The Whitetail Ideal
by Patrick Meitin
It’s that time of year again, manufacturers unveiling their newest wares, the latest and greatest technologies conceived to make you a better bowhunter. Bowhunting writers flock to industry shows like ATA (Arrow Trade Association) to bring you news of the newest innovations and gewgaws you simply can’t live without. But, this isn’t what this column is about. Instead, for those of you contemplating new equipment purchases for the coming year, I’ll offer some insights into general designs and features I feel contribute to the whitetail ideal, and why.
Because let’s face it, bowhunting whitetails from tree-stands is in a class all its own—as even western bowhunters generally inclined to spot-and-stalk ploys on other local big game are most apt to climb a tree (or hunker in a blind) while pursuing whitetails. This isn’t Coues hunting, where a premium is placed on speed and flat trajectory to better accommodate extreme ranges typically encountered. I’m not even including the rare (and productive) whitetail spot-and-stalk opportunities to be found in places like Colorado’s Eastern Plains or Kansas’ “Out-There” western reaches. Stand hunting is a sedentary activity. Muscles grow cold and stiff during long waits. The mind wanders, bored stiff one moment, shocked into quick action the next by deer that appear abruptly. Maneuvering space is limited, often resulting in unrehearsed, twisted or crouched shooting positions needed to clear obstacles or to address animals approaching from unexpected directions. Whitetails are also the jumpiest game we regularly bowhunt and shots are commonly presented at the edge of shooting hours.
In a nutshell, you need a bow-outfit combining a buttery-smooth draw cycle, high-degree of forgiveness to small flaws in shooting form or bad releases, ultimate silence and an ability to place shots precisely in poor light. Unfortunately, bow manufacturers have different ideas about what you should be shooting; offering an increasing stable of super-fast and ultra-short models. In my opinion, this is a bad whitetail-hunting combination; though I’ll concede on the short trend, if you spend much time inside a pop-up blind. The fastest bows include aggressive cam systems (more time spent pulling through peak and jarring drops into let-off) and low brace heights (6 to 7 inches)—not exactly the ideal prescription for smooth or forgiving.
Bow: My recipe for a whitetail ideal includes axle-to-axle lengths from 33 to 36 inches (28- to 31-inch draw length, respectively), brace heights from 7 ¼ to 8 inches and moderate speed generated by cam systems with bell-shaped draw-force curves. Draw weight’s something you must honestly assess yourself; understanding that if you cannot sit flat on the floor with legs spread, bow at arm’s length between them and drawn while aiming at a finite point, pulled straight back slowly and smoothly, without lifting the bow a bit, you’re shooting too much weight. Longer bows, especially those on which their length is made of a long riser and short limbs, are innately more stable when hands flutter at the sight of a monster buck, when shivering from cold, or contorted unnaturally while shooting. Higher brace heights equal more forgiveness because arrows spend less time on the string following release—less opportunity to introduce human error via elements already mentioned. Finally, a smooth cam system delivering about 330 fps IBO speeds (verses in the neighborhood of 350 fps IBO) is easier to draw stealthily with stiff, cold muscles. Silence should be self explanatory.
Arrow: Many disagree, but I prefer heavy arrows when bowhunting whitetails. You don’t need blazing speed for 20–30 yard shots and heavy arrows absorb more of a bow’s energy, making for much quieter shooting. You simply can’t beat a wound-up whitetail in a string-jump race, giving him less to react to is always a more profitable approach. A heavier arrow (9 to 11 gpi) also gives you a better chance of breaching shoulder blades or reaching vitals on heavily-quartered shots should a deer spin after release to cause less-than-ideal shot placement. Heavy arrows are more forgiving to small shooting flaws—such as an anxious trigger punch—less prone to deflect widely after hitting light flight obstacles such as twigs, grass or leaves, and also pack more KE punch to push wide-cutting broadheads deeper into vitals.
Broadhead: I’ve a pretty conservative outlook when it comes to broadheads used for most big-game, but not for virginianus whitetail. Thronged vegetation, rainy or snowy fall weather and less-than-ideal hits can all result in difficult tracking conditions and I want to inflict maximum damage that spills maximum tracking blood. This means either an efficient mechanical broadhead (not legal in my home state) or wide fixed-blade design. In mechanicals I prefer a 1 ½- to 2-inch cutting diameter with rear-deploying blades—Rage or NAP’s KillZone—or blades that fold into slicing attack angles instead of chopping—NAP’s Spitfire or Rocket Steelhead XL. In fixed-blade designs I look to “mini heads” with cutting diameters of 1 ¼-inch (100-grain Muzzy MX-3, Slick Trick’s Grizztrick, QAD’s Exodus, or the 125-grain, 1 ½-inch-wide G5 Striker Magnum).
Sight: Is there such a thing as a modern bow sight not holding fiber-optic pins? Yet all are not created equal. Look for designs including aperture-wrapped or otherwise extended fibers to soak up maximum ambient light, creating the brightest low-light aiming points. Sight lights illuminating fiber ends inside a containing chamber are another solution, though not legal in all states and disqualifying trophies for Pope & Young inclusion—if that’s important to you. Finally, tritium-phosphorous-lighted pins (like T.F.O. from TruGlo or AccuPin from Trijicon) are P&Y approved and legal in most states.
Rest: You can get into heated arguments regarding total-containment (Whisker Biscuit) verses drop-away rests. Why not enjoy the obvious advantages of both in a single unit? Models such as QAD’s UltraRest, NAP’s Apache or Trophy Ridge’s Revolution, as example, include rest arms that hold arrows safe against bumps and bobbles, automatically positioning the arrow for the shot while drawing, but disappearing after release for 100 percent fletching clearance. This allows worry-free, no-look shooting even when shooting under pressure.
Best of luck with your new Whitetail Ideal setup.
Early on Patrick Meitin knew hunting would dictate his life path. He began hunting obsessively while in middle school, eventually guiding/outfitting in New Mexico’s Gila region 23 years and selling his first magazine article in 1987. He attended Lubbock’s Texas Tech University, earning degrees in journalism and range and wildlife management, aggressively pursuing an outdoor writing career after graduation. This has allowed the blessing of hunting around the globe, including five African countries, France, Russia, Mexico, most Canadian provinces and at least half the U.S. states. He lives in northern Idaho with his wife Gwyn and two hunting Labradors.