When to Draw Your Bow on Deer

By author of Brow Tines and Backstrap

Learning how to pull the string undetected is a critical bowhunting skill

I’ve been busted by more deer when drawing my bow than I care to admit. There was that double throat-patch stud six-pointer in 2008. The full-velvet nine-pointer in 2011. The muscled-up tank in 2014. I’ve learned my lesson well enough that it stuck, and I haven’t been busted by a deer during the draw in a long time, no matter how itchy I am to take the shot. The bottom line is there are times to draw your bow, and there are times when you absolutely should not. Fortunately, it’s usually a simple distinction.

Here are the best – and worst – times to ease that bowstring back.

Know when (and when not) to draw on a deer. (Bill Konway photo)

Draw When …

Their Head’s Obscured: The optimal time to draw is when a deer’s head is behind something solid, such as a tree trunk or rock. Wait patiently until its entire head is concealed, then draw.

You’re Well Concealed: Sitting in a ground blind? You can draw virtually any time if there’s a visual barrier between you and your prey.

They’re Focused on Something: Whitetails are curious animals. If your target deer is fixated on something else, that’s a great time to raise your bow and settle the pins. The one caveat is if the deer is distracted by other deer. More eyes mean more chances to spook something that also scares your intended target.

They’re Eating: If a deer’s head is down and it’s browsing comfortably, that’s a good time to draw. They can still see you then, but depending on the forage, food can sometimes block their field of view.

They’re Moving Quickly: When on the move, deer are generally focused on whatever is in front of them. Often you can get away with a lot of movement if the deer you’re after is in motion. The faster the deer is running, the better chance you have of drawing without giving yourself away.

They’re Looking Straight Away: Deer have a 50-degree blind spot behind their head. So if a deer has its head up but it’s your only opportunity, draw when it’s looking dead away from you.

Don’t Draw When …

They’re Alert: Any time a deer is alert is a terrible time to draw. If the head is in an upright, fixed position, hold still. Deer have a 310-degree field of view, and unless they’re looking dead away, chances are good they can see you.

They’re Drinking: I’ve had terrible luck drawing on deer that were drinking, especially if their body was pointed toward me, quartering to me, or broadside. Deer seem to keep their eyes on their food when eating but that’s not generally the case when drinking. Water sources are prime ambush points for predators, and deer coming in for a drink are alert. Even when their muzzle is submerged, their eyes are scanning for movement.

Their Head Isn’t Really Down: Only rookies fall victim to head-bobbing deer. If a deer puts its head down and acts like it’s busy, but glares in your direction, don’t move. It’s about to throw its head up and bust you mid-draw.

Don’t just pay attention to your target deer – keep other deer and animals in mind, too. Spook a non-target deer, turkey, squirrel or bird, and see what happens. It likely won’t end well.

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