arrows within a certain time without compromising accuracy. Extending my effective range out to 50 yards and to have a strong mental game. To work on my mental game I got as many images of the 3-D targets being used for the Safari as I could to study the score zones and imagining my arrows driving into the centre of the scoring zone. At the same time I also found photos of sika stags. You must have a good understanding of the animal you are going after and know where to shoot them. My main source of these photos was from hunting magazines but the internet can also provide some excellent images. The images I choose where all of stags in body positions which offered good shot angles, side-on and quartering away. I cut these out and stuck these onto card and studied them daily.

As with the 3D target images I would look to where I wanted my arrow to go, imagine the bow being shot, hearing it fire, seeing the arrow hit the animal, hearing the arrow hit the animal. Conditioning my mind to doing it before it happens.

My preparation went well and I was pleasantly surprised to win the Massey Safari. This was a bonus but in the overall scheme of things it was only the completion of one step (albeit a major one) towards my main goal. More important than winning was to have every shot I fired to be a surprise release, not knowing when the shot would go off. This was important as when the moment came when I had to shoot at a stag I wanted everything to be automatic. Every shot at the tournament had been a surprise release. Successful completion of these goals gave me an enormous amount of confidence for my forthcoming hunt.

Now it was early March, four weeks before my trip and I was well on track, I was bow fit and shooting well out to 50 yards with broadheads.  With my shooting, equipment and fitness achieved all that was left to do was to get a couple of hunts in before April. I tend to trip over my feet, everything actually first time out so it’s good for me to get used my hunting gear again and make sure it is doing what is supposed to.

Running towards the antler my excitement grew and heart raced (it wasn’t just the running causing this).

Greg and I had spotted the stag half an hour earlier, a 7 pointer, not the eight I was after but a sika stag no less. This would be our last hunt for the trip so I was happy to have an opportunity in front of me.

Dropping into the cover of a gut carved out by a small stream we were soon close to the stag. Through the gaps in the tussock a movement was spotted, the hind.  A few more tense steps later and I could see the stag, hind and her fawn feeding between the tussock 35 yards ahead. The hind was a few yards ahead of the stag, both were side-on facing to my left. Her head was right in line with the back of his lungs. To hit them I would need to place an arrow in front of her nose.

The pins floated over the stag’s lungs and the shot just “went off”. Perfect. The hind stood there stunned as the arrow flew past her mere inches away and connected with the stag. He leapt in the air like a cut cat before vanishing into the deep tussock. The blood trail was good and soon I had my hands on the 7 pointer which turned out to be an eight, a small inner was hidden from view each time we saw him. I was over the moon; my goal setting had paid off making me push myself to achieve what I had set out to do.

You may achieve more, you may achieve less than your goal but chances are you will achieve far more by having a goal than not. The following year I went back to Ngamatea and had a beautiful eight-pointer on the ground after the first hour of hunting. Goal setting certainly makes a difference.

Shot Placement: Quartering Away

Many consider the side-on shot the perfect angle to shoot an animal at. My preference though is for a quartering-away shot. It has several advantages over the classic side-on position. For me I like it as there is minimal resistance to an arrow entering the ribcage, a plus for low poundage shooters like myself. You are not at risk of hitting a solid leg bone with this shot and the skin is thinner here as well with only ribs to cut through.

It is also the shot angle which gives you the maximum amount “error” with your shot. You can be high/low, left or right of your mark and still penetrate the lungs. On a side-on shot you have the near front leg as a reference point but when the game is quartering away you need to use both of them.

What I like to do is imagine a sphere which fits in between the two front legs with its centre evenly positioned between them and one third of the way up the chest.  In the photo of the red hind and fawn the “X” on the fawn is the exact spot I would want my arrow to go.

The fawn is at the near perfect angle. If the angle is particularly steep then an arrow can be deflected along the outside of the ribcage. To prevent this place your arrow in behind the ribcage.

It is not uncommon to have your arrow pass through the stomach first. The sound of the dreaded “plop” of the arrow hitting it can be misleading. It becomes further disconcerting when you recover your arrow and see it covered in green stuff. Don’t be alarmed if you see this thinking you’ve done a poor shot. Stomach matter sticks to your arrow much better than blood. If your arrow does go through the stomach first then more than likely the entry hole will be blocked by it. This means your blood trail will only be from the exit hole. The good thing here is there is almost always one on a quartering away shot. Another big plus with this shot is it is so much easier to draw your bow without being detected as the animal is facing away from you. Even better if its head is buried in tucker like the fawn and hind have.

Recovery is usually assured with the quartering away shot as a broadhead is able to make a longer cut through the lungs compared with a side-on shot. This brings the animal down just a little quicker.

The hind is almost side-on but the chest is lower to the ground as she feeds. Having her front leg back/chest forward also gives the appearance you should aim further back. It pays to take as much time as possible to look at the body position of an animal. You can allow yourself to be deceived if you look but do not see.

Shot Placement: Side On

Correct shot placement is essential for any hunter to kill an animal. Bowhunters have fewer options than their rifle carrying counterparts, head and neck shots are out and front on shots are considered high risk. A broadhead kills an animal by initially causing it to faint through a lack of blood pressure then by the animal’s lungs filling with blood or internal bleeding. The place with the highest concentration of blood vessels is the area in the chest where the heart and lung are housed. The most sought after shot is a double lung. With holes through both lungs an animal only has seconds to live.

Where to place an arrow on an animal has always seemed to be quite logical, just behind the front leg to avoid all those heavy leg bones and joints, right? Actually this is quite wrong. This belief is a myth. Looking at the anatomy of a deer it is clear to see the leg bones cover a tiny portion of the lungs and only on the lower front edge. Ribs are the only thing protecting the heart and lungs and these are no match for a razorsharp broadhead.

“X marks the spot where I would want to see the arrow go. Despite it looking forward it is right on the money”

Aiming behind the front leg is something which has been drummed into me for years by bowhunters both here and overseas. All the printed literature I ever saw described aiming points and showed vital organs in the middle of the animal and “behind” that front leg. Remarkably this is anatomically incorrect. Why has this misinformation been accepted as gospel?

One of the reasons this “myth” may have gained credibility is from a line I read in the 1968 edition of the “Archers Bible” by the legendary Fred Bear. In it he says “It is general knowledge an arrow through the ribcage will kill a deer”. Fred Bear was particularly influential and if this comment represented the views held by bowhunters at the time then it is understandable why this has perpetuated over the years.

The notion of choosing a spot behind the front leg has always proved to be problematic and lacking in consistency. How far back should you aim? 25mm, 50mm, 75mm, more, less or in between?

Another factor making it difficult to choose the right spot is most big game species are relatively monotone, lacking any distinctive aiming points. Some Fallow are bowhunter friendly being two-tone in almost the correct spot but everything else offers no assistance.

So where is the right spot to aim for a side-on shot? Not counting the breast plate a deer has 12 ribs and the perfect spot to pass an arrow through is between the 3rd and 4th ribs. This places you in the centre of the lungs just above the heart. Now unless the animal is in poor condition you will not able to see the ribs let alone count them. Fortunately all deer have a feature to allow you to exactly determine this exact spot, its front leg.

With the front leg straight the centre of it lines up with the gap between the 3rd and 4th ribs. Just go one third of the way up the chest, an arrow through this point delivers certain death.

“This drawing clearly shows the centre of the lungs being between the 3rd and 4th ribs”

Article by Kevin Watson

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