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5 Ways to Improve Bow Skills Before Hunting Season

Want to hone your bow-shooting proficiency before September? Here's how.

5 Ways to Improve Bow Skills Before Hunting Season

Establish a shooting sequence and repeat it with every shot you take during off-season practice to ensure it’ll be instinctive when drawing on an animal. (Photo courtesy of Alps Brands)

The mule deer buck was bedded 23 yards below me. Sounds like a slam dunk, but the steep, declined angle, variable crosswind and adrenaline coursing through my veins tested my months of practice and preparation. After calming down and concentrating, I connected and soon was admiring his chocolate antlers in the palms of my hands.

Bowhunting has many challenges. When you finally earn a shot opportunity, do you really want to blow it? Bowhunters can take many different steps to increase their skills before bow season. Don’t overlook these five.

1. MASTER A SURPRISE RELEASE

Shot anticipation causes some archers to “punch” the trigger and/or flinch during the shot. These things thwart accuracy and become more pronounced when a bull or buck is standing 40 yards away. If you struggle while practicing, address issues before involving live game.

There are several solutions. First, try standing 5 yards from your target and spend a week shooting strictly from there. It removes loads of pressure and minimizes pin movement on the bullseye. Your sole goal is to get comfortable with applying light pressure on the trigger, then pushing and pulling using your back muscles until the shot triggers naturally. Once you have it down, move back to 15 yards and see how things go.

Not working? Find a shooting coach. Or switch to a release aid that fires differently (i.e., switch from an index-finger release to a handheld thumb-button model). Making a change like that retrains your brain how to shoot an arrow, giving you the opportunity to start fresh and build positive habits.

Some folks struggle so badly they can’t beat the severe anticipation without using a resistance release, which fires after you switch off a safety and then push and pull. It reduces the shooter’s “control” aspect common with index-finger or thumb-button releases. Once considered strictly a target release, many bowhunters now use hinge releases, which practically force them to slow down and execute properly amidst an adrenaline-packed encounter.

I use Spot-Hogg’s Wiseguy index-finger release. I like how it can be adjusted across a wide spectrum of sensitivity. I set mine as light as it can go. I also find the BOA strap to be comfortable and consistent. The length adjusts to individual preference, and the open-hook jaw provides fast hookup.

2. DEVELOP A SEQUENCE

I recall a sticker on an acquaintance’s bow riser that read, “Stay calm. Pick a spot.” That’s good advice, but I fear it’s too shallow. The act of shooting an arrow is very simple and can be accomplished in as little as two seconds. But shooting an arrow properly is complex when you break it down into steps.

Consider that first you must assume a proper stance. Then, you have to estimate the yardage or use a rangefinder. If you have a fixed-pin sight, you must decide which pin you’ll use or if you’ll hold one high or another low. If you have a one-pin slider sight, you’ll have to adjust it. And you must place your hand on the grip consistently.

Once you hit full draw, you’ll need to find your anchor point, center your sight pin in your peep sight, then reference your bubble level. Next, you’ll put your pin not just in the general area you want to hit, but on a specific spot within it. Once you’re settled in and are okay with your pin float, you’ll begin the back-tension process to fire the release. Don’t forget to follow through.

Wow, that seems like a lot. But creating a task-based sequence during the summer and using it at crunch time mentally reduces the “bigness” of the opportunity because you’re not dwelling on the animal or its size. Even more importantly, it helps the shooter focus on releasing not just a shot, but a quality shot.

3. BUY BETTER ARROWS

Inconsistent arrows can be a detriment to consistent long-range accuracy. Straightness and weight tolerances are two big considerations. Arrows rated at +/- .001 inch for straightness and +/- .5 grain are the standard for those looking to tighten groups. If you’re shooting arrows with a +/- .003- or .006-inch straightness tolerance, switching to an arrow with a tighter tolerance is a good idea.

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4. ADD PRESSURE TO PRODUCE

Shooting at a deer target in the backyard at known distances isn’t realistic bowhunting practice. Better practice is to self-impose consequences for poor shots.

“Make your practice harder than the real thing,” says accomplished target archer and Western bowhunter, Kevin Wilkey. “I try not to get comfortable when I’m practicing. During the indoor archery season, I intentionally bounce around from range to range and don’t shoot from the same lane. When I’m on the line with other shooters, I occasionally delay so that I’m the last man standing when the shot clock is seconds from draining. When practicing in the backyard, orchestrate tough shots that will result in a broken arrow if you miss.”

Whether it’s a broken arrow or a bruised ego, having consequences for poor shots can motivate you to work harder to tighten up your game.

5. BALANCE YOUR BOW

Bow balance directly impacts aiming stability. For many years, stabilizers were an underutilized tool, but lots of bowhunters are now catching on. I see many running stabilizer systems closely related to what champion target archers have long been using. A combination of stabilizers is a great way to achieve a perfect bow balance. Rather than use a generic 6-inch stabilizer, try a combination of different stabilizers or a stabilizer system until your bow truly balances.

Some bow manufacturers have introduced new mounting locations and systems for sights, arrow rests and quivers, positioning the accessory weight at the center of the riser or closer to it. This alleviates most of the negative impact accessories once had on bow balance. The difference is astounding.

Practice Makes Perfect

The cure doesn’t happen overnight. Often, it takes weeks of diligence and dedication to move your proficiency needle. Sometimes, practice sessions are purely frustrating. Don’t force yourself to keep shooting. Have the self-control to walk away. The worst habits are formed by forcing the issue. Come back another day with a fresh mind and fresh muscles.

Following these five tips won’t guarantee nothing but double-lung shots. Bowhunting is bowhunting. Any number of things can go wrong—some beyond our control. But I believe summer practice that includes mentally focusing on drawing and shooting your bow and understanding the features and limitations of your gear are good steps in sharpening your archery game.




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