Drills and Routines to Keep Your Summer Archery Practice On-Target
Summertime means many different things to different people. For most of us, it’s a time for backyard barbecues, hanging out at the lake, and maybe improving your golf swing. But for bow hunters, it’s also a time to get ready for the upcoming season through regular summer archery practice sessions.
But that’s not always the case, is it? All too often, we start the spring months telling ourselves we’re going to practice every week until we can almost shoot blindfolded once archery season opens. But our plans to become the modern day Robin Hood start to lag behind as the kids start summer break, the lawn needs mowing, the fish are biting, and any number of other distractions start to take their toll. Before we know it, it’s already August and we haven’t practiced more than a couple times.
This puts more pressure on you to cram a lot of bow practice in before opening day. The problem with this last-minute approach is that we tend to overdo it. We start flinging so many arrows that our archery shooting form can get worse and we develop bad habits. We also don’t have time to work out any kinks with our hunting equipment or really fine-tune our bows. Worst of all, we expose ourselves to injury when we go from not shooting at all to shooting dozens of arrows a day. A pulled shoulder muscle or rotator cuff issue could put you out for the season. Nobody wants that.
Looking for a simple solution? Start your bow practice now so you can have enough time to truly get proficient again without sacrificing your health or form. Regular archery practice builds muscle memory, so that shooting a bow becomes second nature to you. When the moment of truth comes, you can simply focus on the deer instead of all the micro-decisions about your form and where to aim the pin. As you’ve heard before, only perfect practice makes perfect. Let’s talk about how you can make it perfect this summer.
Start a Summer Archery Practice Routine
The best way to stick to regular practice sessions is to simply create a new routine. If it’s not scheduled into your calendar, it probably will get skipped (just like cleaning out the garage and painting the tool shed). It doesn’t take long to build a new habit, especially if you take a few precautions.
Pick a designated day of the week that you will practice, no matter what. For example, choose Wednesday evenings after work or Saturday mornings before the weekend activities get too hectic. It can really help to get others involved too as an accountability partner. A family member or friend should keep you honest when you don’t feel like going, and you should do the same for them. If the whole family hunts, you can make a new summer routine of practicing your bows together for some more family time. If everyone’s on the same schedule, there’s very little leeway to skip it.
Where to Practice Archery
If you’ve got the room to safely do some archery practice in your backyard (and it’s legal where you are), consider yourself fortunate. The backyard or somewhere very close is the best possible place to practice because it eliminates the primary excuse that most people have. If they have to load their bow and archery practice targets into the truck and drive somewhere just to shoot a few arrows, they’re much less interested in following through. As we said, there are lots of other distractions in the summer.
But if you can simply walk out behind your garage or shed, where an archery target is already set up and waiting, you have no excuse. Archery practice at home can save you a lot of time. We’ll chat more about the details below, but it doesn’t take many arrows to build muscle memory and work on your form. Just take a few minutes to shoot one quiver, and call it a day to move onto your other activities. Easy.
If you must go off-site to practice, just realize that you will be tempted to skip once in a while. That’s where your accountability partner comes in. Early in the summer, you just need a safe place to shoot without getting too fancy. An open field will work perfectly as long as you get a good target and backdrop. But as opening day approaches, you may want to find a 3D archery range to make practice feel more realistic (more about that below).
Archery Form Is Critical
You’ve probably heard it a hundred different ways, but your form is really important when it comes to making consistent and accurate shots with a bow. Early in the summer is the time to practice and enforce good habits, so that you can focus on realistic bow hunting scenarios later in the year. Here are some pointers to keep in mind as you’re doing the archery practice drills below.
First, find a reliable anchor point for your release arm. It doesn’t matter if you choose your nose touching the string or your first knuckle lined up on your upper jaw. As long as you’re consistent, it should work. Even better, find a few anchor points that you can quickly reference in the field to keep your form consistent.
Many bow hunters also close their non-dominant eye to focus on the pin when they shoot. This limits your peripheral vision and can cost you valuable visual insight. Practice keeping both of your eyes open and focusing on the target instead of the pin, which will help you develop an instinct for the right shot and avoid tunnel vision.
Finally, another common form issue involves your bow arm. Many people drop their bow arm too quickly after a shot. It’s a natural reaction, but you can affect the flight of your arrow if it’s done too quickly. Start off by using a 5-second rule. After the shot, audibly count to 5 before you move your arms. It will feel really awkward the first couple times, but you’ll quickly develop a muscle memory for it and it will become second nature to you.
When you’re doing your bow practice with family or friends, they can help critique your form. They’re already watching you and can see what you can’t, which may just help correct a really bad error before it becomes too engrained. Plus, having someone else watch how well (or poorly) you shoot adds a certain pressure. You’ll feel a little nervous, which is how you’ll likely feel in a hunting scenario anyway. If you have children, consider sending them to a bow camp, like Raised at Full Draw to learn important archery skills and learn from watchful eyes in a team environment.
Archery Practice Drills
Archery target practice can get old quick if you’re shooting the same 10 arrows in the same way every single day. Luckily, there are countless ways for you to stay interested in regular summer bow practice. To stay committed to your practice, you need to find new ways to keep it fresh and have fun while you’re doing it. Below, we’ve collected just a few of the ways you can stay addicted to bow hunting throughout the summer months.
