With any significant number of bowhunting years under your belt you likely have encountered this situation. Should you stop a deer before shooting and risk alerting it or take the shot on a moving unaware target? We all know things happen in milliseconds in the whitetail woods and there isn't much time to process information before making a decision so being educated before hand and executing mental reps is invaluable to your success or failure.
While there really is no shoe box answer, here are some things to consider before making the split second decision to shoot a deer while walking or stopping it before the shot.
Rate of Speed
To start, I want to clarify, we are not talking about taking shots at running or rapidly moving whitetails. While shooting at a moving target is not something most bowhunters practice throughout the summer, it can be executed with success in crunch time.
How fast the deer is moving should be one of the highest priority factors when considering taking a shot on a moving whitetail. Anything more than a causal walking gait should be a no go.
During the early and late season, it's likely to see whitetails move at a more casual pace during the typical bed to feed pattern. During the rut, often times, you'll see speeds of travel at a much higher rate.
Stopping or taking a shot on a walking whitetail is all about understanding it's body language and the situation variables. With limited time to process information during the moment of truth, the variables of what the deer is doing and planning to do need to be thought of before hand.
Are you hunting a highly pressured area where the deer tend to be more on edge?
What time of year is it?
What position is the deer's tail in?
Is the deer's head up or down?
Whitetails react fast and can do incredible things in just milliseconds. Dr. Grant Woods, owner/creator of Growing Deer TV, published a remarkeable video on how just much a whitetail can move when stationary with its head is low and front legs preloaded. This exact scenario should be mentally engrained in all bowhunters minds.
Reading body language before the shot is something Clint Campbell, host and owner of The Truth From The Stand Podcast, keeps top of mind.
Campbell says this.."Stopping a deer for a shot for me is really situational. What time of year is it, how many windows do I have, is there a destination like a scrape or a feed tree he'll national stop at?
I'm usually of the mind I'd rather shoot a relaxed deer even if he's walking vs an on edge alerted deer standing still. I'd rather have the element of surprise on my side where there's less likely hood of string jumping or ducking. If you totally miss the deer, you may just earn a second shot opportunity"
Shot Angle and Distance
Like all bowhunting encounters shot angle and distances are two of the main factors of knowing when to draw and release the shot. Poor shot angles and shooting at distances beyond the bowhunters capabilities are the two biggest culprits of poor shoot placement.
If you are considering taking a moving shoot at a whitetail, the animal better be close. In the simplest terms, the further the arrow has to travel the more time the deer has to move. Distance also creates a timing issue. Is the whitetail going to take one more step and stop or is it going to continue to walk? Being a half second off good have disastrous results.
Shot angles are always a big deal when knowing when to release an arrow but with moving anatomy shot angles become even more critical. If considering taking a moving shot, the odds are best if the whitetail is completely broadside of slightly quartering away. These shot angles provide the best opportunity at clear and open vital areas.
Understanding your bow and arrow setup is always important but it's even more critical when possibly attempting a shot on a walking whitetail. With a walking deer it's skeletal structure is moving and vital organs are shifting. If you are not familiar with a whitetails anatomy you probably should consider just stopping the deer every time.
Obviously, if you hit forward there's a good chance there will be contact with the scapula or other bone. If you're setup is not capable of handling that errant shot the results will not be good. If you hit too far back, maybe just maybe, a bigger cutting diameter broadhead might aid in vital damage.
The bottom line is you need know and understand what your setup in capable of doing. This includes your bow, arrow, broadhead, Kinect energy produced, Momentum produced, and most importantly your ability to execute shots under pressure.
Byron Horton, host and owner of The Whitetail Experience Podcast, says this about executing shots on moving whitetails.."The biggest buck I ever had a chance at I didn't stop and looking back I really should have tried stopping him to buy an extra second to settle the pin. Longer shots I would like the deer to be stopped but inside 18 yards I feel confident taking a walking shot."
With a walking deer it's skeletal structure is moving and vital organs are shifting. If you are not familiar with a whitetails anatomy you probably should consider just stopping the deer every time. Chris Creed of Afflictor Broadheads, who has a very high understanding of whitetail anatomy, says this..
"When we talk about taking shots on a walking deer I think the biggest concern for me is having a clear understanding regarding front leg position and the skeletal anatomy associated with gait mechanics of the whitetail.