There are no shortcuts when it comes to hunting with a crossbow, and minding the details will ensure a freezer full of venison this season. A strong knowledge of the principles of archery and marksmanship will help you get the most out of your equipment and be successful under any conditions you may face in the crossbow woods.

Practice On 3-D Targets

Once you’ve got the sights/scope on your crossbow dialed in, it’s time to shoot some 3-D targets. Why? Whitetails don’t come with a target-shaped birthmark on their sides. Picking a small spot on a large body can be tough. You need to practice on a life-like target and imagine aiming at a single hair. In addition, it helps to review the anatomy of a whitetail deer. This way, during your practice sessions, you can look at your bolt impact and know if you got the heart, lungs, liver, etc.

Range Ahead

Save time and decrease movement in your stand or blind by knowing your range before a deer shows up. Use a rangefinder to confirm the distance to known objects in your shooting lanes, such as trees, rocks, flowers, grass or any natural features, and use them as reference points. Confirm the farthest distance you can shoot, and anything inside that zone is fair game.

Trigger Pull

There is nothing more critical to consistent arrow flight and accuracy than trigger pull. A slow, gentle squeeze on the trigger prevents you from pulling your bow off target when releasing an arrow. For best consistency use the center of the pad on your index finger and make sure you place the exact same spot on the trigger every time.

Focus Your Reticle

There is a quick trick for properly focusing the reticle in your crossbow scope – with or without the scope attached – and it takes less than a minute. Simply go outside, glance up and find a piece of blue sky totally clear of clouds. Turn the focus ring on the back of the scope all the way out. Lift the scope, point it at the sky and quickly look at it (no more than 3 seconds) to see if the reticle is in focus. Turn the focus ring one turn and repeat the quick look. Repeat this procedure until the reticle is in perfect focus as soon as you look at it. Then continue the exercise by turning the focus ring until the reticle is out of focus again. Then turn the focus ring back in the opposite direction until the reticle is clear, and you have bracketed the focus area and confirmed the correct dial position.

Make It Real

If you plan on hunting in layers of warm clothes – gloves, facemask, stocking cap – then conduct practice sessions wearing this type of apparel. The extra bulk and loss of mobility can drastically impair shot and arrow delivery. Rather than taking a chance, know exactly how your scope lines up from your shoulder while wearing these garments and whether you can find the reticle in your scope quickly. Most importantly, make sure you can still squeeze the trigger with your gloves on.

Check Limb Clearance

There is nothing worse than having one of your crossbow limbs come in contact with something. Treestands and blind setups are notorious for spoiling a hunt because hunters don’t run through their shots before the real thing happens. If you plan on shooting out of a blind, practice out of a blind. Make sure to try various angles to confirm you know how much clearance is required when you squeeze the trigger. The same goes for treestands.

Use A Rest

Shooting sticks and bipods are a great way to stabilize your bow on the front end. The extra support allows shooters to hold on target and reduces muscle fatigue, which causes accuracy-robbing shakes. Bipods mount directly to sling-swivel mounts on the bottom of the stock, but shooting sticks need to be field tested to ensure they don’t get in the way of limbs or strings. A trigger stick is quickly adjustable for height and provides a cradle to support the forestock of your crossbow but isn’t directly mounted to the crossbow.

Try Back Support

Supporting the butt-end of your stock is a great way to improve your accuracy. The good news: This isn’t hard to accomplish. The simple act of leaning into a tree with the shoulder that is supporting the bow will provide outstanding stability for improved accuracy. You can purchase field rests to support both the forearm and butt of a crossbow.

Practice The Mechanics

When shooting at the range or at targets in the backyard, it really doesn’t matter how much noise you make. However, if a mature white-tailed buck is standing a mere 20 yards away, you better know how to slowly and silently lift your bow, shoulder it for quick target acquisition and ready for the shot. It may all sound simple, but the mechanics are what typically foil a close-range shot.

Practice The Hold

How long can you hold your crossbow in the shooting position? If you start to shake after just a minute, your accuracy will suffer. To prevent fatigue make sure you watch your quarry over your scope and not with the reticle tracking every movement. Prolonged focus in a scope quickly leads to eye fatigue. Dropping your eye in line with your reticle seconds before a shot opportunity will ensure you focus on the reticle and deer at the same time, with little or no movement.