Fun Archery Games
Summer archery practice doesn’t have to be all work and no play. In fact, having fun is one of the best predictors of success there is. If it feels like work, you won’t want to do it in your spare time. And if you’re practicing with the family, you almost need archery games for youth to keep them interested so it doesn’t feel like just another chore. Here are a few archery games you can play with family and friends to have fun with archery this summer.
If you’ve played HORSE in basketball before, you can do the same with your bow. Archer A shoots at the target from a place they choose in a way that they choose (e.g. standing, sitting, etc.). Archer B then needs to do the same shot in order to pass the round. If they miss their mark, they earn their first letter (“H”). For the next round, Archer B should shoot first and A will follow. You continue in this fashion until someone has spelled the full word, “HORSE”, and they lose that game. Archery practice games like this are perfect for kids who play basketball since they already know the rules and it adds a competitive edge.
If you’ve got the room for it, one of the most fun archery target shooting games involves long-distance shots. You can challenge yourself or a friend or family member to beat the distance of whoever shot last. It’s addicting to see who can shoot the furthest, but it will also help you in a few ways. Closer (normal distance) shots will feel a lot easier when you’re grouping arrows at 75 yards. But it’s not just for the mental game. Even if you’re not comfortable with long-distance shooting ethics, you may have a situation where you only wound a deer and get a second chance as they bound out to 70 yards. Being able to make that shot on an already-wounded animal may be your only opportunity to kill and retrieve it.
For these games, you can simply use old or cheap arrows for target practice since there is a good chance you could strip the fletching or even split an arrow. You definitely don’t want to use your best arrows for bow hunting. As your practice continues though, you should definitely switch out your arrows for target practice to shoot a few of your hunting arrows to make any adjustments to your bow before the season starts.
Make It Feel Real
If you’re focusing on building muscle memory, you might as well do it under as similar conditions as you’d hunt in as possible. You don’t necessarily need to do these in the beginning summer months when you’re simply getting your body used to shooting a bow again. That time is more about getting your form down again. But as the summer wears on, it helps to put yourself in a hunting simulation, if you will, to prepare your mind and body for the real deal. There are many ways to make your summer bow practice feel like an actual September bow hunt.
Around mid-summer, it helps to start shooting at 3D archery targets, which have several advantages over a 2 dimensional target face. You can find many bow hunting targets for sale that will fit what you’re looking for. They help you form a mental image in your head where you need to aim regardless of what angle the animal is facing. It’s very different than shooting at a 2D surface. If you aimed for the behind the shoulder shot at an animal that was quartering away too much, you probably wouldn’t get a kill. You need to adjust it further back, usually using the animal’s front leg on the other side as your guide. That mental image also helps to beat your nerves when you see a real animal beyond the pin. After shooting at bullseyes all summer, it’s hard not to get a little jumpy when you see a real deer.
To start adding some realistic details, try to simulate that excited feeling you get in a stand. No matter how many deer you’ve shot, a mature buck can still get your heart pumping (if it doesn’t, you probably shouldn’t be hunting). Since it’s hard to cause an adrenaline rush through mental imagery alone, you can use this physical hack instead. After the deer target is set up, you have a bow and arrow ready on the ground, and your release is on your wrist, go for a quick sprint. How far depends on your physical fitness. It could be a 10 yard dash or a 50 yard sprint. You want to be breathing pretty hard and a little shaky. Run to your bow and nock an arrow, shooting the target as soon as you can. This physically shaky state can partially replicate a real shot. It’s most useful later in the summer when your form is already dialed in and you just need to start preparing for the real deal.
Another way to add more realism to your summer bow practice is to shoot the way you’ll be hunting. For example, if you’ll primarily be in a tree stand, take your shots from a tree stand or other elevated position. This again changes the shot angle, which is easy to see on a 3D target. If you’ll be in a ground blind, practice shooting from one in a seated or kneeling position. You may also want to practice a few shots in low-light conditions, when you’re most likely to see a bruiser buck in the woods. As you get more comfortable in these situations, you eliminate potential surprises that could interfere with the real hunt. While it can be miserable to do in hot summer weather, wearing some of your hunting clothing while you shoot will help to get you used to the different form and technique that’s required.
Finally, you could take it to the extreme towards the end of the season to really get your head in the game. One of the best archery practice tips is to simulate a real hunt as best as you can. Get into a tree stand with your hunting clothing on. Only bring 1 or 2 arrows with you. These are the only arrows you’ll shoot for the day, so you need to make them count without 5 warm-up arrows. In reality, 2 arrows are probably the most you could get before a deer runs out of range anyway. Try to simulate the same feelings and remain as stealthy as possible. As opening morning gets closer, limit your archery practice to only a couple arrows a day. This reduces your chance of a repetitive stress injury right before the season starts, but it also helps shift your mindset to a 1-arrow opportunity.
Summer bow practice is really critical to improving your archery success. It allows you to experience many of the same feelings and situations you might find while hunting with a bow, which helps to prepare your mind for the real deal. Bow hunting is largely a mental game, but there is some physical muscle memory that you can work on too. The sooner you get started, the better your results will be.