I remember it like it was yesterday. The man seemed unshakable, flawless in his execution. Toeing a line with throngs of other shooters, he could drill X after X from 20 yards. People flocked to him, hoping that some of his accuracy magic would rub off on them. As the years passed, I became very good friends with this gentleman, and we decided to embark on a spot-and-stalk Western whitetail hunt together.
Truthfully, I wanted to see him shoot a buck as much as I wanted one for myself. I wanted to witness that perfect form, that skilled execution in the field. Well, I never got to see it. As a matter of fact, I saw the exact opposite. This cool, calm and collected X assassin fell apart the minute a buck, any buck, walked within range. He shook. He held his breath. He punched his trigger. Heck, he even used the wrong pin on more than one occasion. After his third miss, I looked at him flabbergasted. The look on my face had to reflect that of sheer confusion, because he looked at me and said, “Well, I was hoping it would go away or at the very least be able to hide it from you. I can’t keep my composure when I shoot at an animal.”
That was our last hunt together, but that hunt taught me a valuable lesson: You can shoot dots on a target and pound X’s in a competition, but if you don’t take the time to simulate actual in-the-field shooting situations, you’ll never have a full freezer or much of a trophy room.
Invest Some Coin
I know times are tough. I know we are all on a shoestring budget. But I also know the importance of saving your greenbacks and purchasing a couple of 3-D targets. If possible, purchase 3-D targets that emulate the animal you will be hunting, the whitetail deer. Why? Simple. It’s important to get used to the feeling of watching your arrows drill the animal that you’re going to hunt time and time again. It’s amazing what this will do for your psyche. In addition to purchasing a few 3-D targets, I also recommend getting stands for these targets. Some do come with a stand, but if not, they can be purchased or you can visit your local hardware store and get some scrap rebar.
Play Dress Up
I know it might seem a bit silly, and I often get a few weird glances when shooting on a public tract close to home, but it’s imperative that you practice in the attire you’re going to hunt in. If your first adventure of the season is an early-season whitetail hunt, practice shooting in thin gloves, a long-sleeved shirt and even a light jacket. In addition, I also recommend shooting with a facemask or camouflage netting over your face. Chances are if you’re hunting the early season, you will be dealing with mosquitos — and the best defense is usually some sort of face mask. Sure, practicing in shorts and a tank top is fun and cool, but if that’s all you do, it will be very awkward the first time you pull back on a buck in clothing you’re not accustomed to shooting in. The same holds true if you’re heading to the Midwest on a November whitetail sojourn. You’ll need to practice in bibs, a heavy coat, gloves and the like.
Something else to consider and put into practice is shooting from different positions. For instance, if you know you will spend the months of October and November perched 20 feet up a hardwood, then you will need to hang a stand and practice shooting out of it regularly. If you will be spotting-and-stalk hunting for whitetails, you will need to practice executing shots while kneeling, sitting, crouching and standing. If you’ll be huddled in a ground blind, practice shooting while sitting in the chair you will be hunting from. Taking the time to practice shooting from the positions your hunt will require often makes the difference between success and failure.
Whitetails don’t always offer the perfect shot. Unlike a square bag target, they don’t stay in one spot and offer that oh-so-rare broadside shot. In fact, my last five shots on whitetails have been quartering-away shots. You can prepare for this and know exactly where to aim by positioning your targets at different angles. Every time I toss my 3D targets in my Dodge and head to the woods, I make it a point to spend lots of time taking quartering-away, quartering-to and full- frontal shots. Not that I plan to take full-frontal and quartering-to shots, but it does wonders for my confidence to know that I can make these shots. It will do the same for yours. As for quartering-away practice, I know you all know to aim at the opposite leg, but knowing where to aim and actually putting your pin on the spot and executing the shot time and time again are two very different things.
In addition to placing 3-D targets at different body angles, I also recommend placing your targets at uphill and downhill angels. This holds especially true if a Western spot-and-stalk whitetail mission is on your season menu. Learning how to bend at the waist — up or down — and plopping arrows into a 3-D target’s vitals can’t be overlooked. Several years ago while spotting-and-stalking deer in South Dakota I had the opportunity to harvest a beautiful 160-inch-plus giant. He was grazing in some willows below me, and I shot right over his back. Yes, that could happen to anyone, but I’d like to think if I had spent some time shooting 3-D targets at uphill and downhill angles, that buck would be on my wall.
