Have you ever delved into the vast realm of shooting improvement articles? Chances are, you’ve explored numerous ones. These articles often delve into subjects such as equipment, shooting form, muscle mechanics, and release operation. While these topics are undoubtedly valuable, and I’ve even contributed my fair share of articles on them, I believe there are other factors that significantly contribute to bow-hunting accuracy beyond these controlled-environment exercises.
Ordinary backyard practice certainly has its merits in terms of refining shooting form and enhancing muscle memory. However, it fails to replicate the real-life scenarios you’ll encounter while out hunting. In truth, it falls far short of capturing the essence of the hunt, and simply honing your shooting form in the comfort of your backyard won’t automatically translate to success in the tree stand.
Bowhunting encompasses a multitude of uncontrollable variables, and if your aim is to become deadlier than ever, you must be prepared to confront them head-on. That’s why I’d like to share with you a series of raw and gritty exercises that you can incorporate into your pre-season practice, in order to make it more closely resemble the challenges of bowhunting.
Mastering the art of threaded shots
Rarely do bowhunters come across uncluttered shot opportunities in the wild. Brush, limbs, and various obstacles often hinder a clear path to your target. These situations frequently catch unprepared hunters off guard, leading to missed shots and bitter disappointment. The fear of failure, stemming from inadequate practice, can cast a dark shadow over their success.
Countless tales circulate within the bowhunting community, recounting instances where hopeful hunters aimed to thread their arrow through limbs, only to unintentionally strike one instead. Limbs, in particular, have robbed a few trophies from my grasp.
Consider this: How often do you dedicate practice sessions to shooting through limbs and brush? If your answer tends towards “never” or “rarely,” you are setting yourself up for failure. To overcome this challenge, engage in one-on-one sessions with your 3-D target. Move it around, placing it in the midst of thick brush, and shoot from different angles. If you predominantly hunt from a tree stand, practice shooting from that elevated position.
Alternatively, if you prefer spot-and-stalk tactics, simulate stalking scenarios from multiple angles, striking your target with deadly precision. Infuse your practice sessions with difficult dimensions, allowing obstacles to push your shooting skills to their limits.
It’s almost certain that you’ll occasionally lose arrows in the process, but the lessons learned will enable you to thread them home without deflections that could ruin a crucial shot. Additionally, this practice will teach you to assess whether an obstructed shot is ethically viable.
Allow me to share a personal example that highlights the importance of decision-making in such situations. During my youth, at the age of 16, I dedicated myself to practicing challenging shots. When the moment arrived for my first whitetail buck, which I had successfully lured in with rattling techniques, he paused at a distance of 30 yards, quartering away, with a 15-yard branch entirely obstructing his vital organs. Assessing the situation, I calculated the precise location of his lungs, settled my 30-yard pin on the branch, and released my arrow with unwavering confidence. The top pin of my sight was positioned above the branch, allowing the arrow to gracefully arc over it, precisely penetrating the intended target—the buck’s lungs.
Even in the midst of excitement, I mentally rehearsed the outcome before releasing my arrow. Thanks to prior practice and preparation, I shot with knowledge, not mere hope, that my arrow would gracefully clear the obstructing branch. Practicing obstructed shots hones your marksmanship skills and empowers you to make sound shooting decisions.
It’s crucial to recognize instances where obstructed shots would be unethical and refrain from taking them. As a responsible bowhunter, it is your duty to only pursue shots you know you can execute flawlessly.
Draw from awkward positions
Drawing your bow from a tree stand can wreak havoc on your form if you neglect to practice it beforehand. Unless you have an extra tree stand to hang in your yard, I recommend shooting from another safe, elevated platform like a deck.
It’s not uncommon for many bowhunters to hoist their bows high into the air, using the leverage of the bowstrings to pull them back, subsequently dropping their bow arms to acquire their targets. Unfortunately, this approach compromises form and accuracy. Instead, focus on drawing your bow straight back, ensuring your form remains impeccable.
Then, bend at the waist to acquire your target. This technique helps maintain proper upper-body form and optimal muscle mechanics. Some may argue that it’s too much to remember in the heat of the moment. I agree, but only if you haven’t religiously practiced this maneuver before venturing afield.
If you engage in spot-and-stalk hunting, chances are you’ll find yourself in awkward positions—lying on your back or stomach—when a shot opportunity presents itself. If you rise up before drawing back, you risk losing precious time on the shot clock and potentially squandering the hard-earned opportunity you meticulously orchestrated.
