Perfect practice: building a better bowhunter—part 1

April 2, 2012

My heart was vigorously thumping on my Adam’s apple and my knees were shaking. My palms were sweating and I caught myself gasping for breath—when I remembered to breathe at all. Despite my best efforts to remain calm, I felt like I was falling completely apart. The little buck was taking his sweet time getting to my shooting lane and composure was not an option.

As the 4-pointer meandered unknowingly behind a cedar to block me from his view, my trembling hands lifted and miraculously drew my bow. As I drew I remember thinking, There’s no way I’m gonna hit this deer if I don’t calm down.

When my index knuckle found the familiar nook behind my earlobe and the string touched the tip of my nose, it was like someone flipped my composure switch and set me on auto-pilot. I had shot my bow in practice so much that year that the act of shooting had become a basic instinct. I anchored hard, calmly picked a spot, gently squeezed the trigger on my release, and didn’t move a muscle until the arrow was sticking in the mud directly behind the little buck’s heart. I had shot my first whitetail with a bow and arrow, and he didn’t cover 35 yards before piling up. I owed the experience totally to excessive and diligent summer practice sessions in my back yard.

Practice Smarter

That event took place many moons ago. I didn’t live in the city and I had plenty of time on my hands to fling upwards of 100 arrows per day—every day—religiously. As I became more involved in my career, moved to town, and lost nearly all my free time, I realized if I couldn’t shoot 100 arrows per day anymore, I’d have to find a way to practice smarter to maintain my confidence level. As is the case for many middle-class, suburban bowhunters, free time for practicing can be a rare commodity these days.

Since realizing this shortcoming, I have experienced some years when my practice time was so limited it should have hindered my shooting performance. But today, even under the tightest time constraints, I have found that the quality of my practice sessions rather than the quantity of practice has kept my arrows in the vitals of my quarry.

Obviously, for beginning archers, quantity of practice is just as important as quality of practice. Until basic shooting form fundamentals are well-developed, pure repetition is a must. However, even beginning archers will develop their shooting form more quickly by consciously following certain steps. Experienced bowhunters, on the other hand, will find that by following this rigid routine with every practice shot, they can substantially reduce the size of their arrow groups in a shorter time span than they ever thought possible.

Practice For The Moment Of Truth

Getting a shot opportunity usually requires planning, scouting, a lot of hard work, and a little bit of luck. As one would imagine, all those factors coming together at once is rare. However, once these elements are together, the shooter still needs three vital ingredients to make his shot count: Situation, Composure, and Confidence.

Situation: Situation is the chain of events leading up to the shot opportunity. Proper scouting and good stand placement usually create a favorable situation. Adequate cover, camouflage, and good shooting lanes eliminate much of the risk for an unfavorable situation. But that risk remains; “situation” is the only variable at the moment of truth that the hunter cannot totally control.

Composure: Almost every hunter has experienced buck fever. Let’s face it, the chance for that adrenaline rush is what keeps us sitting in our stands in less-than-comfortable weather, day-in and day-out. Uncontrolled adrenaline rushes are responsible for many more big game animal birthdays than bowhunters care to admit. In the scenario I used to open this article, were it not for the fact I had shot in excess of 10,000 arrows in practice through the summer, I wouldn’t have cut a hair off the little buck’s back. Since that time, I have learned to achieve enough confidence in my shooting ability to maintain my composure while settling my sight pin on large, fur-bearing, calcium-laden critters—even when my practice time has been limited.

Confidence: It’s been said that archery is 90 percent mental and 10 percent physical. Truer words were never spoken. Consistent archery skill, whether on the target range or in the woods, stems directly from confidence. Being self-assured as a bowhunter comes from hitting bull’s-eyes on the target range. Having confidence in your ability to make the shot every time when it counts is the only way you can overcome buck fever when your moment of truth arrives.

When practice time is limited and shooting sessions are short, you can still elevate your confidence by making the most of your time. One key is to make a rigid routine out of the act of shooting your bow and perform this technique in exactly the same manner with every shot. When your practice time is limited, you are wasting your time if your mind is not fully focused when shooting.

Next: Make A Shooting Routine