Go Ahead…Whack A Branch
Arrows are expensive and I don’t like losing them either, but if you want your in-the-field shooting confidence to reach heights you never imagined, set your 3-D targets so that there are obstacles between you and the targets. One of my favorites is arching my arrows over logs and overhanging branches. The more times I do this, the easier it becomes for me to know where to hold my pins to clear any obstacle that is between me and my target. This is knowledge that can only be obtained through practice. I can’t explain the feeling or the smile that will spread across your face when you watch your arrow slide just over a branch and plop perfectly into a 3-D target.
Buck fever. The shakes. Adrenaline overload. I don’t care what you call it, when you’re preparing to fire an arrow at flesh and blood, your nerves spike and it’s easy to lose your mental focus. What’s the best way to combat this? Start shooting in 3-D competitions. Nothing gets the blood pumping like standing in the woods with your peers guessing the distance on a target and executing a shot while everyone watches. What if you don’t have any 3-D tournaments close to you? Don’t worry, I have another remedy. Get with a buddy or two and head to the woods with your 3-D targets. When shooting, place money on each and every shot. Not much money, but enough to give you some bragging rights and maybe buy a hamburger after the shoot. The more times you can get your blood pumping and nerves going while shooting, the better. Over time you will learn to control your nerves and execute the best shot possible each and every time.
Work The Body
This is my last tip to get you ready for the field, and it’s one of the most important. Once or twice a week while shooting my 3-D targets I like to run to the target, pull my arrow, run back and shoot again. Doing this makes me breathe heavy and gets my blood pumping. I figure that if I can drill my 3-D target while sweating and huffing and puffing, I should be able to double-lung a big buck regardless of the conditions.
There you have it, all the advice you need to make this season your most lethal yet. My advice: Don’t waste another minute. Get a few 3-D targets and get in the woods.
Bonus: Your 3-D Targets
Field Logic, makers of the legendary Block, offers whitetail fanatics the Shooter Buck and Big Shooter Buck 3-D Archery Targets. The Shooter Buck stands 48 inches tall, features 125-inch Pope-and-Young antlers and comes with ground stakes. The larger 51-inch Big Shooter Buck is also equipped with 125-inch antlers and ground stakes. Both targets are easy to assemble and maneuver and can take throngs of shots from field points, mechanical broadheads and fixed-blades. Also from Field Logic are the GlenDel Buck, GlenDel Pre-Rut and GlenDel Full-Rut 3-D Archery Targets. Renowned for their toughness and four-sided core that offers more shooting surface, GlenDel targets are a great 3-D choice.
New from Morrell Targets is the Bionic Buck II 3-D. Tipping the scales at 27 pounds, this sizeable 3-D target sports a set of antlers that can’t be ignored and stops field points, mechanicals and fixed-blade broadheads. When you purchase the Bionic Buck II 3-D, it’s like you’re getting two targets for the price of one. Reverse Vital Technology allows you to simply reverse the head and butt plate and the front and back legs to get a new set of vitals. In addition, this innovative 3-D target boasts Flex Back self-healing foam, easy arrow removal and raised vitals on one side and universal scoring rings on the other.
A household name in the 3-D target arena, Delta McKenzie Targets offers whitetail hunters the Backyard Buck Legend. Extremely economical, this target will take field points, mechanicals and fixed-blade broadheads fired from bows producing up to 350 feet per second. In addition, the Backyard Buck Legend sports replaceable vitals and comes equipped with IBO scoring rings. The Backyard Buck stands 40 inches tall and measures 43 inches long — perfect for toting around the woods.
When it comes to selection, it’s hard to beat Rinehart. Currently, this innovative company offers whitetail bowhunters the Woodland Buck, Alert Deer, Feeding Doe, Fighting/Rubbing Buck, Anatomy Deer, Spike Buck, Big Ten Buck, Bedded Doe, Broadhead Buck, Apple/Browsing Buck, 30 Pt. Buck and the Browsing Buck. Honestly, with Rinehart’s attention to detail and quality, it really doesn’t matter which target you decide on. Take the Woodland Buck for example. This new target sports Solid FX Foam technology from nose to tail with absolutely no fillers. And like all Rinehart targets, the core of the Woodland Buck is constructed of Rinehart’s legendary self-healing foam. If you wear out a Rinehart 3D Target in a single season, you’ve really done some serious shooting.