Being a hardcore hunter, I spend a lot of time shooting a variety of bows, rifles, shotguns and crossbows. Some are easier to pick up and go practice with than others. However, some — at least for me — are just more fun to shoot. Then there’s the issue of finding a place to shoot and squeezing practice time into an already busy schedule. Let’s not forget that the second something unexpected comes up in our day, the first thing we often cut to compensate for the newly added distraction is our practice session.

This is what happens all too often. It gets easier and easier to find excuses not to get out and practice with our weapon of choice. Though I recommend regular practice sessions regardless of what weapon you decide to shoot, crossbow goers really need to go the extra mile and get plenty of trigger time to ensure bolts are on the “X” every time your finger pulls the trigger. Making excuses to skimp on practice simply isn’t an option if you plan on filling the freezer.

Practicing daily with your crossbow takes a serious amount of dedication and work. This is because crossbows take longer to cock. Another reason is that bolt retrieval, because of the speeds of modern-day crossbows, can be downright difficult. Most of the time a bolt will actually melt its way into a target’s material, making extraction a bit difficult. However, these are, again, excuses. The fact of the matter is shooting a crossbow is fun — lots of fun — if you employ these practice tips.

I love to shoot 3-D targets. They can be set up in different scenarios and force shooters to accurately guess the shooting distance. You can shoot them from a treestand, blind or various spot-and-stalk positons like prone or kneeling. These lifelike targets force you to pick a spot and add a bit of realism to your practice sessions. They are a bit pricy, but self-healing foam targets like those from Rinehart last a very long time and can take years of continual pounding.

There are several ways to beat the stuck-bolt problem and keep your shoulders in their sockets, but my favorite is using Scorpion Venom Arrow Release Fluid. Dabbing the fluid on the front 4 to 6 inches of each of my bolts allows me to easily pull bolts from targets. It reminds me of the old story from the movie The Sword in the Stone; many tried to pull the sword from the stone, but it was locked in place. But if you’re the right person — or in this case, have the right fluid — you can just walk up to the target and pull out the bolt with ease. Another good trick, especially if you are in a pinch, is to massage the front ends of your bolts with a bar of soap.

Carbon arrows are very hard to grasp with a bare hand, and no matter how hard you pull your hand always seems to slide down the arrow and over your fletch. Making matters worse, if you happen to get soap or lubricant on your hands, it’s downright impossible to grip your bolt. For this reason, I carry a rag to keep my hands dry and clean. In addition, I also wear an Easton Arrow Puller on my belt at all times as it can provide the grip my hands often can’t. Another savvy bolt retractor is the Bednar Perfect Puller, which is designed to pull arrows from high-density targets using pliers that come packaged with three interchangeable grippers sized to fit different shaft diameters of both crossbow and compound arrows. The black grippers are made from Santoprene for superior grip strength and are easily bonded to the pliers using the included adhesive patches. The hunter-orange handles are notched to create a built-in nock tool. Simply grip the bolt and pull.

The whole point of practice is to get ready for hunting and become completely familiar with your equipment, how it works and what it does under different conditions and at various ranges. If you get bored shooting targets, you can always kick it up a notch by saving empty soda or water bottles and filling them with water. Using blunts instead of field points, you can shoot the bottles and generate a huge explosion of fun. Another great idea is to host a weekly 3-D or target shoot with friends. Nothing gets the blood pumping like a little friendly competition, and you can always spice things up by betting a quarter a shot. Whoever makes the best shot gets a quarter from the other guys.

There are a couple of other things related to a hunt I like to practice for, including discharging my crossbow at the end of the day. It might sound simple enough, but it needs to be done safely and without damaging equipment. The only safe way to uncock your bow is to discharge it. I carry the Delta Crossbow Discharge Bag Target, which is a convenient, safe and economical way to discharge your loaded bow after the hunt or when practice is interrupted. It will stop bolts shot from any conventional crossbow, but it’s not meant for everyday target practice. This target is compact and sports dimensions of 12x12x12 inches. It can be shot at close range and makes it easy to recover your bolt.

Even with the newest technologies and modern equipment that provide huge advantages, many crossbow hunters still find ways to make excuses not to practice regularly. Get excited. Shoot often and you will be more successful in the field this fall. You need to practice to be proficient, and if you think you can simply pick up a crossbow and go hunting, you’re not providing the respect our wildlife deserves.