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Thoughts, opinions, and hunting tips.

Bowhunting and archery have been a focus of my life for more than 50 years. For 35 of those years, I have been involved in writing about and teaching these wonderful sports. In this column, depending on your perspective, I am going to be foolish or brave. Whenever I cover a number of subjects, not everyone agrees with my position on every issue. To make matters worse, some of the subjects I plan to address here are a bit controversial. Nonetheless, I hope the majority of you find these comments helpful and refreshing.

1. The number of bowhunters who take unethical shots or conduct themselves poorly surprises me. In addition, some are foolish enough to show or tell the world about their questionable behavior.

At a recent show, in a respectable company's booth, a continuous video loop was playing that showed a fellow shooting an elk in an extreme quartering-forward position. A friend who is associated with that business asked me to say something to the person in charge because he felt that the footage presented a poor image for bowhunting and for the company. He was right, and I decided to honor his request. To his credit, the decision maker of that company was gracious, thanked me, and said that other folks had mentioned the same problem. He went on to assure me the footage would be removed.

Later, as I walked by that same booth, the shooter from the video engaged me in a conversation. Trying to defend himself, he said that his arrow had hit two limbs. I guess that was supposed to make the shot seem less objectionable, but the fact that he tried to shoot through obstacles made the shot even worse. He went on to say that, after all, he had been lucky, and the shot killed the elk quickly. His attitude made it obvious that the result was more important to him than the ethics behind the shot.

While bowhunting provides greater thrills and more satisfaction than most other forms of hunting, I certainly don't think it is, nor should it become, an elitist sport. On the other hand, our chosen equipment does require of us a high level of restraint and responsibility. If each of us takes the time to address ethical issues when they come to our attention, we can help the sport of bowhunting.

2. We bowhunters possess a wide variety of abilities and preferences. In addition, we often have differing points of view. Still, we must be careful not to act like antihunters. If we don't care to hunt mountain lions with dogs, bears over bait, or, for that matter, deer over corn, that's great; but we should defend the rights of those who do--as long as they hunt legally and ethically.

I know people who have the strength, ability, and equipment to bowhunt elephants humanely. However, the vast majority of us do not possess the desire, strength, or skill. Unfortunately, I've seen those who do not possess the needed qualities try to stop all others from participating in the endeavor. Their arrogance must prevent them from realizing that others, through greater desire, better equipment, and superior physical strength, can accomplish feats that they cannot. I sometimes wonder why such detractors don't have the same attitude toward other sports, say football. Only a tiny percentage of football players ever make the pro ranks. Why is it okay for a few gifted ball players to reach the elite level, when it's not okay for gifted bowhunters?

Again, as long as hunters obey the laws, conduct themselves in an ethical manner, and do not damage the resource, they should be permitted to reach any level their abilities will justify, and they should be applauded for it, not torn apart. Applying that to the point here, if we try to stop others from participating in a legal and helpful activity, we are, in many ways, mimicking the antihunters we so despise for their lack of knowledge and understanding. Unfortunately, some hunters come awfully close to playing both sides of the court on certain issues.

The magnitude of our antihunting problem again struck me on a recent trip to British Columbia. My host told me about numerous guests who had entered his home and then criticized him for hunting and displaying his trophies. I cannot think of another case where visitors would have the audacity to enter a host's home and then question his partaking in a legal and healthy activity. Hunting seems to be a stand-alone subject in this regard, and that's a shame. As hunters, we must be careful never to cross to the antihunting side of the fence.

3. Shot placement continues to be a confusing bowhunting issue worldwide. This year alone, I arranged trips to southern Africa for about 50 bowhunters. In fact, I am in Africa as I pen this column. As in years past, I have studied many of the animals my hunters have shot. A few animals escaped, and many traveled less than 100 yards after being shot. lust as it has happened previously, the majority of those animals that traveled short distances were hit tight behind the shoulder, one-third of the way up the chest, while standing broadside.

