August 17, 2022
By Mark Kayser
Shooting at a manicured and measured archery range—indoor or outdoor—has benefits. When zeroing your bow or during a prolonged stretch of inclement weather, a controlled environment is ideal. Those occasions aside, your practice sessions should simulate the bowhunting situations you'll encounter in the real world, right down to the exact bow, arrows and broadheads you intend to use during the season. Once your gear is lined out, try some of the following scenarios to get field-ready for opening day.
1. SHOOT THE GAPS
Start by setting targets in natural settings. It's likely that not all your hunts will occur on the trimmed edge of a planted food plot. Interior woodland stands might lead to shots on deer meandering through brush or shrouded by limbs.
Set your targets in thick vegetation to practice needling arrows through a jungle of foliage. It also pays to angle your target, be it 3D or block. This mimics shots where an animal is angling toward or away from you; not every deer will stand perfectly broadside. In the woods, a slight adjustment in aiming back or slightly forward can be the difference between venison backstrap and having to frequent the meat counter at the grocery store all winter.
If you hunt from a ground blind, set it in a brushy area and launch arrows through the small windows. This ensures your proficiency in clearing window height and helps refine your form while shooting from a seated position. One of my ground blinds still has a slashed windowsill from a friend's low launch through a small window. It led to an agonizing day of trailing with no high-five ending.
2. ELEVATE YOURSELF
Treestand or elevated-blind hunters need high-rise training. If you stalk in uneven ground, you also need to consider the ups and downs of shooting. Aiming points change depending on the steepness of the shot, so practice those you may encounter. Setting up a treestand in your backyard is one option, but also think efficiency. Do you have a raised porch or a second-story window in your home you can shoot from? Climbing up and down a treestand repeatedly can add danger—and extra time—to your shooting sessions. Conversely, climbing steps is relatively easy and doesn't require a safety harness. Be creative and look around your home environment to find something that mimics shooting from an elevated perch.
My horse pasture, for instance, includes several steep, deep draws. Instead of climbing trees, I situate a target in the bottom of a gully and climb hills after retrieving arrows from the target. This simulates aiming at a deer from a treestand or even encountering deer while stalking hilly country, but it's also a good workout. Maintain form, but bend, crouch and contort as you might when drawing on a deer that requires a steep shot angle.
3. INTRODUCE UNKNOWNS
Rangefinders are standard gear for modern hunters, but situations can unfold fast and deny you the chance to range an animal before it disappears forever. Prep for these scenarios by estimating distance without digital help and launching arrows quickly. When a buck appears in a close shooting lane, it might offer ample time to range, draw and settle. Most likely, though, the encounter will last mere seconds. Estimating range is a skill that requires constant repetition to maintain. Train at the range, but also repeat that training elsewhere.
Varmint hunting, for example, offers a solid classroom environment. Find a field of gophers or someplace where groundhogs have been spotted. When a target pops up, estimate the range and launch an arrow to see how well you judged the distance. You can accomplish this with a block target set in a natural environment, too. Walk around it and launch arrows from guesstimated distances to enhance distance judging. Have a friend join you and make a wager to keep the pressure at maximum level.
On cool mornings or evenings, add a few layers of clothing to simulate how you'll dress on the stand. Changes in wardrobe can alter your form and, in turn, cause your arrow to shoot differently. And don't skip practice just because the wind's blowing or it’s raining. By shooting in these real conditions, you can note and adjust to minimize accuracy issues when facing them out in the field.
Hitting the archery range with friends can be both relaxing and help you refine your form. However, a day in a natural environment shooting against Mother Nature prepares you for real-world fall success. Practice these scenarios and you should feel confident going into the season.