Outdoor Articles

Understanding Arrow Placement and Kill Shots

by Wil Askew on September 27th, 2007 in Bow Hunting

Bull’s eye!

That’s what we want to call out after we feel the recoil of an arrow leaving our bow and finding its mark.

However, there is much more involved to hitting your mark than simply tossing a broad-head or two during hunting season.

One way to achieve the perfect shot is to practice.


Not all of us have the time or resources to attend every 3D-archery shoot in the state, but many of us do have a local archery shop or property that is equipped with an adequate shooting area of 20 yards or more.

This is where you can spend quality time in the offseason, fine-tuning your equipment and, most important of all, building your shot placement confidence.

Some bowhunters will shoot at a hay bale no more than a few feet away just to get their muscles accustomed to the tension of pulling back a bowstring.

Twenty or thirty times a day, they practice not on distance but merely form and release.

More often than not your back is creaking more than the limbs on your bow.

Many times the equipment is performing its task. Your bow is sighted in, but you have not shot an arrow since last hunting season.

A bad shot may be result of poor shooting form rather than equipment failure.

It’s only fair to the game animal you plan to hunt to make sure your archery tackle and shooting skills can perform a quick and lethal shot to ensure good penetration and a quick recovery.

Besides, every archer needs to knock the dust off the bow from time to time.

I try to take advantage of every 3-D shoot or course that time allows. For an average of 10 dollars you can shoot a round of 40 or more targets.

Shot scenarios are usually set up to resemble actual hunting situations, including brush, limbs, rocks and other natural barriers that you’re likely to experience when drawing back on an actual animal in the field.

During a typical year my family and I travel to fifteen or more shoots throughout the Pacific Northwest and northern California.

By shooting all year, I build up my distance-judging skills and shot confidence, by far the most important parts of being able to take the perfect shot.

Another key thing to consider are shot angles, bone structure and anatomy of the animal that you’re about to harvest. Just because you put a hole in an animal does not necessarily mean that it is going to perish quickly or even at all.

I have been on both sides of the scenario. Sometimes you make a shot and the animal expires within 30 yards, if not less.

And sometimes, you make a shot, it looks good, there’s plenty of sign and you track the animal for hours only to find it hundreds of yards from where you made the hit.

If you hunt primarily from a treestand, you may want to do some practice from an elevation that is equal to your stand.

At extreme angles of 30 degrees or more, distance is often cut in thirds or even half.

Many treestand hunters practice on the ground and then find themselves shooting over the back of an animal even at a mere 10 yards.

At that angle you have pretty much eliminated the arc that is formed when shooting level.

For a 20-yard shot you would use a 20-yard pin. At 4 or 5 yards, you would use your 50 or 60-yard pin.

You are closer to your target, thus eliminating the arc completely.

Another key factor to consider when hunting is to stay focused. Shooting at foam deer or elk is completely different than the real thing.

One thing I try to do is pick one spot on the animal. Look for an area where the hair might be scruffed or parted. Focus entirely on that spot.

Once I draw back, I look for that spot and then settle the pin on it.

Relaxing, I squeeze the trigger of my release and hold my bow in place until the arrow makes contact with the animal.

Focusing on the shot and not on the size of the animal will help calm your nerves as well.

Being aware of the bone structure on animals is key.

Bones on a deer are not as dense, and with today’s modern archery equipment, you are more likely to penetrate a shoulder blade of a deer.

Elk on the other hand are much larger and the shoulder bone resembles more of a steel plate than an easily penetrated object.

On an elk you definitely want a broadside shot. There’s less obstruction and the chances of getting a pass-through are much greater with this shot.

If your target is walking broadside, try to make the shot as the leg moves forward.

The vitals on an elk are pretty generous, giving a little room for error.

A clean double lung shot with a razor-sharp broadhead will put your prize on the ground in no time.

A shot that is quartering towards you is definitely one you don’t want to try. Let the animal turn broadside before releasing your arrow.

On a quartering-away shot where the animal is facing away, basically look through the animal and pretend you’re going to shoot it in the opposite shoulder.

This will place your arrow through the vitals and usually put the animal down quickly.

Depending on how confident you feel about your shot placement, you should always give the animal at least half an hour, maybe more if you think you may have hit it a little further back than you would prefer.

Giving the animal time to expire will keep it from spooking and running further than planned.

Also it gives you time to settle down and realize what just happened.

Take your time and don’t pursue a wounded animal right after the shot.

A well-hit animal can travel hundreds of yards if spooked. Stunned and confused they usually won’t travel too far.

However, if they see a hunter, they are more inclined to head for the farthest ridge.

To help get the “perfect shot,” you might use a range finder. A pocket-sized range finder has greatly increased my confidence and shooting ability.

When I find myself in a set-up situation, I can easily reach into a side compartment and one-handedly pull out the range finder and get the precise distance (plus or minus 1 yard) at any given time.

I never step into the woods without one anymore.

Find one the fits your needs and your budget as well — it could easily be one of the best archery investments you will ever make.

Again, the best way to get the “perfect shot” is simple — practice, practice, practice.

Spend some time tuning both your equipment and your skills. Soon you will feel confident every time you take to the woods to hit the bull’s eye. 
Practice at your local 3-D range or even in your backyard will greatly increase your confidence in your ability to make the shot when it counts.

The author shot at this elk target five or six different times at different angles, keeping in mind the best places to hit the animal for a quick recovery. 

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