Deer season is like a marathon that requires a lot of energy on sleep that trickles in a few hours at a time. Then, turkey season rolls around and it’s an all-out sprint to the finish line, getting in as much as possible in a very tight window. By the time turkey season ends, most hunters are worn out and welcome the summer months full of family vacations, marking things off the Honey Do list, and prep for the upcoming season. This is the time of year I like to call The Great Neglect. It’s where most bowhunters put their bows down for the summer, not picking them up again until a few weeks before the season opener in the fall. Sure, there are some diehards who shoot an arrow a day no matter what, but for most of us, we drastically reduce our practice time or cut it out altogether. But this is a huge mistake.
Archery Is a Diminishing Skill
Archery is not like riding a bike. The less you shoot, the worse you get. You may shoot 3” groups at 20 yards in May, but if you put your bow down until August or September, you can bet those groups are going to be a good bit larger when you pick it back up. Your form suffers, your shooting muscles weaken, and your muscle memory suddenly has amnesia. It can be quite frustrating, but it’s completely preventable. We spend so much time and energy learning and practicing to become better archers so that when showtime comes at last light, we’re able to execute under pressure. We need our muscle memory to take over. All too often, bowhunters can’t remember a thing about their shot process after deciding to draw back on an animal. That’s because we get so amped up that we lose the ability to think clearly. When we get to that moment and don’t have the muscle memory to draw back, anchor, bend at the waist, get on target, level the bow, and slowly activate a surprise release, it’s a crap shoot whether we’ll make a good shot. Sometimes we do, sometimes we don’t.
Practice With Intention
That’s why it’s important to make every practice shot count. That means not just walking out to 20 yards and ripping off a dozen arrows. It means taking every shot as seriously as you do while hunting. You get one shot at an animal. There are no warmups. That means that the very first arrow you shoot during a practice session is a very good representation of what you should expect when shooting at a deer, elk, bear, or whatever animal you’re after. And honestly, that shot from your practice range is going to be much better than one from a tree because the conditions won’t be nearly as good from a stand, saddle, or blind – unless that’s how you practice.
Visualize The Hunt
So, at the very least, visualize every aspect of what the animal may be doing when you draw back, how slowly and quietly you’ll need to move, how you may have to stop the animal, how much time you’ll likely have to release, and then execute the shot. The more you treat every practice arrow like it’s the real deal, the better you’ll perform when it actually is.
Use 3D Targets
If you don’t already use 3D targets for every game animal you hunt, I can honestly say it makes a world of difference in real-world shooting. The biggest difference is just how quickly you get on the vitals, and how much confidence you have in making a lethal shot. When you shoot at a block target, you’re shooting at the small circle of a big square target that looks nothing like an animal. If you’re the average like me, you probably don’t drill the center 10 out of 10 shots from even 20 yards. Even though your groups are probably much smaller than the vitals, it can be frustrating and lower your confidence levels to miss the mark. But when you shoot a 3D target, your confidence soars because you realize that even one of your “bad” shots was still a double-lunger. And because you’re repeatedly aiming at the vitals of a 3D target during practice, there’s no guessing when it comes to the real thing. You simply draw back and get on target without much thought because you’ve done it a thousand times. That’s the beauty of reps.
Kill The Bad Habits
The summer is the absolute best time to break bad habits by replacing them with good ones. Jerking the trigger, firing as your pin floats past the target, or locking underneath where you want to aim are signs you’re suffering from target panic. Now is the time to kick it. It’s not going away on its own. Trust me. I suffered from it for two years. It took a lot of researching good shot technique and switching to a handheld release to finally beat it. Index style (wrist-strap) releases have a tendency to cause target panic. If you’re thinking about switching, do it now. You’ll need the time to get comfortable with it. But more important than the release is practicing a shot process, not just releasing an arrow.
Releasing Isn’t Pulling the Trigger
Using the same process on every single shot, ending with a surprise release, is the single best way to increase your accuracy. Some people use a mantra with every shot just to make sure they stick to their process. They think or even whisper the words Draw, Splash (as they get on target and let the pin float), level, pull, pull, pull (until the shot breaks). You don’t have to verbally repeat a mantra, but if you don’t have a similar process that you go through on every shot, now is the best time to create one. It will not only increase your accuracy on the range, but it will help you to be more in control of your shots when you start coming unglued with a live animal down range.
Practice Makes Better
As hard as we might chase it, perfection is an illusion in this life. But we can always get better. Don’t let your shooting be the weak link in your hunting game this fall. You’re going to put a lot of effort into getting in front of the animal you’re chasing and there will be a lot of things completely outside of your control. Your ability to execute an ethical shot doesn’t have to be one of them. So, keep up the reps and practice with intention.
Written by Alex Killman at Southeastern Bowhunting