It's no secret that practice makes perfect, and the best practice for hunting and bowhunting is shooting 3-D archery.
Bowhunters often are required to shoot from various positions. Sometimes it's getting low and bending down on one knee, possibly stretching uphill with one leg, and many times you'll have to bend over a stand and lean past a tree trunk, all in an effort to slip an arrow past a hanging limb, leaf or pine needle branch and into an elk, deer or other game animal.
Shooting 3-D the last 10 years has made me a better bowhunter. I am now much better prepared for situations where low light, terrain and obstacles produce real-life hunting challenges. And not only is it fantastic shooting practice, but it's perfect for young hunters and families.
Relax To Remove Torque
Are your arrows hitting where you're aiming consistently? Or are you having a problem with right and left misses? If left and right misses are an issue, focus specifically on how strong or light you're gripping the bow.
Many top shooters recommend archers' fingers have the least amount of contact possible on the riser. Contact to the riser creates torque, and fingers wrapping around and gripping the riser with inconsistent pressure is often to blame.
Consider relaxing your bow hand and shooting with an open-hand grip. A grip where fingers loosely wrap around and possibly touch each other provides the least amount of riser pressure. When hand placement is consistent, this grip style produces accurate results.
Ultimately, your goal is to grab and hold your bow, shot after shot, in the same position, regardless of shot angle, distance, and body position.
If you plan on wearing gloves when hunting, then now is the time to see if anything has changed with your shot.
Thin, early season gloves might have little effect, while cold weather insulated gloves might throw your arrow drastically off your aiming point. If you wear gloves when hunting, tune your bow and arrows while wearing them in the pre-season.
Bubble Levels Are Cool Tools
Most 3-D courses feature diverse terrain and angled shots on sloped hills. All of it requires careful balance and foot positioning. A stable platform is essential to execute a comfortable shot. How you position your feet can steady and strengthen you.
Most modern archery sights include a bubble level and some have various adjustments to fine-tune the level. It's there for a good reason.
First, when sighting in your pins, make sure your bubble is positioned perfectly in the middle of the level. This reference point ensures your bow's vertical position and that your top limb isn't leaning to the right or left, essentially throwing off the horizontal-windage positioning of your sighting system.
Ultimately, this will ensure that the string is at a perfect vertical position. Remember, consistency and repeatability is required for bull's-eye accuracy!
By utilizing the bubble level, you add another reference point for consistent aiming. And when shooting on uneven ground, you'll find your body wants to adjust awkwardly to the terrain. Utilizing a bubble level encourages proper body positioning, bow positioning, repeatable shooting form, and aiming.
While spot-and-stalk Western-style hunters benefit dramatically from the various shot situations 3-D courses provide, tree stand hunters also get better by shooting 3-D targets. Shots out of tree stands can put hunters is strange contorted positions. And considering all shots out of a tree stand are angled, vertical alignment becomes extremely important.
Breath, Release, Follow Through
Shot execution includes a number of components. Each part of the equation demands respect and attention. After grip and anchoring, focus your energy on picking a spot, aiming, breathing and releasing.
You have heard it before, but it really is this simple: "Aim small, miss small." When aiming, focus on the smallest of aiming points you can pick out. Don't just shoot at a general area. Select a specific spot on the target, ideally a small aiming point, a detailed feature like one hair, a fur spot, body-color change, possibly a branch shadow or highlight of sunlight. Your arrow will be directed more precisely towards that target.
When aiming, breathe in and out slowly while attempting to find a calm point during an exit breath. With half to 30 percent of air released, muscles at this point are focused and stable. Start squeezing.
The good thing about 3-D tournaments is various trails require attention to breathing and oxygen capacity. You might find yourself hiking uphill to one target and slightly out of breath. Instead of resting, simulate a hunting scenario, where at any point, the animal might appear.
A similar scenario would be executing a shot were aiming time is limited and presented quickly. However, try to avoid rushing a shot. Practice your execution so you are in control of the release.
Bowhunters should practice squeezing the trigger slowly. Ideally, the release should take you a bit by surprise because you are not punching the release. Once you have locked your pin on your target and initiated pressure on your release trigger, focus specifically on a smooth, slow squeeze.
By replicating hunting scenarios when shooting 3-D targets, and practicing shooting when out of breath, your release and ultimately follow-through, like any other great sport of accuracy and consistency, can make or break the success and outcome of the shot.
Practicing Tough Shots
Knowing your bow setup and arrow trajectory helps you thread the needle when obstacles present themselves at specific yardages.
Vitals and openings become closely guarded by branches, leaves and grass — angled to where the slightest aiming error throws arrows off their mark and, technically, out of the vitals. Depending on the size and position of the obstacle, to make a successful shot, you're going to have to shoot a bit high or low possibly away from your ideal aiming point.
Knowing this trajectory can allow archers to slip an arrow into the vitals. But never push a shot. If not enough vitals are showing, wait until the animal moves or try to reposition yourself.
Ten and 12 rings are the goal in 3-D. However, personally I judge my performance on the actual placement of arrow in the target body. Would it have been a lethal hit in the lungs, heart? Even though I scored an 8, was it an effective killing shot?
While scores indicate success and dictate winners of 3-D competitions, many hunters consider anatomy and are happy as long as their arrow would have hit the vitals.
Ultimately, as hunters, we aim behind the front shoulder and life-size 3-D targets provide the ultimate practice session. Now, let's just pray they don't jump the string!