To avoid this scenario, it’s crucial to practice drawing back and rising up in one seamless motion. Cultivating a rock-solid core will greatly assist in executing this maneuver, so consider incorporating Pilates or other workouts that focus on building a strong core into your routine. By doing so, you’ll enhance your ability to perform the maneuver effectively.
Remember, success in drawing from awkward positions stems from consistent practice and preparation. Prioritize refining your technique, whether it’s from an elevated platform or while simulating real-life scenarios. By dedicating yourself to mastering the draw, you’ll be well-equipped to tackle any challenging position that arises during your hunts.
Mastering quick shots without a rangefinder
Rangefinders undoubtedly serve as invaluable tools for bowhunters, and I wholeheartedly recommend their use. However, certain circumstances arise that demand swift shooting without the luxury of time to operate such devices. I experienced this firsthand during my memorable 2010 Kansas whitetail hunt. It was the final morning of my hunting expedition, and the surroundings seemed eerily quiet.
Suddenly, the tranquility shattered as grunts and splashing water startled me from my mid-morning siesta. Instantly, my instincts kicked into high gear. With a doe and fawn racing towards me, a respectable buck trailed closely behind. Reacting swiftly, I seized my bow, emitting a soft grunt with my mouth, and smoothly drew back my bowstring as the buck came to a sudden halt.
Estimating the distance to be around 30 yards, I settled my pin on the target and released my arrow. The buck backpedaled upon impact, causing the arrow to strike slightly forward, but it only traveled 60 yards before succumbing. Remarkably, a mere eight seconds elapsed from the moment I heard the grunts to the time I took the shot. I have this precise timeframe recorded on video, thanks to my mother who captured the hunt.
Once the silence settled, I nervously reached for my rangefinder, which displayed a reading of 30 yards to the spot where the buck had stood when I released my arrow. This successful encounter showcased the value of practicing yardage estimation during the summer months, allowing me to swiftly and accurately take down a splendid rutting buck despite the absence of an exact distance measurement.
To prepare for fleeting shot opportunities that require split-second decisions, I urge you to practice shooting at targets from unknown distances. Place your target in unfamiliar settings, whether it’s amidst dense woods or on open prairies where you typically don’t shoot.
Randomly position yourself at various spots, estimate the distance, and take your shot. It’s important to acknowledge that you may miss and lose arrows when your yardage estimation is off. However, this exercise will sharpen your marksmanship skills and prepare you for lightning-fast encounters that define the essence of bowhunting.
By honing your sharpshooter instincts and practicing quick shots without relying on a rangefinder, you’ll be equipped to seize the moment and make accurate shots when time is of the essence.
Speed your heart rate
The exhilaration of encountering game sends adrenaline coursing through your veins, an experience that ordinary backyard practice fails to replicate. However, fear not, as there are effective ways to recreate this heart-pounding sensation.
One method is to sprint a distance of 40 yards away from your bow, then swiftly return, grab your bow, and take a shot. This exercise simulates the adrenaline-fueled rush experienced during bowhunting, infusing your practice sessions with realism and increased difficulty. Alternatively, incorporating other vigorous exercises, such as a series of push-ups, can also elevate your adrenaline levels.
Allow me to share an anecdote from an elk hunter who once recounted a missed opportunity involving a majestic 6×6 bull. Despite meticulous planning, when the critical moment arrived, he struggled to draw his bow repeatedly. By the time he managed to fully draw the string, the bull had already begun its departure. He candidly admitted to being entirely unprepared for such an encounter, succumbing to a loss of composure that cost him the shot.
If you’ve never found yourself in the presence of a colossal bull elk, it’s crucial to prepare for such an encounter in order to seize the opportunity and execute a flawless shot. By incorporating adrenaline-inducing activities into your shooting sessions, you will develop the ability to remain composed and perform like a seasoned professional when faced with the real deal.
Embracing the rush and intentionally increasing your heart rate during practice sessions will better equip you to handle high-pressure situations in the field. By mastering the art of shooting amidst adrenaline-fueled moments, you’ll approach the pinnacle of bowhunting with unwavering confidence and the skills necessary to close the deal flawlessly.
Add an angle
Rarely do we come across images of archers shooting 3-D targets from unconventional angles. It’s a sight seldom seen. However, I challenge this norm by shooting my 3-D targets from every conceivable angle. While some of these angles wouldn’t be considered ethical shots on real game—such as the straightaway angle, also known as the Texas heart shot—I believe it’s essential to practice them.
