In a perfect world we’d be out shooting every week to hone our skills as archers. If you’re an avid waterfowl hunter and only shoot your shotgun when a flock of ducks or geese is descending on your decoys you’re not likely to be on your game each and every time. Rifle hunters that don’t spend time at the range will never have the confidence or ability to hit a target when in the field. With archery it is even more important, and there is more to prepare for than with other forms of hunting equipment.
Strength and Ability
Modern bows are easy to shoot and technological advances mean we can shoot faster and flatter than ever before. We no longer have to pull ridiculous weight in order to have superior arrow speed, and hunters shooting low poundage are no longer at a disadvantage when it comes to overall performance. That said, you still have to be able to draw your bow quietly, smoothly and without being detected in order to hunt effectively. In order to do that you need to develop what I refer to as your “archery muscles”.
For people that don’t work out regularly a trip to the gym usually results in stiffness and soreness. If you haven’t done any abdominal exercises in a year and decide to start doing sit-ups and crunches, chances are you are going to have a sore mid-section the next day. Your archery muscles are no different. Pulling a bow dozens of times when you haven’t in six or more months will leave any of us feeling the burn 24 hours later. Even if you aren’t stiff and sore you will notice that your ability to draw and hold any weight can be a shaky experience after the first dozen shots. We need to work on and develop our shooting muscles to the point where we can shoot over and over again without feeling fatigued or getting sore.
Consistency and Accuracy
I’m fortunate to have some good hunting buddies that I can get together with to shoot all spring and summer. We start by simply shooting a target butt at 30 metres, and after several nights of flinging arrows I get to the point where mine are all centered on that target. I know I’m ready when I no longer pull the odd shot, or have a flyer that I simply can’t explain. It doesn’t take a lot of shooting, but spending the time will allow you to reestablish your anchor point and form in order to draw, acquire the target and release your arrow the same way every time.
I consider myself consistent when I have to shoot at separate targets to ensure I’m not breaking nocks or damaging vanes with tightly clustered arrows. At this point we normally set up a number of 3D targets and get ready for hunting situations. Shooting targets at varying distances and through or around obstacles will challenge you to maintain your form in real scenarios. If you don’t commit to practicing real-life situations, you won’t be ready for them.
Judging Distance and Putting it all Together
Judging distance is crucial to overall accuracy. I like to compare the distance between me and my target to something I’m already familiar with, like the depth of my back yard or the width of a road. Breaking the distance down to thirds or quarters can also be helpful, as it is always easier to accurately judge shorter ranges.
Equipment Check and Maintenance
Before you get started at all make sure that you do an overall equipment check. Check the limbs for stress cracks and visually look to see if everything is aligned. Get out your Allen key and test all the screws and bolts to make sure they are tight. I’m often startled at how badly things can loosen, but with the shock and vibration that modern bows absorb it really shouldn’t be a surprise. Check your string and if it needs replacing don’t put it off. If you need to start from scratch and get your bow sighted in again you may as well start right from the beginning. If you leave it, and end up having to change it just before the season opens, you’ll lose some of the confidence you’ve worked so hard to build.
When you head out bow hunting this year be sure to be more prepared than ever before. It will put you in a positive frame of mind that can ultimately be the key to finding success.