If you’ve hung around enough archery ranges and bow hunting camps you’ve heard the stories, mostly about whitetail deer, sometimes about pigs, but always about how quick they are. The term “jumping the string” refers to an animal that hears the bow and jumps away causing the hunter to make a bad shot or even to miss completely.
I had never been a big believer of those tales. After all, at a relatively conservative 250 feet per second the arrow should arrive at a target 20 yards away in about one quarter of a second. It seemed like just another excuse used to justify just another bad shot.
I asked my good friend Tod Hays whether he believed that deer could react that quickly. He’s had plenty of experience bow hunting and I value his opinion.
“Oh yeah, they do it,” he responded emphatically. “It hears the string and it has to react, OK? It’s standing straight up and to move that quickly it has to, just like any athlete, it has to have its legs bent. And it can do that faster than you would think is possible with just gravity. It basically pulls itself down and then bolts. Ducking the string would be a more appropriate term. It’s jumping at the noise that the string makes but it’s ducking the arrow.”
I wasn’t totally convinced until earlier this fall while on a meat-gathering hunt at Tod’s place in Texas. Three deer were feeding below my stand. They were all within fifteen yards and I couldn’t seem to get the bow drawn because one or another always seemed to have eyes on me. They were willing to stay and browse but at the same time were alert and nervous.
When I eventually did attempt to draw my bow, I scared two off. The third however, just jumped a few yards into a shooting lane, stopped and looked right at me.
I shot the doe but hit her very high. Thankfully she went down immediately and I could quickly finish the job with a second arrow. I was initially pretty disgusted with myself for making such a bad shot. Then, later when I went through the video frame by frame a different story emerged.
I marked the spot where the arrow made contact and then worked backwards to the sound when the arrow was released. It took eight frames or just over 1/4 of a second (at 30 frames per second) for the arrow to leave the bow and hit the deer.
For the first 1/8th of a second the doe was motionless, essentially her reaction time. Then, in the next 1/8th of a second she prepared to jump away from the danger. The video clearly shows her dropping, compressing for the spring forward, so that the arrow, aimed just behind the front leg and halfway up the torso ends up hitting her higher than intended.
I’ve watched the video about 100 times and now that I’ve seen it, slowed it down, poured over it and measured it, I’m convinced. An alert whitetail deer can react and move quickly enough to significantly affect your shot.
As if he hadn’t been clear enough before Tod went on to say, “When they’re on alert they ALWAYS duck it. Every single time. They never jump but always squat down. All it’s doing is coiling itself to spring.”
Many hunters will tell you, in that situation where the deer is aware of you and is alert, to shoot just a little low for this reason. You can now add my name to that list.