Variety is key when preparing for an archery deer hunt
Growing up as an athlete, coaches always encouraged my sports teams to practice as though we were playing in a real game. The mindset was to avoid going through the motions, instead focusing on game-like scenarios, working hard to improve and form good habits, ultimately transferring these skills to the playing field when it mattered most.
The same could be said for archery and bowhunting. Becoming a consistently good bowshot doesn’t happen overnight, and it also doesn’t happen by stagnantly punching arrows into a target from 20-yards away.
Actual bowhunting situations present a diverse assortment of variables, such as unpredictable shot angles, distances, obstructions and timing, so archers must strive to vary their backyard practice sessions to reflect these potential hunting scenarios if they hope to perform at their peak in the field.
Too often, archers get stuck in a comfortable grind and only practice one type of shot situation. In more than 15 years of bowhunting, I have yet to take a broadside shot at a whitetail while standing at ground level, though I’d be willing to bet this is the most commonly practiced shot on an archer’s backyard range. Why? Because it’s easy, familiar and convenient.
That’s not to say this shot shouldn’t be practiced. It certainly has its merits when sighting in, building form and aiming consistency, as well as strengthening muscle memory. However, the reality is that most field shots are more likely to be taken from an elevated treestand or seated ground blind location.
If planning to hunt from the ground, practice shooting from standing, seated and kneeling positions. Don’t just shoot at the pre-set distances of your sight pins, either. Practice shooting unfamiliar distances like 28.5, 7.2 and 43.6 yards – uphill, downhill and at eye-level.
It can be fun to challenge a shooting partner to archery’s version of the popular basketball game, “HORSE.” Shooters take turns picking out random distances and stances to shoot for bulls-eye. Their opponent then tries to top it from the same shooting position. Whoever’s arrow is farthest from center gains a letter, and the first person to spell horse loses.
If a treestand will be your primary hunting location, be sure to shoot from an elevated position. If possible, hang a stand in your backyard to practice downward shots regularly. A closer, more steeply angled shot is often more difficult to make than a farther one, but both should be practiced to mastery.
It is important to note that treestand shots are different than shots at eye-level. Archers should practice bending at their waist instead of at their knees to maintain a consistent anchor point. If shooting from a seated treestand position, knees should be kept as square to your mid-section as possible.
Obviously, use precaution and wear a safety harness. Not only will it help prevent injury, but it’ll also give you an authentic feel for what it will be like to shoot with a little added bulk. As temperatures cool off, try shooting in a lightweight hunting jacket to make things even more realistic.
Shoot in windy and low-light conditions, as these are often encountered in the field. Practice safely placing shots through narrow obstructions such as tree branches or other vegetation, and work on accuracy during rushed shots or when holding draw for lengthy periods of time is required.
3-D archery shoots are another great way to prepare for the season, as they present life-sized targets in realistic hunting conditions from a variety of angles, distances and shooting positions. Many clubs offer these weekly for minimal cost, and more bowhunters need to take advantage of this great resource.
Preparing for bow season is just like prepping for the big game. The quality and quantity of work put in during practice will surely be reflected at the main event. If your shooting routine is haphazard and bland, you may not perform your best in the field. But by varying practice sessions to mirror the hunt, you will be well on your way to ensuring you play like a champion.