My dad has always been, and still is a huge influence on my outdoor, personal and professional lifestyle that I lead today. Growing up he used to tell me all the time while coaching me at basketball that, “Practice doesn’t make perfect. Perfect practice makes perfect.” When it comes to bowhunting practice, nothing is further from truth in my opinion.
I often overhear guys at the archery shop talking about shooting a few arrows as warm-up shots, or after they have an arrow fly on the first shot, “I am going to need a few more warm-up shots today.” Yes, they maybe tuning their bows in, or just shooting paper or 3D for fun, but I couldn’t help but listen to them talk about them preparing for their turkey hunt. With all the various disciplines of archery out there, different practice routines will benefit you depending on what your outcome is. To me, it’s all about punching a well placed arrow into the boiler room of an animal. So to really dial yourself in to make an efficient shot in the mountains, tree stand or ground blind, you need to practice how you shoot while in the field. If I can do something to enhance my ability to make that shot count while in pursuit of a big game animal, I will. It all starts with the way you practice. What follows are a few things I do to support that goal of mine.
As I stated earlier, there is a time and place for warm-up shots while tuning your setup. But once you get your bow shooting decent at the shop, start taking your practice to the extreme to simulate, to the best of your abilities, what you may encounter in the field. This isn’t waterfowl hunting, where you get three shots to make it count. This is bowhunting!! So after I have my bow dialed, I like to place a lot of emphasis on that first shot. When you are in the field, you don’t get “warm-up shots.” So in practice, take your time and really pay attention to that shot you first release, as in a few months that could be the buck of a lifetime in front of you instead of a target.
I always like to practice with my binocular case on my shoulders. That is one piece of equipment that I have on, no matter what game I am hunting. I also prefer to hunt with a quiver attached to my bow. So in my practice sessions I will shoot with a full quiver of arrows, minus one arrow, to simulate the arrow I will remove when shooting at an animal. This is to make certain that I get used to the balance and feel of the bow that I will be hunting with. If you practice all the time without your quiver on your bow, and then the week of your hunt you throw all the weight on your bow that a quiver full of arrows adds, you will have a change in where your arrow will hit. You may not notice much of a difference at 20 yards. But out at longer distances, you will see a change in your groups because your muscles are not used to that added weight. Bowhunting is about the little things, and everything you can do to better yourself now during practice, is a step that you should take to ensure you make a lethal hit.
Mixing in different shooting scenarios is another fun and affective way to prepare. Shooting standing up, from your knees, one knee on the ground while the other is up, etc. will help you get used to real hunting situations. Also, I will move away from the standard flat ground shooting, and incorporate some steep downhill and uphill shots. This will also help you practice and realize how slope affects distance, and it is a great way to ensure you have your third axis setup correctly on your sight. Steep downhill shots tend to be the norm while bowhunting out west, so I like to practice those most often. Also, shooting in difficult terrain puts your feet, legs, and back in different positions that will make getting steady for the shot difficult, and it has the tendency to alter your hand placement on your bow if you’re shooting steep shots. As this could create a high or low grip position if you’re not careful. This will cause your shot to be off, due to the different hand placement on your bow. But, if you practice a lot of different shooting positions before the season, you will have confidence in knowing you can make the shot, because you did it so many times during your practice sessions.
Shooting against your buddies or in a tournament, is a great way to add some pressure to your shots. But during those first few weeks or months while you’re getting your bow sighted in, and you’re fine tuning your shooting form, I feel it might better serve you to shoot solo. For the simple reason that you don’t have to feel like you are competing against someone, and feel down about your shot or your setup, because your buddy is shooting lights out next to you. This could lead you to shoot some distances that you are not ready for, and induce bad form habits.
Another thing that has helped me (which took a while to sink in my head back when I started) is that you don’t need to shoot 100 arrows a session to improve your shooting, or confidence. Repetition is the name of the game, and after your muscles are broken down from a few dozen shots, your form starts to lack, your anchor points are off, and you start to shake and punch the trigger. That perfect level is specific to each person, but I feel that keeping your shooting sessions productive, will decrease the chance for you to introduce bad habits.
A key factor that I feel is not given enough thought and care, is broadhead practice. You throw a fixed or mechanical broadhead on the front of your arrow after you have been using field points all summer and no matter the brand, your point of impact may change. Now this can be eliminated to some degree by various methods of tuning your bow. But even after tuning your bow, I feel you should shoot only broadheads, at least a month before your hunt. Obviously don’t shoot a broadhead into a target and then use those same blades for hunting. Designate a few heads for practice only so you don’t dull your hunting blades.
In closing, as much as I enjoy shooting my bow in shorts and flip-flops during the summer months, getting your camouflage out, and putting a few layers on to shoot, is another great way to ensure your shooting form is not going to change due to added layers and bulky clothing.
I hope some of this helps you out this summer as you prepare for the season. Bowhunting and archery in general is fun! So enjoy it, and get the most out of each shot.
Work hard, play hard, and bowhunt even harder!
- Building Arrows for Maximum Performance
- Backcountry Basics; Trading Ounces for Miles
- Brady Miller on Bowhunting.Net