To educate bowhunters on proper shot placement, I send all my African clients specific information on the subject. Unfortunately, that information has not helped folks nearly as much as I had hoped.

Shot placement involves two major issues: 1) where to aim (body angles must be considered), and 2) accurate shooting.

Where to aim is straightforward and simple. As implied above, you should shoot for a spot one-third of the way up from the bottom of the chest, extremely tight behind the front leg--assuming the leg is straight down when the animal is standing broadside. On quartering-away shots, aim at the same height and at the front of the offside front leg. When hit in either of these "sweet spots" animals usually go down in short order. That's true for both North American and African animals.

For the last hour and a half, I have been out with a professional hunter recovering another African animal. Three common shot-placement issues were in play on this recovery effort. First, the client misjudged the location of the hit by nearly a foot. He said that the arrow hit in the crease, tight behind the shoulder, but after the recovery we found that it had actually hit about 12 inches behind the shoulder crease. Second, the hunter thought the animal was standing broadside when he shot; fortunately, the animal was quartering away. These two mistakes (shooting accuracy and perception of the body angle) canceled each other out in this case, and the hit turned out to be perfect.

As in the above case, bowhunters frequently misjudge an animal's body angle at the time of the shot. By overlooking this critical point, they often shoot animals standing at a variety of quartering-forward angles, which, on all but the smallest of animals, are bad shot angles. Moreover, when animals are quartering-away, hunters often fail to adjust their aim for this ethical but more complex shot.

The third issue this story raises is that animals shot from the quartering-away position often travel a bit farther than those shot when standing perfectly broadside. The above-mentioned animal traveled about 150 yards, even with the perfect quartering-away hit.

When you see hundreds of animals shot with broadheads, as I have, you find that scenarios repeat themselves. For example, I have found that a vast majority of errant arrows (bad hits) strike high and far back. Simply being aware of this propensity, and then taking an extra second to double-check your aiming point just before release, will ensure far more perfect hits.

4. In bowhunting circles, broadheads are always a popular topic. The market includes many great broadheads and some very poor models. This fact aside, I think many bowhunters attempt to make up for shooting mistakes by searching for some super-duper broadhead. Yes, broadhead quality is critical, but no broadhead, no matter how good, will make up for poor shot placement.

The most critical broadhead topic is sharpness. "Razor sharp" is the standard term applied to this issue. Actually, it is an accurate description. By simply feeling the blade of a brand new shaving razor, you can make an accurate comparison. Most important, I find that truly razor sharp broadhead blades result in shorter and better blood trails. Unfortunately, many bowhunters do not maintain, or even start with, razor sharp broadhead blades.

In reality, this is another serious ethical issue, and every bowhunter should strive to keep broadheads razor sharp at all times. Additionally, we all should continually try to educate others about this important subject.

5. If I could make just two recommendations to help bowhunters shoot more accurately, they would be:

* Shorten draw length. Without a doubt, pro shops and individuals are becoming more aware of the problems associated with excessive draw length. Still, I would say at least half of today's compound-toting bowhunters would improve accuracy by shortening draw length from one-half inch to a full inch.

* Learn to shoot thumb and back-tension release aids well. At least occasionally, most bowhunters shooting modern equipment suffer from target panic problems when they exclusively shoot index-finger release aids. Learning to shoot thumb and back-tension release styles correctly will help almost every archer shoot better and gain greater knowledge of proper bow-shooting technique.

While archery and bowhunting are the focus of my life, I fitly understand that for many of you, these are simply recreational sports. That's fine, but because we're dealing with the lives of animals, and because we're constantly under the microscope of public scrutiny, we must all maintain the highest possible legal and ethical standards and help educate others to do the same.

By Dave Holt, Technical Editor
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Title Annotation:Modern Bowhunting
Author:Holt, Dave
Date:Mar 1, 2007
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