Achieving Archery Excellence

Bowhunters: You need to overcome mechanical, physical and mental challenges, or they will overcome you -- at the worst possible moment! (July 2008)

When you need to take your shot, you never know what position you'll be in. While at the range, practice various positions to be confident when the game plan changes.
Photo by Cathy Nogara.

In order to become an accomplished bowhunter, you must first focus your efforts on becoming a proficient archer. As with any sport, those who excel are the ones who face challenges head-on with perseverance and extreme dedication.

We bowhunters continuously strive to stay at the top of our game. This type of obsession grabs hold of us and never seems to let go.

Absolutely crucial for the success of your hunt is to remain undetected while closing the distance on wild game. Testing hunting skills and maintaining hand-eye coordination while bearing down on an intended target appeals to many individuals who are up for the challenge.

When something goes wrong, there's no one to blame but yourself.

Also, while pursuing wild game, we bowhunters need to remember one thing and never lose sight of it: our responsibility to be able to place an arrow accurately for a quick kill.

To accomplish that, you must have the proper training and equipment to get the job done. Learning takes a great deal of time and an extreme amount of patience. It doesn't happen overnight, and there are no shortcuts.

If patience isn't one of your best virtues, then maybe archery isn't your game. But if you agree to immerse yourself in the learning process, the gratification you'll feel from accomplishing your goals -- both on the range and afield -- is indescribable.

In his 1879 book, The Witchery of Archery, Maurice Thompson wrote, "There is no excellence in archery without great labor."

To improve your shooting skills, you must first take a close look at your equipment -- specifically, your bow and your arrows.

Not only must they be exactly matched to your individual strength and stature, but also precisely tuned to guarantee optimal accuracy.

You may think you have the perfect setup, and maybe you do. But many bowhunters have been shooting their bows for years with the incorrect draw length and draw weight, and with improperly spined arrows.

When the moment of truth comes and your opportunity at that trophy buck finally materializes, your bow had better be fine-tuned and ready to shoot accurately. There'll be no room for error.

Whether you're a beginning archer or a veteran bowhunter, here are some tips to help improve your accuracy on the range -- and directly affect your success during hunting season.

Draw Length
Without the correct draw length, it's impossible to establish perfect form at full draw.

If your draw length is too short, you won't be able to activate your rhomboid muscles, needed to lock your shoulder blades together and achieve proper back tension. You will collapse into the shot upon releasing the arrow.

If your draw length is too long, it will force you to overextend your bow arm. Your deltoid muscles will raise your shoulder from its correct socket position. The result will be unwanted arrow placement to the right or left.

There are many ways to calculate draw length. The most accurate method I've found is to stand with your back against a wall with your arms and hands fully extended out to the sides, horizontally -- that is, level with the floor.

Have someone place a tape measure behind your back and measure from the tip of the middle finger on your right hand to the tip of the middle finger on your left hand. Take that measurement and divide it by 2.5.

For example, if your total measurement is 71 inches from fingertip to fingertip, that figure divided by 2.5 equals 28.4 inches.

This is your proper draw length.

Draw Weight
While aiming your sight pin at your target, if you have to draw your bow across your chest, high-draw, strain your muscles or point your bow away from your target, then you're pulling too much weight.

Have you ever watched an archer point his bow upward as he struggles to full draw? I see that happen all the time. Not only do most archery clubs forbid this high-draw method for safety reasons, but you can never draw your bow in this manner without being detected by wild game.

Any guys who are doing this are obviously pulling too much weight.

Is your bow's draw weight correct for you? Here is a true test. Pull up a chair and sit in it while holding your bow. Now slightly lift both your feet an inch so you have no contact with the floor whatsoever.

With your back upright, in proper shooting position, slowly pull your bow open to full draw.

If you can't do this easily, then you're pulling too much weight.

The Right Arrow
When you're dealing with accuracy, consistent arrow spine is everything! By "spine," I'm referring to the stiffness of the arrow shaft. It's impossible to tune a bow properly unless you have arrows correctly spined for the process.

Many arrow manufacturers, such as Gold Tip and Easton, provide reference charts to make sure that you select arrows with the proper spine.

These charts will get you close. But you'll still need to perform your own tests to adjust your bow and find that perfect "sweet spot" for your own specific setup.

Tuning Broadheads
Always begin by spin-testing each arrow to insure there is absolutely no wobble at either the tip of your broadhead or at your nock.

If you're using a fixed three-blade broadhead, it's a good idea to align the blades with your fletching. After conducting my own tests, I've found that when both blades and fletching are aligned, there's a definite difference when shooting fixed three-blade broadheads at longer distances.

Quieting Your Bow
Most high-tech bows harness a tremendous amount of energy that when released

, sometimes causes vibration -- and noise. Here are some tips to help you turn your bow into a stealth weapon for hunting.

'¢ Choose a stabilizer to reduce the amount of shock in your bow.

'¢ Line the inside of your quiver with a self-adhesive felt, then install your foam insert.

'¢ Add Limb Savers to your bow limbs and silencers to your string and cable.

'¢ Beneath and to the side of your arrow rest, place self-adhesive felt to avoid accidental noise if your arrow slips off.

'¢ Add more self-adhesive felt to the prongs on your rest or cushion plunger button.