Because it prepares me to respond swiftly and effectively with a follow-up arrow if my initial shot is marginal. Among the most controversial shot angles are the facing and quartering-toward positions. Determining their ethicality involves considering various variables such as wind speed, shot distance, kinetic energy, animal alertness, and the proficiency of the hunter.
When faced with the need to follow up on a marginal yet potentially lethal first shot, shooting the animal again, regardless of the angle, is the responsible course of action. However, when it comes to the first shot, the variables mentioned earlier must be meticulously evaluated. Even then, the facing and quartering-toward angles remain controversial, with each bowhunter having to make a personal choice that they are confident will yield lethal results.
If you decide that taking such a shot falls within your ethical boundaries, it is imperative that you have practiced that specific angle extensively.
By venturing beyond conventional shooting angles and dedicating practice sessions to mastering unorthodox positions, you will expand your skill set and increase your chances of making accurate and ethical shots when it matters most.
Remember, ethical shot placement is a personal responsibility that demands thorough preparation. Through deliberate practice and a commitment to ethical decision-making, you can ensure that your shots are both deadly and humane.
The topic of broadhead practice has been a recurring theme in my writing, and the importance of it cannot be overstated. Countless horror stories serve as a reminder for me to continue emphasizing its significance.
One should never blindly trust the claims on broadhead packages that boast, “Flies just like a field point.” I have always adhered to the practice of shooting with broadheads before heading out on a hunt—a lesson passed down to me by my eldest brother long ago. However, I have been caught off guard on multiple occasions by the significant differences in impact between my field-point-tipped arrows and those equipped with broadheads.
This dilemma must be identified well in advance of the hunting season, as rectifying it requires tuning and adjustments. Hunting with poorly aligned broadheads will inevitably result in missed shots or wounded game. Identifying and addressing this issue early on is crucial to avoid the complications of a difficult blood trail.
Practice at your destination
When embarking on a bowhunting trip, it is essential to allocate time for equipment inspection before venturing into the field, even if your gear has been securely stored in a case. Changes in climate can potentially impact the performance of your equipment.
I vividly recall an antelope hunt where, a few days into the trip, I stumbled upon a prairie-dog hole, jarring my bow. Unfortunately, I neglected to check my zero after the incident—a decision that I still regret to this day. As a consequence, I missed two antelope on consecutive days, unable to determine the cause of my inaccurate shots.
It was only upon my return home that the issue became apparent when I shot an arrow from 20 yards and discovered it flew a good 10 inches higher than my intended target. Such problems can be anticipated by practicing at the destination of your bowhunt.
Shoot during windy conditions
While I recommend sighting-in your bow under calm conditions, it is crucial to regularly practice in windy conditions. Even a slight breeze can significantly impact your bow’s stability, making aiming a challenge. Learning how to maintain control of your sight picture in windy conditions greatly enhances your bowhunting accuracy. Most bowhunters, including myself, tend to wait for calm conditions to practice, but the reality is that wind is a constant element in bowhunting that must be prepared for.
Putting the Method into Action
In 2016, I successfully took down an impressive mule deer with a steep downhill shot amidst a stiff crosswind. The buck was bedded, intensifying the difficulty of the shot. I carefully observed the buck from 23 yards away for several minutes, meticulously selecting my aiming point. When I drew my bow, I bent at the waist, only to find that keeping my pin steady proved to be quite challenging.
However, thanks to my extensive practice in windy conditions, I managed to execute the shot flawlessly. The buck covered 150 yards before succumbing to its injuries over a cut bank. In that moment, I hurriedly approached the edge and located the fallen deer.
Although mortally wounded and nearing its end, I estimated the location of its lungs through the tall grass and executed a precise finishing shot. Many bowhunters would have struggled to make the first shot, let alone the second. However, I accomplished both because I had diligently practiced all these variables before embarking on my hunt.
By prioritizing broadhead practice, conducting equipment checks at your destination, and embracing challenging shooting conditions such as wind, you will elevate your bowhunting skills to new heights. These deliberate preparations will allow you to overcome unpredictable variables in the field, ensuring accurate and ethical shots when it matters most.
Achieving true mastery in harvesting game cannot be accomplished through a mere handful of casual backyard shooting sessions. The core essence of this article lies in imparting the crucial lesson of being fully prepared for every conceivable scenario that may arise during your bowhunting endeavors.
If you harbor a genuine desire to enhance your accuracy when it matters most, it is imperative to discard complacent and lackadaisical practice routines. It is time to rise to the challenge and incorporate realistic bowhunting elements into your training regimen. By doing so, you will approach every shot with heightened confidence, ensuring a higher success rate than ever before.
This article was submitted by Darryl Potter.
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