Several does fed within 20 yards, and a group of bucks was slowly walking in my direction. Every deer in the field was greedily pulling bright orange carrots from the loose, black dirt with their teeth. I was terrified to move considering all of the eyes within shooting range on the organic vegetable farm I'd recently gained permission to bowhunt. Add in the fact that three jakes were standing right next to me gobbling at the the sound of a distant police siren and the scene was something else entirely.
Then it happened. An unseen doe had fed up the field edge and nearly stuck her nose in my natural blind, which I had carved out beneath a low cedar tree. She got a snootful of my scent and went ballistic, setting the whole herd in motion.
In the ensuing melee I drew and watched as one of the bucks ran at me. He was an easy 130-class, mature deer. He stood broadside in the field and I watched as my arrow, tipped with a lighted nock, hit his shoulder and stopped as if I'd shot it into a concrete retaining wall. As he lit out from the field my arrow shot straight up into the air and flipped end over end before coming to rest on the ground.
The shaft showed maybe four inches of penetration, and when I shook it I could hear the broken broadhead ferrule rattling around in the insert. What followed was a few spots of blood, a full day of grid searching, and predictable recovery results.
Fast forward a few years to an absolute beast of an Iowa buck that caught me drawing. He stared bug-eyed in my direction as I intentionally tried to aim low, knowing he was going to drop at the shot. The arrow hit him with a crack and my first impression was that I'd done it again. As he busted through brush along the edge of the creek for 50 yards my heart sunk. Then he simply stopped, looked around, and tipped over.
Both shots had hit mature bucks' shoulders, but the results were vastly different. Broadhead choice played a role in the outcomes, I know that. But I also know arrow choice did as well. The first buck was shot with a lighter-weight, full-diameter carbon arrow. The second, a micro-diameter shaft weighing enough grains-per-inch to handle a bull elk with ease.
Those experiences, and many, many others, are the reason why I take arrow choice seriously. I've had plenty of bowhunters tell me it's impossible to get through a mature buck's shoulder, but that's simply not true.
First off, what we call shoulder is made up of a few parts, with the main bone being the scapula. This bladed bone is thinnest on top and not too difficult to get through. Head south on the bone, however, and it not only becomes thicker but also meets up with a ball joint. Hit that and you're most likely in for a long day of tracking and eventual disappointment. There is also the scapula spine, which is the I-beam looking protrusion on the shoulder blade. This thicker bone feature has caused fits for plenty of bowhunters as well.
So, what should you do about the shoulder-blade dilemma? The simple answer is to aim far enough behind the shoulder to not worry about it. Unfortunately, things go wrong and shots don't always go where we hope. That leaves the best option to still aim correctly, but with an arrow that provides for a much wider margin-for-error.
For most of us, this means bumping up overall arrow weights and opting for smaller-in-diameter shafts. Those two things alone will increase penetration, and when you're talking about getting through the shoulder, you may only need an extra inch or two to reach the far-side lung. With bowhunting, it's the attention to the little details that make success far more common. The right arrow choice for when things go wrong definitely fits into that category, especially when dealing with a mature buck's shoulder.
The next time you go to buy a fresh dozen, choose wisely.