I got onto my belly and crawled 30 metres to the edge of a big aspen before sitting up and drawing my bow. Carefully, I came to full draw and settled my sight pin on my target. I felt confident estimating the range and slowly tightened the tension on my trigger release until my arrow was sent on its way. Breath held, I watched my arrow find its mark and settle into the vitals. I had scored a perfect ten on the target I was shooting at, but it wasn’t a moose or elk in a real hunting situation – it was, in fact, a 3D decoy we had set up.
Most archers go to a range or set up targets and practice at specific distances. It is easy to get comfortable shooting a target at 20 metres all evening, but what is the likelihood of having a critter stumble into range at exactly 20 metres when you’re in the field? Practicing for realistic shooting situations is the key to being successful in real hunting scenarios. I enjoy shooting 3D targets and I find them more consistent and realistic to what I’ll experience in the field. However, I don’t just walk up to the targets and shoot them like I’m at the local archery range. Practicing for authentic field conditions is critical to being more successful on the hunt.
I remember hunting a specific mule deer and belly-crawling 150 metres to the edge of a standing barley field. I was winded and I found it difficult to drag my bow and arrows along without making any noise. Taking my time I got into position, caught my breath and settled down for a potential shot. I had a nice mule buck grazing intently on the ripe grasses just 80 metres in front of me and I had hoped that I was set up so I could intercept his travels back to cover. Unfortunately I was sitting flat on my butt, forced to draw my bow that way while staying behind the cove of the standing grain.
I was nervous about the opportunity but remained confident, as I had practiced the exact scenario already. I have several 3D targets and when combined with those of my hunting buddies we can set up a pretty good shooting course that simulates hunting conditions we may actually experience. Crawling through the grass for 30 metres and easing up beside a tree is common practice for me – so is shooting from a sitting or kneeling position. When you are out hunting you never know exactly what you may experience, and I rack my brain to try and come up with different scenarios that I can practice.
Most of our practice is done in the summer months when we are in t-shirts and comfortable clothes. However, that isn’t the only way we practice our shooting. Even if the thermometer is pushing 30 degrees or more I’ll don a winter parka to make a shot on a target that I think I might experience in the field. There is no sense practicing all my shots while wearing a t-shirt when I know I’ll be bundled up in bulkier clothing to hunt deer during the rut.
It is important to try and practice anything you may experience when out hunting. Creating different and challenging scenarios is a world apart from drawing a bow from a standing position, with proper form, and making a great shot. Make sure you try to draw your bow while sitting flat on your butt or peaking around the edge of a spruce tree. By being off balance for each shot you won’t be using the same muscles and it won’t seem as easy as when you are standing. Keeping proper form and making the perfect release will be difficult because the situation won’t seem natural or comfortable, which is why you need to practice.
We regularly set up a tree stand with 3D decoys at different ranges. We also put on our cold weather hunting jackets, bibs, gloves, and safety harnesses and practice making shots with the extra bulky clothing. It is vastly different than shooting in a t-shirt, but if you don’t practice real-life scenarios you’re only limiting your success rate in the field. It takes practice to not catch your jacket sleeve with your bow string when you release an arrow, and gripping your bow while wearing gloves will also change your shooting consistency and style. Can you squeeze the trigger on your release when you have gloves on? You’ll never know unless you try, but if you have a monster moose walking in front of you when the thermometer has dropped to minus 20 you’ll find confidence in knowing that you can squeeze the release properly while wearing your warm gear. If you hunt with a face mask and hat then practice with a face mask and hat. One of the most difficult things I had trouble getting used to was finding my anchor point while wearing a face mask.
Practice makes perfect, but we aren’t always presented with the perfect shot. The more you think outside the box and be creative in developing and practicing hunting scenarios, the more successful you’ll be in the field. Making it real makes for versatile and successful bow hunters.