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Practice bowhunting during the off season

I admit shooting my bow sometimes feels like a chore, something I have to do to earn “fun time.” Shooting into lifeless block targets, bags, or indoor walls is certainly necessary during initial sighting and tuning, and you need to do it to maintain shooting form through the long off season. But there’s no way around the boredom factor, which is what turned me away from indoor target leagues altogether. My attention dulled, making it easy to fall into that most common trap leading to sloppy habits—shooting for quantity instead of quality.

In recent years I’ve distanced myself from potential traps by completely changing my approach to off-season shooting practice. I call it “stepping off the line” (off the target line, at least). I seek more reality-based practice that’s not only more fun, but better prepares me for the shooting that counts most—shots at living flesh and blood.

Stump Shooting/Roving

One of my favorite off-season pastimes, even during those downtimes during open season when waiting for temperatures to cool, is stump shooting or roving. My quiver always has a welcoming slot for a rubber blunt or Zwickey Judo Point, even if I am hot after rutting trophy whitetail in mid November or high-country bugling bulls in September. Stump shooting during open season simply keeps my shooting sharp and bow muscles toned if I’m doing more hunting than shooting.

During the off-season, stump shooting is even more important. This is when I prepare for upcoming hunting seasons by breaking in a new bow rig or working through a current shooting slump without actually keeping score, which would add additional pressure and prolong the problem. It’s also an excuse to get out for some welcomed exercise and do some scouting.

There’s really nothing to it. All you need is open space and a couple stump-shooting points like the aforementioned blunts and Judos, but also Precision Designed Products’ Game Nabber, Muzzy’s Grasshopper, or G5’s S.G.H. in the same weight as your hunting broadheads. In fact, most stump-shooting points offer flight characteristics more closely mirroring broadhead flight than field points. They’re also designed to minimize arrow loss due to burying in debris or skipping out of the shooting area. It’s then just a matter of walking through the woods directing arrows at rotten logs, a leaf on a clean dirt bank, cow patties (my favorite) or, yes, stumps. In wooded areas there’s no better way to imprint your arrow’s trajectory on your mind’s eye, at one glance allowing better understanding of whether a shot at game is feasible or not.

My friends and I also make a weekend game of this, playing Follow The Leader across desert low country or up a mountain canyon, taking turns picking a target and how it must be addressed (sitting, kneeling, standing on a stump facing away from the target, and so on).

3-D Real-World Bowhunting

Practicing on a 3-D target off-season is also healthy for form. When I lived in the suburbs without real room to shoot, I never failed to tote my foam deer or bear target along on summer fishing or camping trips. I would set it up in natural settings, getting more useful shooting practice than I ever could have in the back yard or at the target range. This enabled better practice with those often-troublesome uphill and downhill shots, shots through tight brush, or shots while sitting, kneeling, or severely twisted.

Now that I live at the edge of town with more room to play, I own an entire farm of foam animals. (Buying most of them “used” saved me money.) I set them up to take maximum advantage of scenarios focusing on topography, vegetation, and optical illusions (shooting across an open canyon head for instance) that are common when chasing real game. I set them beneath treestands and practice shooting while seated, twisted, and working around the requisite safety harness.

And I don’t just shoot these targets as if they were animated foam. I stalk them as if they are the real thing, let my imagination run free, pretending I’m in the actual chase. Oddly, my pretend experiences follow me into the field. When I’m presented with a shot at trophy game during open bowhunting seasons, I’ve likely already lived that experience in my own back yard. As a result, I have the confidence to pull off the most challenging shots with less conscious effort.

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