The very first time I shot a “real” bow, I missed. When I say I missed, I mean the entire target… at 10 yards. I can still hear the sound of that Easton Gamegetter XX75 arrow skipping off the trees and rocks, breaking apart to its final resting place in the woods behind my childhood home. Maybe an archaeologist will find the mangled aluminum wreckage someday… I sure couldn’t.
It was my brother’s High Country Sky Force, some of you may remember that bow. It had dual-hatchet cams and that unmistakable early-90s camo. It was, for seven-year-old me, the most beautiful thing in the world, despite the fact that I couldn’t hit water in the middle of the Atlantic with it. I learned a few valuable lessons that day. First, if you want to be good at something, you need to work at it. Second, I don’t like to miss. Some may say it crosses the line into loath. Lastly, I wanted to know why I missed.
A few months later, my dad scraped up the money and bought me my very own bow. Thus began my journey into all things archery. Bowhunting, 3D, target, indoor, field, if there was a bow involved, I wanted to be signed up. Honestly, I’m glad I missed that first arrow. It ignited a desire to get better, develop my shooting and bowhunting skills, and it allowed me to learn why I missed.
Speaking of bow season, as hunters, we spend thousands of dollars on leases, countless hours setting treestands, setting trail cameras, planting food plots, scouting and much more leading up to bow season. We spend more time, effort and money than we care to admit in preparation of setting ourselves up for the perfect situation. Now, how many of us put that same amount of time and effort into the one factor we can actually control in this situation: shooting our bows?
This isn’t a “shoot your bow more” article, although we all should. This is the nuts and bolts of practicing more effectively and preparing your equipment for the moment of truth, and there’s no time like the present to prepare for bow season.
BOW SEASON PREP:
BACK TO BASICS:
The most basic of the previously mentioned processes are your points of contact: feet to the ground, release hand, and grip position on the bow. You wouldn’t guess it, but just slightly changing the position of your feet (from neutral to open or closed stance) can drastically change impact points. Essentially, you are changing everything about your form from your hips all the way up to your shoulders, which will alter your orientation to the target. Find a stance that is comfortable for you and make sure your feet are in the same position, or as close to it as possible depending on terrain, each time you draw your bow.
Release hand position—or more importantly the consistency of that position— is important, but so is how you activate the release. You’ve probably heard about back tension, hinge releases, trigger releases, hand held releases, half-moons, click or no click, and the list goes on and on. At this point it’s important to find what works for you and what you can do every time you shoot your bow. Repeatability is the absolute key to accuracy in archery.
A repeatable grip position (with minimal lateral torque on the bow) is also important, but I’ve found through my own failures and testing that I have to make serious errors with my bow hand to have any noticeable impact differences inside of 50 yards, but the smallest deviation in form and position in my release hand can cause “flyer arrows” at 20 yards. Focus on how your release fits into your hand and how you are applying pressure to make the release fire.
INTRODUCE SOMEONE NEW
Introducing someone new to the sport is a more than worthwhile venture in the summer. Not only do you get another shooting partner and someone to enjoy archery and bowhunting with, but it also helps you work through your archery frustrations prior to bow season.
TIP: You inherently have to break archery down into individual components when bringing someone green into the bowhunting fold. Doing so will not only help the newcomer, but it will also help you get back to those basics and take stock of the necessary things we all take for granted with archery.
WHAT HIGH SCHOOL FOOTBALL CAN TEACH YOU ABOUT ARCHERY
There is a disconnect between every other organized sport and shooting a bow. In those organized sports, training is broken down into individual elements. It would be unheard of for a football team to scrimmage every minute of every practice without working on the fundamentals of the game. However, this is precisely what most of us do for archery. We draw our bow, make some shots, pull the arrows, and repeat. In essence, we are learning how to score arrows on the target, not how to shoot them in the middle and why they go in the middle.
Try breaking archery into the processes necessary to shoot a bow and work on a specific aspect of archery each time you find yourself at the range this summer. In simple terms, if you don’t break archery down into individual components, you’ll have nowhere to go when you miss— no way to get better because you land on, “I missed and have no idea why.”
TIP: Focus on one specific process at a time. Figure out where your weaknesses are and tackle them in training.
PUTTING THE BOW BACK IN BOWHUNTING
I don’t like the word practice—perhaps one of the few things I have in common with the great NBA player, Allen Iverson. To me, shooting my bow is about building confidence in myself and my equipment. You can’t control the weather. You can’t control the rut. The only thing you can 100% control is how prepared you are to execute the perfect shot when the moment comes. No one makes perfect hunting shots every time they are presented an opportunity. The point is to be as prepared as possible to increase your odds of making a perfect shot during bow season.
