Practice for bow hunting

We’ve all heard the old saying that practice doesn’t make perfect, perfect practice makes perfect. What does this mean for archery, and more importantly, archery hunting? Is practice simply getting the old bow out and making sure you’re sighted in prior to opening day? That can be a costly mistake.

In archery, there are a lot of small errors that you can make that can have a pretty big impact out at 20 yards – or even 10 for that matter. Have you ever had that 10-yard shot that was easy as pie and somehow you just clean missed the whole animal? Taking into account some of the following thoughts while you practice can save the day when it counts.

In an earlier blog titled “Shooting Techniques,” I talked about some tips on how to develop some of the key elements of bow shooting: anchor point, peep alignment, form, follow-through, trigger control and sight picture. Now that you might have honed in on some of the elements that may work for you, whether my recommendations or your own, it’s time to “practice.”

First of all, practice is more than sighting in, it’s developing a “feel.” If you haven’t shot for a while, you might have to concentrate. Is my anchor right? Am I centered on the peep, trigger control, form, follow-through, etc.? Practice is performing those steps regularly enough that you develop a positive habit and can “feel” when things are right. It becomes engrained and comfortable.

Now, what about perfect practice? Perfect practice is in one, and only one, arrow. It’s shooting that arrow like it’s the only one you have. And it’s total concentration on all your techniques because through that, you will develop good habits rather than bad. Twelve concentrated shots will beat 30 arrows just for the sake of “practice” any day.

Once you’re feeling pretty good about consistently shooting at your target in the yard or at the range, are you ready? Nope, you’re just a good shot!  To be ready to bow hunt, you have to practice in the situations that you expect to hunt.

Do you shoot from a tree? Have you practiced from a tree? Do you shoot a broadhead? Have you practiced with a broadhead?

Here are some things to think about as you “practice for bow hunting.”

If you hunt from a tree, practice from a tree. Those of you that have, know that it takes on a different feel. It’s not uncommon to shoot an inch or 2 high from an elevated stand, so be sure you set your sights for the elevation you intend to hunt.

Many also know to bend at the waist. If you simply drop your arm to shoot at a downward angle, your draw length is actually slightly changed. To demonstrate this, take a piece of string and hold it stretched tight from your anchor point to your bow hand as if you’re shooting. Now remain standing upright and simulate lowering your bow arm. You’ll feel the string tighten up. Something has changed! Now do the same and bend only at the waist to make the shot. Now your head and draw feel the same.  Practice bending at the waist. Is a shot directly under the tree an easy one? Only if you’ve practiced it.

If you’re going to hunt with a broadhead (and of course we do), then you should practice with it. You may find that it shoots exactly the same, and if you do, you have confidence in it. If it doesn’t, then you’ve found out before the moment of truth when it’s too late. Bow tune and broadhead selection can be factors in whether they hit where your field points do, but what matters most is that they group well and they hit where you’re aiming. Sighting in to your broadheads can be more important than whether they hit exactly where your field points do. I know a few guys who have found out that their broadheads grabbed the rest or the side of the bow and pulled the arrow off the string. It’s best to find out before it’s too late.

Yardage estimation is perhaps one of the ones that gets most of us, and for many it’s a skill that takes practice. Three-dimensional archery can be great for this.

Walk up to the stake, guess the yardage, take the shot. You’ll learn quickly how good your yardage estimation is, and you’ll get better at as you practice it. If you use a range finder, range a few key points from your stand in a couple different directions where you think the shot might come from. But while I don’t have anything against them, I prefer to try to develop the skill instead since the situation can change quickly and you may need to make a quick decision.

Can you see deer? Once upon a time I couldn’t and I learned a lesson. Being the stealthy creatures they are, deer often like to venture out during that last few minutes of legal shooting time. Practice for it. You might find that you need a bigger peep to let more light in, you might need a sight light to light up your pins, or maybe even your sight light is too bright in low light and makes it hard to see the target. Shoot late in the evening once in a while to find out.

Another good thing to do is to practice with the clothing you intend to wear. Gloves can change your grip and feel for the bow as well as your feel for your anchor point. They can also change how your release fits around your wrist and consequently shorten it up a bit.  If you plan to hunt when it gets cold, thicker gloves can cause even more of a difference. Facemasks, if tugged during the shot, can block your vision from a shooting angle and also alter the feel of your anchor points. They’re a great camouflage aid, but you should practice with them if you’re going to hunt with them. If you’re going to hunt with a jacket or heavy coat on, you should try that out too – and if you’re going to hunt with a jacket, a coat, a facemask, gloves, with a sight light, sitting down, with a broadhead, from a tree, with green eggs and ham, then by all means, “practice for bow hunting.”

Hope this helps. I’d like to say I base these recommendations on my years of experience of bow hunting, but in reality, it’s just a whole bunch of mistakes.

Next time we’ll talk about bow hunting and a shot routine for the tree stand. Stay tuned.

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