If you’d looked up “gung-ho” in a dictionary about 10 years ago you would have seen a picture of me sitting on the edge of my treestand seat with my wrist-strap release clipped securely on the string waiting for a buck to show up. I was gung-ho. If there was any chance that a buck could possibly slip past me I wanted no part of it. What if the biggest buck of my life showed up quickly and I couldn’t get a shot before he was gone again? I couldn’t bear that possibility, so I sat for hours every day with my release clipped on the string – constantly on the edge of my seat waiting for the action to start.
Finally, one day in mid-November it actually paid off. I shot a big 8-pointer that gave me a total of about three seconds from first sighting until he was gone. He paused from chasing a doe for an instant in my shooting lane. It was enough. I hauled the string back, planted the pin and quickly triggered the shot just as the buck swapped ends to take off again.
I’ve mellowed with time. No, I don’t keep my release clipped on the string anymore, but I do hold a constant vigil over my ability to shoot quickly should the need arise. And it did again in 1998. I shot another really big 8-pointer about two seconds after I heard him running toward my stand from behind. He slowed for only a moment at 15 yards, but I had the pin on him. Being prepared to shoot fast is a worthy pursuit for any bowhunter looking for ways to increase his odds for success. Here are several things to consider when preparing for the quick draw.
1. Bow Placement
There is no question the best place to keep your bow is in your hand. If you’re sitting, it lays across your lap with the arrow nocked. If you’re standing, the bottom cam rests on your toe as you hold the upper limb in constant readiness. In this way, the bow is instantly available for a quick shot. However, keeping a bow in your hand all day is a real pain and can be cold work when the mercury dips.
There are several bow-holding systems on the market that will work to keep the bow handy yet still get it out of your hand. Realtree EZ Hangerz attach to the tree trunk above your head. They have an extension arm and a hook to hold the bow in a place that is most convenient. The hanger should be attached high enough that it doesn’t interfere with your ability to draw and shoot when standing. Of course, you can always use a short screw-in hook that holds the bow close to the tree and is always out of the way by virtue of its small size. These work fine when standing but don’t work well when seated.
Another form of bow holder is attached to the stand itself and holds the bow in front of you when seated. These work great when sitting but tend to be a bit inconvenient when you stand. A simple combination of two bow holders may work best: one attached to the side of the stand platform for use when sitting and a short screw-in bow holder for use when standing.
2. Quiver Placement
Without question, the best place to store your arrows for a fast follow-up shot is on your bow. There are three negatives associated with keeping your quiver on your bow, though. First, if it’s windy, a bow quiver makes the bow harder to hold steady when aiming. The arrows in the quiver create surface area that the wind can bear against and push your bow arm all over the forest. Second, a quiver attached to your bow changes its balance and can affect your shooting. Third, a bow quiver makes it tough to lay the bow across your legs while sitting on stand with an arrow nocked.
Assuming you take the quiver off, it’s important where you put it. Unless the arrows remain very accessible, there is little chance you’ll be able to get a second shot even if the animal gives you a few more seconds. The best way to stow your arrows is on the trunk of the tree off to your left side for a seated, right-handed hunter. I hang my quiver from a small hook that I screw into the tree. Some quiver manufacturers also make a bracket that screws into the tree that the quiver snaps into.
3. Quick-Draw Release Aids
You don’t want to sit all day locked to your bow like I did when I started hunting with a release aid. But you also want to be able to shoot fast if required. As always, there are tradeoffs involved. I still use a wrist-strap caliper release for hunting and make a quick move to the string as soon as I hear the sound of deer hooves on dry leaves or spot the glint of antler through the foliage.
But, mine is not necessarily the only method that works. A friend of mine uses a thumb-trigger release that he leaves snapped on his string loop while on stand. This makes a lot of sense if you use a bow holder, increasing the odds that the trigger won’t be inadvertently bumped so that the release falls to the ground. Carry a spare release in your fanny pack anyway, just in case.
This brings up another debate: string loops versus hooking the release directly to the bowstring. I hook up directly to the bowstring for two reasons. First, I can do it without looking at the string. And second, I don’t want to give up any of my power stroke that contributes to arrow speed and penetration energy. Many bowhunters prefer string loops for many reasons, and they are all good reasons. But, unless you are going to leave the release aid attached to the loop while you wait on stand, there is no getting around the fact that string loops are not quite as fast as hooking the release directly to the string.
We also need to consider something as seemingly trivial as the kind of gloves you wear. It’s harder to work a release aid with thick gloves than with thin gloves. For this reason, I always wear a medium-weight pair of jersey or polar fleece gloves and keep my hands in a jacket pocket or hand muff when it gets really cold.
If you choose to use a string-nocking loop, take a close look at the wrist strap releases with a single open jaw that are designed specifically for latching onto such loops. These are a bit faster than a release with two moving jaws as you simply snag the loop and draw the string.
4. Sling or No Sling
Your bow sling represents the single greatest traffic jam in the race to full draw. It is very time consuming and distracting having to work your gloved hand into the sling when you really need to focus on picking a shooting lane. To overcome this problem, I practice shooting two ways: using the sling and not using the sling. With the sling, I use normal form and keep a relaxed, open hand through the shot. Without the sling, I close my fingers lightly around the riser. To be honest, I don’t notice much difference in the two styles as long as I keep the bow hand relaxed.
5. Standing or Sitting
Finally, there’s the question of standing versus sitting. There is no doubt you’re better able to handle quick shots – especially to your right – if you’re standing. I try to stand as much as possible, so I’ll be ready for anything.
Treestand hunting creates an interesting dichotomy. You sit for days on end hardly moving a muscle and then the whole season comes down to a few seconds of panic. How well you prepare for fast action may be the one variable that turns chaos into freezer meat and bone on the wall.