By Tony J. Peterson
Far too many bowhunters target practice the exact same way every time. I don't know about their shots on game but I know that mine rarely involve standing flat-footed at exactly 20 yards while repetitively taking aim at the same spot. This type of shooting has its time, and that time happened weeks ago.
At this point of the summer, with antelope season a mere month away in many states and bigger game opportunities not far behind that, it's time to get creative with your practice sessions. How you challenge yourself throughout the summer will make you a better shot come fall, I promise.
And it all starts with simple variations on the practice style I knocked just a few sentences ago. It really doesn't take much to try to get better, but it takes some effort. So, take note of the following 10 steps to make yourself a more lethal shot in the deer or elk woods.
This is an easy one, but it makes sense. If you've got a bear hunt planned, or perhaps cashed in your 401K and decided to try your hand at mountain goats, it only makes sense to invest in a 3D target that represents the species you plan to hunt.
I realize this isn't realistic for some folks because of cost; however, even if you never plan to hunt anything other than backyard whitetails you should still purchase a whitetail target. There is something different about shooting at a 3D target versus a typical block-style target, and it will better prepare you for the real thing.
Bowhunting is a game of angles, which is obvious if you've ever hunted around a newbie to the sport. Neophytes often don't understand how point-of-impact should change every time a deer or other critter moves. Realizing a true shot angle is often the difference between a carcass-less blood trail and a grip-and-grin photo.
Because of this, take your 3D target and shoot at it from multiple angles. Pay attention to how your point-of-aim differs when dealing with anything other than a broadside shot. Better yet, watch every live deer you can and think about how their vitals are positioned and where you would have to shoot to take them out. This kind of practice is invaluable.
It's easy to step outside after work and fling a couple of dozen arrows when the light is perfect. Unfortunately, unless you're hunting low- or no-pressure game animals, it's not likely that you'll get tons of high light shooting opportunities.
Instead, the deer you wait diligently for are far more likely to show up at dawn and dusk. Shots in the gloaming are extremely common; therefore, you should make it a point to practice during those times. You'll not only gain a better understanding of how accurate you truly are, but how far you can ethically push it as shooting light wanes.
Piggybacking on the low light target shooting sessions is the reality that you should try to shoot in all possible weather conditions. Windy conditions are pretty easy to come by on the target range and in the deer stand, and you need to know where your effective range sits when the wind is really huckin'.
It's also a good idea to shoot in the rain, extreme heat, or my personal favorite as a Minnesota native -- cold. Being truly cold does weird things to bows and shooters' muscles.
I prefer to see if anything is going to go wrong while I'm shooting in my backyard as opposed to sitting on a late-season food source watching my last chance to fill a tag feed his way toward me.
I'll admit I wear shorts and a t-shirt most of the time I target shoot during the summer. However, as the season closes in and I'm getting ready to actually hunt, I always shoot a few sessions with my entire setup on. This goes for an early season antelope hunt and the outfit I'll wear, or my opening bell whitetail suit complete with a safety harness. The more realism you can add to the mix, the better.
I spent a harrowing minute of my life on a whitetail hunt one time trying to find my anchor point at full draw while fighting a new face mask. Suffice it to say, I choked the shot in a fit of panic and vowed to avoid that situation at all costs.
There has been a pretty good push in the last few years concerning longer-range shooting. Whether you agree with taking long shots at game animals or abhor it, you should consider long-range practice sessions for two reasons. The first is that a lot of time shooting at 50 to 100 yards will make you a much deadlier shot at 20.
The second is that you never know when you'll botch a close-range shot and get a redemption shot at a gut- or liver-shot buck at three times the original shot distance. That has happened to me twice in my bowhunting career, and both times I made good on the follow-up. That's incentive enough for me to keep pushing my target shooting distance to the max.
If you're a whitetail hunter and primarily sit in treestands, you owe it to yourself to shoot from an elevated position. This doesn't mean that you have to set up a backyard stand to shoot from, although if you can, do it.
Otherwise, find a deck that you can safely shoot from and work on your elevated game. This solidifies the necessity of bending at the waist and fosters confidence in shooting that differs greatly from flat-footed, even ground practice.
While you're trying to find ways to take your practice to the next level, don't forget to shoot real broadheads if at all possible. I say this because some companies provide practice heads, which aren't a bad idea but don't necessarily fly the same way as an actual hunting head. Because of this, I take a broadhead from a package and color the blades black.
That becomes my practice head, and although it sucks to sandbag a $15 broadhead, I take comfort knowing that my arrows will fly perfect with an actual broadhead. This goes for both fixed-blade and mechanical broadhead shooters, because even if a company promises field-tip accuracy, that doesn't make it so.
Small Targets/Consequence Shots
It's easy to shoot at a great big target because the odds of missing completely are pretty slim (hopefully!). As you pare down the size of your target, you increase the odds that you might miss.
This can lead people to lose their cool and actually miss, which is no different than when buck fever kicks in as an actual buck walks toward your stand. Taking long shots at small targets will teach you to aim small and miss small, which is something we should all strive for in the field.
Okay, this isn't exactly the same as changing up your shooting routine but it is beneficial. If you want to be a better shot, find someone who is a better shot to help you. They can watch your form for flaws from your stance to your release and evaluate your overall shot execution.
If they know what they're doing, they'll be able to offer tips on how to shore up your game and be a better shot. If you take their advice and follow it through, you'll hit more bulls-eyes the summer and more beating hearts in the fall.