Shape up your pre-season practice regimen with these challenging drills.
Shape up your pre-season practice regimen with these challenging drills.
How many shooting-improvement articles have you read? Probably dozens. Most cover equipment, shooting form, muscle mechanics, and release operation. They’re excellent topics, and I’ve written my share of articles on them; however, I believe far more contribute to bowhunting accuracy than these controlled-environment exercises. Ordinary backyard practice benefits shooting form and muscle memory but doesn’t replicate what you’ll encounter while hunting. In fact, it’s far from the real thing, and your backyard shooting form doesn’t automatically carry to the treestand either. Bowhunting involves various uncontrollable factors, and if you’re serious about becoming deadlier than ever, you must prepare for them. Let’s review several down-and-dirty exercises you can implement to make your pre-season practice more like bowhunting.
THREAD THE NEEDLE
Uncluttered bowhunting shot opportunities are rare. Brush, limbs and other obstacles often obstruct your target to some extent. This inevitably flusters unprepared bowhunters at crunch time, and they blow the shot. They haven’t practiced such scenarios, and fear of missing prompts a dark outcome. I’ve heard numerous accounts where bowhunters thought they could thread their arrow through limbs but center-punched one instead. In fact, limbs have robbed a few trophies from me. Ponder this question: How often do you practice shooting through limbs and brush? If you answer “never” or “rarely,” you’re destined to fail. Go one-on-one against your 3-D target. Move it around to different spots. Place it in the brush. Shoot it from different angles. If you hunt from a treestand, shoot it from one. If spotand-stalk is your method, stalk your target from multiple angles, hitting it with killing arrows. Always add difficult dimensions to your practice sessions, allowing obstacles to stretch your shooting skills to their limit. I almost guarantee you’ll lose arrows here and there, but you’ll learn to thread them home without game-crippling deflections as you conquer challenging shots. You’ll also learn to decipher whether an obstructed shot is ethical to take. One example of this decision making is my first whitetail buck. I was 15 years old, and I practiced difficult shots often. I was prepared when the buck I rattled-in paused, quartering away at 30 yards with a 15-yard branch completely obstructing his vitals. I calculated where his lungs were, settled my 30-yard pin on the branch, and released a perfect arrow. My top pin had been above the branch, and my arrow arced cleanly over it, deflating his lungs as planned. Despite my excitement during the encounter, I mentally rehearsed the outcome before I launched my arrow. I had practiced stuff like this before, and I shot knowing—not hoping— my arrow would clear the branch. Practicing obstructed shots sharpens your marksmanship and helps you make better shooting decisions. There are many cases where obstructed shots are unethical, and you need to recognize them before you launch arrows. It’s your responsibility to only take shots you know you can make.
DRAW FROM AWKWARD POSITIONS
Drawing your bow from a treestand wreaks your form if you don’t practice it before you hunt. If you don’t have a spare treestand to hang in your yard, shoot from another safe, elevated platform, such as a deck. Many bowhunter lift their bows high into the air to leverage the bowstrings back, dropping their bow arms to acquire their targets. This flubs form and hinders accuracy. Instead, draw your bow straight back. Make sure your form is great, and then bend at the waist to acquire your target. This approach helps maintain upper-body form and proper muscle mechanics. You might argue this is too much to remember at crunch time. I agree, but only if you haven’t practiced the maneuver religiously before heading afield. If you spot-and-stalk, you’ll eventually be caught lying down— on your back or stomach—when your prey presents a shot opportunity. If you rise up before drawing back, you’ll lose precious shot-clock time, and perhaps squander the shot opportunity you worked so hard to orchestrate. To avoid this, practice drawing back and rising up in one fluid motion. A rock-solid core makes
GUESS AND SHOOT
Rangefinders are great, and I recommend every bowhunter use one. However, certain circumstances require quick shooting without time to operate it. This was the case during my 2007 Kansas whitetail hunt. It was my last morning to hunt, and the action around me was dead. That changed suddenly when grunts and sloshing water jolted me from my mid- morning siesta. My instincts immediately kicked in. I grabbed my bow as a doe and fawn raced my way with a pretty good buck in tow. I mouth-grunted and hit full draw as the buck coasted to a halt. I estimated the distance was 30 yards, settled my pin and sent my arrow on its way. The buck backpedaled when I shot, causing the arrow to strike forward but made it only 60 yards before falling. Only eight seconds elapsed from the time I heard the grunts until I took the shot. I know this because my mother videotaped the hunt. When all was silent, I used my shaky fingers to operate my rangefinder, which read 30 yards to where the buck had
“Ordinary backyard practice benefits shooting form and muscle memory but doesn’t replicat what you’ll encounter while hunting.”
been standing at the shot. My yardage-estimation practice from summer helped me snipe-off a nice rutting buck at an unknown distance with only a moment’s notice. Practice for fleeting shot opportunities by shooting your target from unknown distances. Stick it in the woods or on the prairie where you don’t normally shoot. Walk to random spots, guess the distance and shoot. Again, you’ll possibly miss and lose arrows when you’re off on yardage, but you’ll sharpen your marksmanship for lightning-fast bowhunting encounters.
SPEED YOUR HEART RATE
Game encounters create an adrenaline rush, and ordinary backyard practice doesn’t replicate the phenomenon. However, there are several ways to recreate it. Sprint 40 yards away from your bow, then sprint back, grab it and shoot. This simulates a bowhunting rush, adding realism and difficulty to your practice. You can also utilize other aggressive exercises to boost adrenaline, such as a series of pushups. An elk hunter once shared an account of a blown opportunity where a 6x6 bull came within 6 yards. Everything went as planned, until he tried drawing his bow. Again and again he tried but couldn’t get it drawn. By the time he tugged the string back, the bull was leaving. He admitted he was completely unprepared for the encounter, completely losing his composure. If you’ve never been close to a monster bull elk, you must prepare for such an encounter in order to close the deal with a perfect arrow. Implement adrenaline rushes into your shooting sessions, and you’ll handle the real thing like a champ.
ADD AN ANGLE
How often do you see pictures of archers shooting 3-D targets from abnormal angles? Almost never. I shoot my 3-D targets from every angle. Some angles I practice wouldn’t be ethical shots on real game—such as the straightaway angle, also known as the
Texas heart shot. However, I practice such angles, so I’m ready to follow-up a marginal first shot with a finishing arrow if necessary. Two controversial shot angles are the facing and quartering-toward angles. Many variables depict their ethicality—wind speed, shot distance, kinetic energy, animal alertness and hunter proficiency. If you’re following-up a marginal but mortal first shot, you should shoot the animal again if possible, regardless of the angle. When taking your first shot, though, the variables I mentioned above must be considered. Even then, they’re still controversial shot angles, and each bowhunter must make a choice that they’re confident will produce deadly results. If you decide it’s within your ethical boundaries to take the shot, it had better be an angle you’ve practiced.
I’ve frequently written about broadhead practice, but I’ve heard enough horror stories to continue writing about it. Never believe broadhead packages that read, “Flies just like a field point.” I’ve always practiced with broadheads before hunting—my eldest brother taught me this long ago. Broadhead- tipped arrows that
"PRACTICING OBSTRUCTED SHOTS SHARPENS YOUR MARKSMANSHIP AND HELPS YOU MAKE BETTER SHOOTING DECISIONS."
the maneuver more manageable, so you’ll want to consider Pilates or another workout that builds a strong core.
Add difficulty to your practice sessions by placing your 3-D target behind brush or obstacles. The more often you do this, the better decisions you’ll make on which shots are ethical.
Practice every possible scenario you can imagine before hunting. This prepares you for difficult bowhunting shots.