Shot Placement and Arrow Lethality

This setup comes to 822g with 400g of point weight.

Buckle up. Its the main event. A match for the ages.

I’m not even going to pretend to hide my bias here. I believe in heavy hunting arrows, FOC, and Ashby’s 12 points of penetration. Does my current setup meet all of the points? No, but I am very close, with 10 out of the 12 checked. (I’ll be looking at single bevel heads in 2019).

I want a passthrough whenever possible. Two holes are better than one, even if the one is wide. When placed in the correct spot at an optimal time, this goal will be achieved with most setups, even those of a sub-optimal formula. But what if that doesn’t happen? What if the wild, unpredictability of nature should interfere with our perfect scenario? We are hunting wild game in a wild element after all.

My very first deer fell to a passthrough at 25 yards. I was shooting a 2117 aluminum with a 145g broadhead that was nowhere near as sharp as it could have been. Still, it whipped through the hide, slipped through the ribs, and deflated both lungs before landing in the snow on the other side. The red spray was intoxicating. There was electricity in the air and pride in my heart. I would’ve written the greatest broadhead testimonial the bowhunting world had ever seen had it been requested at the moment. And it would’ve had to have been at that moment. A second doe crossed my path minutes later; and while I repeated the action — the results were different.

She was closer — 10 yards away — but knew something was amiss. We played the game hunters play with wary deer. I was waiting for my moment. She was waiting for my movement. I was young and new to the game. I knew little of shooting at spooked deer and a broadside target at ten yards proved too good to pass up. I was going to tag out my first season afield — with a longbow no less.

Things went as you might expect. I released, she spun, and the arrow caught her in the shoulder. The impact was enough to put her to the ground, but 4″ of penetration wasn’t enough to finish the job. She got back up, shook off my arrow, and ran to parts unknown.

Now let’s address the elephant in the room. My shot placement was incorrect and the situation was not ideal. This doe was spooked having seen the aftermath of my first kill. She knew I was there but was curious enough to linger. While I feel I should have aimed lower or passed on the shot altogether, the results would have been different with an arrow that was optimized for penetration. I am almost certain the shot would have been lethal. Despite my error in judgement, a sharper broadhead with a tanto point, and at least 200g of additional weight would have made a big difference.

That being said, I do not condone advocating for heavy, weight-forward setups as an excuse for practicing poor shot placement or bad woodsmanship. That is silly and no ethical traditionalist is doing that.

 

All bowhunters strive for optimal shot placement. If they do not, they shouldn’t be bowhunters. It is that simple. As Isaac Jestus stated in episode 20 of the Traditional outdoors podcast, proper shot placement should be assumed. This is why the shot placement argument is met with such animosity when brought up in conversation. It is inherently offensive to an archer. You are basically telling them to “shoot better”.
Arrow lethality is a failsafe that we can all practice with a little bit of education and tuning. It is not an excuse to shoot poorly. It never was. Ed Ashby conducted research for us to do what we do in a more effective way. He never said “go forth and shoot shoulders”.
On the other side of the spectrum, it isn’t necessary to force opinions and make people feel foolish either. As Todd Smith expressed, “When people tell me something is working for them, I tell them to stick with it.” Bingo. Guys like Todd and Isaac are willing to educate, not judge. This is the proper approach. You are never going to convince someone to try something new by ridiculing what they are already doing. It doesn’t work in politics. It doesn’t work in religion. And it isn’t going to work in bowhunting.
I think we could all take a step back from the keypad and think about how we are communicating with each other. It would be better for the community overall.
For those who are interested in the Traditional Outdoors episode I am referring to, click here. If you are interested in arrow lethality, check out the Ashby Reports. They are absolutely free and worthy of your time.

Humble Beginnings

My wife shooting her longbow at a 3D course.

The old buck approaches from the West and my heart races as I ready my bow to meet him. Leather-clad fingers meet waxed Dacron, as they search for smooth plastic. A cool morning breeze licks at my nose, chilling the sweat from the hike in. “So far so good.” I tell myself. “But you haven’t won anything yet, Nick.”

The old boy continues on at a strong November clip. His neck bulges with desire and purpose. My skin begins to goosebump. I count the yardage down by fives to keep my cool but know it is pointless. The antlers aren’t helping.

“Antlers…the old guys at the range told you not to look at those, Nick. They said you’d lose it if you did. Probably miss high.”

I chuckle at the advice, which is a bit like reminding someone not to look down while scaling a steep cliff. The thought takes the edge off, allowing me to gather myself in time to catch my target broadside near a patch of dogwood 15 yards away.

“Pick a spot, Nick. Thats what all the magazines say. Pick a spot, draw to anchor, and release. Its that simple.”

I find a crease behind the shoulder, focus on it, and begin to draw.

“Honey?! Are you still down there?”

The voice echoes down the stairwell and yanks me back to reality. It belongs to my wife Jessica who sounds less than enthusiastic about the track of time I’ve lost. I respond with a less than enthusiastic “yes”, as my fantasy buck dissipates into the basement walls. He wasn’t the first. He wouldn’t be the last.

This was a common interaction in 2009. I was obsessed with my new hobby but Jessica and I were living in a major city, which wasn’t supportive of it. Operating a weapon within city limits was against the law and my fences weren’t high enough to disguise the activity. Our 100-year-old home included a Michigan basement, which hardly qualified as such. It was basically a cellar and half of that space was an enormous furnace that looked and sounded like a monster when the lights were off. At 6’3″ I couldn’t stand or walk upright without hitting my head on the rafters, so shooting a bow was out of the question without adjustments. Since modifying the house was out of the question, I would need to adjust my shooting style.

I brought my longbow downstairs, knelt down on the cold concrete, and canted it just enough to clear the floor joists. It was awkward at first but I was comfortable enough to try an arrow after a few test draws. There were only seven yards from stairwell to target, but it didn’t matter. I couldn’t afford to drive 45 minutes to the nearest range multiple times a week and I couldn’t stop shooting my bow. I was committed to making it all work.

Some nights I crafted elaborate hunting scenarios like the one above. Others I concentrated on form and release — eyes closed in front of a cardboard box stuffed with an old blanket. There were nights I just read, learning everything I could from books, magazines, and forums. This was valuable time spent. All of it crucial to my bowhunting education.

I look back on those days with pride. They are proof that you can make something happen if you want it badly enough. But there is something else to glean from these humble beginnings and that is to remember what it is like to be new. This isn’t always easy to do for those of us who are now firmly entrenched in the archery lifestyle. We have a community around us. We have or know of places to shoot and land to hunt. We belong to organizations and have¬†shooting events on our calendars that span the entire summer.

In short, we have it figured out.

There are many who have not and we need to be patient with these people. We need to reach out to them and find a way to share our knowledge without being spiteful or annoyed. Recognizing how overwhelming traditional archery/bowhunting can be is the first step. Understanding that no two paths are the same is the second.¬† I still shoot with a fairly drastic cant due to all of those hours spent flinging arrows in my basement. I snapshoot and anchor to the side of my face because chronic hand pain from years of football will no longer allow a deep hook to the jaw. These are but two examples of why I shoot the way I do and I know I’m not alone.

The traditional way is individualistic in nature. We each have our own way of doing things, which was shaped from the parameters of our reality. It would do us all some good to go back to the beginning, remember what it was like to be new, and learn from the trip. It will change your perspective and make you smile in the process.

Thank you for reading. Please subscribe and share if you like what you see. If you enjoy podcasts about the archery, hunting, fishing, and all things outdoors, please check out and subscribe to the Traditional Outdoors podcast.