If your bow still produces noise, try using heavier arrows. They are not only quieter, but will absorb more shock upon release.

Bowhunting is physically demanding and requires both strength and endurance.

To help build up your strength and stamina, you need to combine many different types of workouts, such as cardio for your heart and wind, weight training to strengthen your muscles and endurance training to get your over that next ridge.

Legs, lower back, shoulders and lungs all need to be in top shape if you want to hunt effectively. Within your workout schedule, also make sure to include long trail hikes carrying a 40-pound pack.

That builds up what I call "mountain muscles." You'd be surprised at all the muscles that are not being used during a routine workout.

Your Comfort Zone
Never attempt a shot at an animal outside of your comfort range. Each of us bears the responsibility to harvest an animal humanely with one well-placed accurate shot.

Years ago, I sat in on a bowhunter education class where the instructor asked everyone to write down his own personal accurate killing range.

You should have seen the egos soar as everyone wrote down his distances!

At the end of the class, the instructor walked them over to a life-size solid steel pig target with a foam area where the vitals would be located. Each shooter was placed at the exact distance he'd written down earlier and was asked to shoot one arrow.

After many hunters watched their expensive arrows disintegrate against the steel portion of the target, they soon realized that their true accurate killing range was not quite what they'd imagined.

For many of them, this was a humbling experience, to say the least. But it did teach them a very important lesson in bowhunting ethics.

Practice Different Positions
While hunting an animal, you'll have to execute most of your shots in unorthodox positions, on unstable ground. Rarely will you have the chance to shoot at from an upright standing position, the way you can at the range. Practice and get comfortable shooting with both your knees on the ground, kneeling on only one knee on the ground and from a sitting position, as well as while aiming from extremely upward and downward positions.

If you have no choice but to take a shot from one of these awkward stances, your training will provide you with confidence.

I'm sure that at one time or another, you've heard someone say, "Archery is 10 percent physical and 90 percent mental." Well, it's true!

How you deal with this mental aspect of the sport drives your accuracy and control over your equipment.

"Target Panic"
While maintaining proper form, you float your pin on the bull's eye and smoothly release your arrow. That's the perfect shooting scenario.

But when target panic sets in, it just doesn't seem to work out that way, no matter how hard you try to correct the situation.

Anticipating the shot is where most problems begin. This often leads to freezing off-center of the bull's eye, flinching, punching the trigger of your release, plucking the string or collapsing into the shot.

Sooner or later, all of us fall prey to some form of target panic, especially if we've been shooting for a number of years. How we deal with it or try to avoid it is up to each individual.

For me, at the beginning and end of each of my practice sessions, I "blind bale shoot." Standing only a few yards from the target, I take six to 10 shots with my eyes closed. To do so in a safe manner, I draw my bow and place my pin somewhere on the target, then close my eyes, relaxing into the shot, and release the arrow.

If your draw length is too long, it will force you to overextend your bow arm. Your deltoid muscles will raise your shoulder from its correct socket position. The result will be unwanted arrow placement to the right or left.

This lets me actually feel the natural release without having to focus on a spot. By doing this, I eliminate the visual aspect that tends to send the order from my mind telling my hand to release, thus causing me to anticipate the shot. I just relax and let the shot happen subconsciously.

Buck Fever
Picture yourself 25 yards from the biggest buck of your lifetime, offering a perfect broadside shot.

Suddenly, buck fever takes control of your body. As your breathing becomes erratic and you begin shaking uncontrollably, all your hours of practice and disciplined regimen go right out the window.

Do you find yourself falling victim to this type of panic? You're not alone. I've personally hunted with some top tournament shooters who could easily hit a bull's eye at 80 yards, but completely fell apart when an animal with a heartbeat was standing no more than 30 yards away.

Unfortunately, there are no quick fixes for this serious problem. Each individual hunter needs to search deep within himself to find a solution.

Shoot At 3-D's
Do yourself a big favor and practice with 3-D targets well before the season opener. Paper targets with bull's eyes are fine for sighting-in your pins, but the experience and confidence gained by shooting at life-size 3-D's is much different. Since the vital areas are outlined, you can see exactly where, and at what angle, a killing shot will be most effective.

Practice not only broadside shots, but also quartering-away shots to simulate actual hunting scenarios.

Study the angle at which your arrow penetrates the target, especially on the quartering-away shots. For a quick and humane kill, make sure that it's actually hitting the vitals.

Participating in unmarked 3-D competitions is an excellen

t way to hone your ability to judge distances.

When hunting, things sometimes happen so fast that you don't have enough time to use a range finder. This is where your experience shooting unmarked 3-D's comes into play.

Bowhunters are a breed alone. Because of our weapon of choice and our stealthy style of hunting, we share common factors with one another.

We enter the woods alone, study and learn the habits of the game we pursue while trying to outwit their finely honed instincts.

We're careful not to make a sound or shed our scent while stalking to within bow range of our prey. Then at that decisive moment, as he stands unaware of our presence, we thread a well-placed arrow into our target's vitals with precision.

That's what bowhunting is all about! Keep the tradition alive!

Angelo Nogara is an accomplished tournament archer who was named the California State Broadhead Champion in 2005 and 2007. He is also an avid bowhunter who holds a California state record for non-typical blacktail deer.

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