If I had a dollar for every blood trail I’ve been on where the shooter was positive of a good hit only to be disproven by the spoor and other evidence, I’d probably own a prime chunk of deer ground in southern Iowa. Instead, I own 28 acres of swampland in north-central Wisconsin and I’ve got a lot of experience reverse-engineering exactly what happened when my hunting buddies let their arrows fly. And it’s not just my hunting partners who’ve witnessed the smoke-and-mirrors confusion of the moment of truth—I’ve been there plenty of times myself.
It simply shakes out where sometimes you know what happened; other times not so much. However, the mystery arrows and their impacts (or misses) have become far less common in my life due to one simple switch in gear. Instead of factory nocks, I shoot lighted nocks wherever they are legal—and they should be legal everywhere. In my darker days (pun intended), it wasn’t always obvious what happened during shots at live game, and my initial impressions and confirmation of what I thought were facts weren’t always so reliable.
Even though a lot of us claim to be cool customers when we shoot at big game, most of us are actually wired pretty tight and experience a serious adrenaline dump. That tends to cloud situational focus, and the reality is that it’s sometimes extremely hard to know what truly happened.
A lighted nock changes everything, though. For example, last fall I shot a great buck from the ground as he walked passed my hide. The arrow hit hard, and he took off at full tilt. Because of the Lumenok fitted into the back end of my arrow, I could see that the hit was forward, and as I watched him run away, I saw my arrow go flipping end over end through the air and land in a drainage ditch. Immediately I knew that I had him squarely in the shoulder. I also knew right where my arrow was — at least 100 yards from the impact site. Closer inspection revealed that I had gotten very little penetration and that the buck would probably be OK. When I took up the trail the following morning, I found two small spots of blood in his bed, and predictably, no carcass.
I hate flubbing shots and losing deer, but I do like knowing what went wrong. Seeing exactly what happens when I trip the release has opened my eyes to animal reactions and my shot placement. Sometimes it’s good, sometimes not. But I almost always have a solid idea what happened, and that’s a good step toward more intelligent trailing decisions.
There are other benefits to lighted nocks. Last summer, while taping some video for Bowhunter TV, I stood at 80 yards to shoot some long-range shots. Although I had been shooting a lot and was very confident in my setup, I noticed that my arrows were tail-whipping as they left my bow. Halfway to the target they would correct themselves, but I knew something was wrong, and so I went back to the drawing board and found out that my fletching was contacting my cables. A quick walk-back tuning session brought my rest into left/right alignment and the problem was fixed, but it made me wonder why I had missed the erratic flight when I had shot non-lighted nocks. It was also a reminder that practice shooting with lighted nocks is a great idea, even if you live in a state where hunting with them is illegal.
Whether it’s an issue of game recovery, recognizing imperfect arrow flight, or simply the fun of watching your arrows zip to a target, it’s worth it to shoot lighted nocks. Not too many years ago your choices were extremely limited, but today’s market offers nocks designed to fit just about every arrow you’re likely to shoot. Lighted nocks have also gotten much lighter, so they don’t upset your FOC, and they’ve gotten brighter, too.
Before you head to your local Cabela’s to pick up a pack of lighted nocks, it’s important to know the exact arrow model you shoot so that you don’t spend good money on nocks that won’t fit correctly. Beyond that, consider the color that will best suit your preference. It might seem like a non-issue, but some colors appear brighter than others to certain people.
For me, my go-to colors are either green or pink. I have a hard time seeing blue in certain situations, and while I don’t mind red, it seems that the pink lighted nocks I’ve shot have been easier to see. If you suffer from red/green color blindness, you’ll want to take that into account as well.
Lastly, because they are tiny electrical devices, it’s best to treat them with some care. Some of the best models have contact points that depend on the right fit, installation, and maintenance to function properly. Follow the instructions for proper installation and usage and you’ll be better off. If that sounds like too much work, it’s not. It’s actually quite simple, and when you consider that lighted nocks will undoubtedly help aid you in the recovery process of nearly every animal you shoot, it’s definitely worth it.
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