TIP: Pick up a shot counter from your local sporting goods store and record the number of perfect shots you make in a practice session. Be honest with yourself. When I say a perfect shot, I’m not talking about where the arrow lands, I mean how it got there. More on this later.
IN THE WOODS:
SHOOTING A SIDE HILL
We all know real-life hunting situations do not equal perfect shooting situations. Shooting side hills, where you have uneven footing, affords one of the more technically tricky hunting shots with a bow. Limited hand-torque and keeping your sight bubble level is easier said than done, but keeping your bow level is key to downrange accuracy.
TIP: Make leveling your sight easier when shooting on a side hill by slightly tipping your top cam up the hill while drawing your bow. This allows the top cam to “fall” down the hill, to level, at full draw rather than fighting it “up” the hill to level. How you get the sight level has a significant impact on the amount of torque you are adding to the riser and by letting the top cam fall, you minimize the risk of adding unwanted torque.
SHOOTING OUT OF A BLIND
If you are hunting out a blind, yes, you should practice sitting down while drawing your bow and executing a shot. We all know this. One thing that many bowhunters have overlooked, myself included, is how differently peep sights and pins look in a dark blind. Aligning your peep sight to your scope housing is critical for repeatable accuracy. It is also very easy to misalign your peep in a dark blind during bow season.
TIP: Paint the inside ring of your scope housing white so you can see it in ultra-low light. Nail polish and whiteout both work great here. Just make sure to give the correct one back to your wife.
SHOOTING FROM ELEVATION
Shooting on perfectly level ground is excellent for building proper form, but shooting out of a treestand or from any elevation is an entirely different ballgame. Most hunters have high misses from extreme angles because they have a breakdown in basic form and upper body alignment. Practice bending at the waist rather than bending at the shoulders to maintain proper alignment in your upper body. As Chubbs from Happy Gilmore would say “It’s all in the hips…”
TIP: Bending at the waist also serves to keep your eye-peep-scope housing alignment identical to flat ground. A tiny variation in peep alignment equals massive point of impact differences down range.
AT THE RANGE:
JUST AIM, DON’T SHOOT
Whether you are trying to cure target panic or just can’t seem to hold the pin in the middle long enough, aiming your bow without executing a shot actively works to remedy these problems. I particularly like doing this drill after a day of shooting. Draw the bow, hold the pin in the middle of the target for as long as you can and let your sight picture tell you when you need to let down.
TIP: Repeat this process 5-10 times at the end of a practice session. You’ll be amazed at how difficult it is, at first, and how quickly your stamina and aiming improves leading up to bow season.
ARROW WEIGHT CRAZINESS
A recent trend in bowhunting is to shoot ultra-heavy arrows. To do this effectively, you’ll need to hit the gym—lifting weights so you can draw 90-pounds and shoot arrows that are heavy enough to nearly be classified as rebar. Or so some say… There are more factors to penetration than a heavy arrow. The most important of these, from my testing, is arrow flight. I’ll take a 50-pound bow with a light arrow flying perfectly and delivering all its energy on the tip of the broadhead over a 70-pound bow with a 600-grain arrow flying like a sputtering bottle rocket. Drawing more weight and having a perfectly tuned arrow is ideal, but you don’t have to run out and drop $180 on ultra-heavy arrows to get the penetration you need on most North American game.
TIP: Tuning your bow for perfect arrow flight with broadheads, broadhead design, and shot placement are far more critical, in my opinion, than slapping a heavy arrow and a setup and calling it good.
THE MOST IMPORTANT, MOST OVERLOOKED PIECE OF EQUIPMENT
What’s the most critical part of a bowhunting setup? Is it the bow riser? The broadheads? Making sure your accessories match the color of your fletchings? Kidding. Without a doubt, strings and cables are the most critical and overlooked piece of equipment on a setup. They are the engine that drives the bow. They are also the most fragile and prone to wear. How often you need to change them varies significantly from person to person, depending on how much you shoot, how well maintained they are, how they are built, etc.
TIP: If you can’t remember the last time, if ever, you changed your strings and cables, change them over the summer. This way you’ll have enough time to get your bow shooting at tip top performance rather than changing them mid-bow season.
HOW IT GOT THERE IS MORE IMPORTANT THAN WHERE IT WENT
Arguably the most crucial piece of summer practice advice: count “good” arrows by how they got to the target, not where they land on the target. Proper form and executing the same shot, every shot, is the key to consistent accuracy. There are many ways to shoot a bow, but only one right way for you, and that comes down to shooting the same “shot” every time you draw your bow. Figure out what is most repeatable for you and build your form around that. You’ll be ready for bow season before you know it.
Written by Matthew Bray