I saw the dejected look on his face and knew the morning hunt hadn’t gone the way he wanted.  “What happened” I asked the young hunter.

“I can’t believe I missed the biggest buck I have ever had in my sights”, he bemoaned.  “And it was only a 25 yard shot.  How did I shoot under him from ONLY 25 yards?”

“Well, I don’t know but I can say I know your pain.  Tell me exactly how it happened.”

He started by telling me how he had gotten into his stand quietly and on time, and how the morning had seemed to be off to a perfect start.  Shortly after daybreak three young does had moved past his stand totally unaware of his presence, and although he was tempted to take one, he held off waiting for Mr. Big to catch up to them.  Within just a few moments, he heard heavy leaf crunching coming from the same direction the previous does had come from.  A glimpse of brown through the brush confirmed that another deer was moving his way.  Slowly he stood and got in shooting position in case the deer was a buck.  As the deer moved between pockets of cover, he could see antler, and a lot of it.  As he had been trained, he knew to look away from the rack and start to focus on his breathing and concentrate on setting up for the shot.  The ten pointer advanced up the trail and behind a clump of trees.  Immediately, my young friend drew and got set for the most important shot of his young deer hunting career.  The big buck stepped out from the trees and paused while trying to pinpoint the scent of the does.  The hunter picked a spot behind the left shoulder, took a deep breath and gently squeezed the release trigger.  The flight path looked straight and true as it flew toward the deer.  Just as it appeared ready to deliver a lethal blow to the buck, it arced downward and flew just under the deer’s chest, burying in the ground behind the animal.  The buck didn’t wait to figure out what had happened as it bounded away through the forest.

“And that’s how I missed a 25 yard cupcake shot”, he sighed.

“Wait a second dude,” I questioned, “how are you sure it was 25 yards?”

“Because earlier in the morning I used the rangefinder from up in the stand and it said 30 yards.”

“Huh?”, I said, “you just said it was a 25 yard shot.”

“Right, but you have to factor in the height of the tree stand.  It was 30 yards from my spot in the stand so it must have been only 25 in horizontal distance.  Duh dude.”

“Duh is right dude, grab your stuff and let’s head to the truck.  You are in desperate need of a math lesson,” I said in a way that did little to hide my irritation.

Over the course of my life up in a tree, I have seen similar situations play out many times.  Unfortunately, it seemed to happen to me way too often in the past.  I kept chalking it up to “buck fever” or some other cause when it really came down to not understanding the mathematical impact of sitting in a tree.  After a particularly rough day where I undershot a nice nine pointer three different times (yes, I missed three times as painful as it is to admit), I decided to figure out what was going wrong.  The nine pointer was thirty seven yards away according to my rangefinder, so I assumed thirty two yards of horizontal distance, aimed with my thirty yard pin and missed underneath him by 4-6 inches.  Sitting backhome replaying the misses over and over, I began to question the whole yardage component.   The next morning, I was standing at the base of my tree rangefinding a stick stuck in the ground where the buck had stood the day before.  Instead of the thirty two yards I had guesstimated, the rangefinder showed 36.5 yards.  What the heck!  First I missed a great buck and now my rangefinder is busted too.  Unfortunately, a tape measure proved that the rangefinder was fine and it was just me that was screwed up.  In my screwed up haze, however, lights bulbs starting going off and I began to understand some things that had only been mysteries before.

Suddenly I was sitting back in Algebra class learning the Pythagorean theorem where a sqaured plus b squared equalled c squared.  Back then I wondered how in the heck I would ever use this in “real life” but now I could see the direct application.  By knowing how high my stand was in the tree and the rangefinder distance from my stand to the target, I could precisely calculate the horizontal distance from the base of the tree to the target.  Below is a table showing the “real” yardage based upon common tree stand heights.

Stand Height Distance from Deer Stand to Target in Yards:
in feet:      10      15      20      25      30      35      40      45      50
10      9.43    14.62    19.72    24.78    29.81    34.84    39.86    44.88    49.89
12.5      9.09    14.41    19.56    24.65    29.71    34.75    39.78    44.81    49.83
15      8.66    14.14    19.36    24.49    29.58    34.64    39.69    44.72    49.75
17.5      8.12    13.82    19.13    24.31    29.43    34.51    39.57    44.62    49.66
20      7.45    13.44    18.86    24.09    29.25    34.36    39.44    44.50    49.55
22.5      6.61    12.99    18.54    23.85    29.05    34.19    39.29    44.37    49.43
25      5.53    12.47    18.18    23.57    28.82    33.99    39.12    44.22    49.30

As you can see, the impact of sitting up in the tree stand decreases the further you are from the target, and really only comes into play at short distances with high tree stand placement.  In fact, given the flat shooting trajectories of modern equipment it might not be relevant at all.

Now when I sit in my favorite tree stand next fall and the nine pointer, now a couple of years larger, steps out into my shooting lane, there will be one less variable to deal with.  Maybe both myself and my young hunting friend will be heading to the truck with smiles on our faces.