’10 Seconds Of Red’: Bowhunting Advice For Better Kill Shots

We all practice and prepare for a hunt in some form or fashion: we shoot our bows, check the HuntStand weather forecast, pack the right gear and condition ourselves physically

by Brian Stephens


After 20 years of bowhunting, my philosophy, preparation and expertise continues to evolve. I’ve come to realize that when you’re eye to eye with an animal and preparing to draw your bow, there’s a 10-second window of time that can determine the outcome of the hunt. I call this “10 seconds of red.”


I often get advice and insight from my older brother, a retired Army Special Forces Operator and Sniper. He has been engaged in numerous firefights and combat situations during his 20 years in the service. A technique I learned from him is thinking about a hunting mindset in terms of YELLOW, ORANGE and RED. Sitting at hunting camp or on the way to the woods, you’re in YELLOW (relaxed but thinking about the hunt). When you’re in the woods, you’re at ORANGE (alert and taking in your surroundings). When you’re about to draw your bow on an animal, you’re at RED. The question is, what do you do during that 10 seconds of red?

We all practice and prepare for a hunt in some form or fashion: we shoot our bows, check the HuntStand weather forecast, pack the right gear and condition ourselves physically. These things are all very important and necessary, but what’s often hard to prepare for or practice is how we will mentally prepare ourselves for the 10 seconds of red when we’re about to range an animal, determine when to draw, etc.

During my recent hunt in New Mexico, I was hunting a world-class mule deer that easily scores over 200 inches. He was my biggest deer I would hunt to date. As you’d expect, I prepared in all the typical ways leading up to the hunt and then shot my bow the day I got to the camp. I was solid out to 70 yards with my Elite Energy 32 using a Copper John sight and shooting Carbon Express Maxima Red arrows.

We would be hunting in the mountains and in the alfalfa fields, so I could have a flat, declined or inclined shot. I would consider myself an above-average shooter.  While there are many better shooters out there, I’m confident in my shooting. That only comes with repetition.

Back to the 10 seconds of red. Long story short: I had an opportunity at this giant deer on the last day of the hunt, and I missed him at nearly 60 yards as he was on the side of the mountain straight down from me. Watch the episode and you’ll see an amazing deer nicknamed “El Guapo” and the heartbreak of a hunter. After the initial disappointment in myself, I’ve reflected upon the situation to learn from it. While every hunter in his or her career is going to miss, it still bites you—especially when a world-class animal is at stake.

As I move from ORANGE to RED, I usually go through a sequence of steps in my head before I shoot an animal during my 10 seconds of red:

1. Determine the shot distance. 

2. Consider the animal’s body position/how the arrow will impact. 

3. Look for any brush in the way. 

4. Aim Small and pick a spot on his body.

5. Choose the right pin. 

6. Consider if the animal might move or drop. 

7. Aim high or low based on terrain. 

I missed a crucial step on my mental checklist while drawing on El Guapo. I forgot to compensate for a declined shot on the side of the mountain. Even though El Guapo dropped when I shot (he was looking right at me), I failed to aim low enough based on him being straight down from me. I quickly tried to find my 50- and 60-yard pins, split the difference and put it on him. He was quartering sharply at me, so I aimed back a little so the arrow would enter his body and angle towards his opposite shoulder. The arrow sailed right over his back. The combination of these two things cost me a 200-inch mule deer.

During the 10 seconds of red, doing what you can to mentally process your environment will help you be more successful. Sometimes it’s not as simple as drawing your bow and shooting. Take time to mentally visualize your hunt and the shots you might take. Repeat your mental checklist in your head as you practice shooting your bow, so when you move from ORANGE to RED it comes easier and hopefully more relaxed. This focus might help you become less apt to be “rattled” by the animal you’re hunting.

Missing is real and comes along with the territory, but we can always learn from our mistakes or failures. I’m still sick about this hunt, but I can promise you I’ve learned from it—and because of that I’m a better hunter.



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