October 31, 2022
By Joe Bell
Nobody wants to reminisce about big misses or poorly placed shots from seasons past. But, in many ways, maybe it’s good these memories haunt us from time to time, because they’ll give us the motivation we need to improve our skills, so we never experience those dreaded moments again.
Fortunately, when we do blow a shot, it’s usually due to a simple form flaw — something that can be remedied with some basic instruction. Here are three common areas where shooting problems originate and what you can do to cure them.
Using A Faulty Anchor Position
To shoot well under pressure, you must be consistent with how you anchor your draw-hand along your face. If you anchor too far back or too hard into the face, you’ll shoot differently each time, causing major accuracy problems.
The best way to analyze and modify your anchor, so it’s more repeatable, is to practice different anchor positions. The string bow is perfect for this. You can make this training aid out of an old bowstring or a few feet of paracord. An old bowstring with a D-loop already in place is my preference, given it’s long enough to accommodate your draw length. Otherwise, tie-in a D-loop on the paracord, then form a knot in the string to create a large loop exactly the same length as your draw length.
With the string bow, there’s no resistance involved, so it’s easy to draw and anchor while evaluating your shooting form. You can also practice triggering the release and using back-tension. When doing this, use a large mirror, so you can see how your elbow is positioned in relation to the D-loop. For best results, the draw elbow should be in line with the D-loop, which is a telltale sign of the correct draw length.
A good draw-hand anchor, when using an index release, puts the web of the hand solidly against the jawbone. With a T-handle release, the first and second knuckles on the back of the hand should straddle the underside of the jawbone perfectly.
Once you find a comfortable spot to anchor your hand, pay close attention to the amount of pressure you put on your jawbone. You want just enough pressure to create a solid hold, without forcing the bowstring hard into your cheek. The same goes with your nose. Be sure it barely touches the bowstring when you’re in the full-draw position. This will reduce the chance of torquing the string differently from one shot to the next.
In what may take you months of shooting practice to accomplish, you can probably accomplish in a couple weeks, if not days, using the string bow. It’s truly an invaluable training aid.
Rushing The Shot
When a big buck suddenly appears, we can’t believe it. The moment of truth is happening, and we want to capitalize on it right away. But when we rush, we tend to get more excited, increasing our likelihood of blundering the shot. To avoid this, slow down, take a deep breath, and methodically work your way up to the shot-execution phase.
The best way to do this is to use a pre-shot checklist. My list goes something like this: (1) Is the shot clear? Take inventory of possible obstacles that could cause the arrow to ricochet. (2) Establish the shot distance — make sure your rangefinder is picking up on the right object. (3) Analyze the proper aiming spot based on animal’s position. (4) Draw when the animal is looking away. (5) Use the correct sight pin, level the sight, and then aim until the bow recoils by surprise.
Steps four and five on this checklist are critical. This is where I tell myself to slow way down and come to full draw nicely, then settle into my anchor. My focus is centered on aiming well, letting the sight pin float, and executing the release by surprise. I don’t want to punch or jerk the release. If punching is a problem for you, then use the string bow to practice proper execution. You’ll know if you’re executing the release by surprise, based on the positioning of your bow hand and elbow after the shot. The bow hand will end up slightly left of your aiming position, while the draw elbow will pull slightly inward from steady back-tension.
For many bowhunters, choosing the wrong sight pin can be easy to do. To avoid this, use fewer sight pins, change to a movable sight with a single pin, or color-code sight pins so they’re easy to sort. On my current setup, I use a fixed-aperture, nine-pin bowsight. This gives me extra sight pins for practicing at long distances, or for making a long follow-up shot if necessary.
To break up the wad of sight pins, I add small strips of colored tape to some of them, in order to separate the close and midrange pins from the longer-range pins. It works like magic, allowing for fast visual assortment, even when I’m anxious and drawing down on a buck.
I’ve been on many hunting trips where I thought I was confident, but when that critical shot was in motion, I blew it. Each time, I had to go back to the drawing board. This involved shooting with good form, practicing real-life hunting scenarios, and visualizing successful shooting outcomes.
Maintaining Good Form: As already mentioned, using a string bow can help dissect form flaws. However, you must maintain this form in awkward shooting scenarios as well. For example, when bowhunting, we’re often tired and cold after sitting for long periods in a treestand, or we’re faced with an ultra-steep shot we’ve never taken before. To keep your bow shooting straight, you must maintain proper form — no matter what.
To simplify proper form, your body should maintain a “T-like posture” when you’re at full draw. This means your torso is straight up and down, and your arms are in line with the grip and arrow, which resembles a “T” when observed from the archer’s side.
It’s easy to maintain this T-form on a flat surface, but it becomes a little more challenging when shooting downward from a treestand, or sharply up or downhill in steep mountain country. But with good technique, you can still maintain solid form from the waist up. In a treestand or when shooting slightly uphill/downhill, train yourself to draw on a level plane, then swivel at the hips slightly to keep your arms perpendicular to your chest.
For extreme uphill/downhill shots, experiment with different uphill leg positions, often bending your uphill leg to open up your stance more, so you can improve your torso’s posture in relation to your arms. This will help you mimic T-form, so your bow shoots the same as it does on level ground. If you simply bend downward, point the bow at the target, and then draw straight back, your torso won’t be in line with your arms, and you’ll exert a different kind of torque on the bow.
Practicing The Real Deal: The best way to build confidence and to determine if you’re using solid shooting form is to practice under real-life bowhunting conditions. Shooting 3-Ds is ideal, but be sure the targets are at different shooting angles and you’re wearing the same clothes and gear you’d use when hunting. Practicing from an elevated position is imperative if you’ll be hunting from a treestand. And don’t forget to use your rangefinder and go through your mental checklist prior to each shot.
If you notice your bow is shooting off on angled shots, check your sight’s 2nd and 3rd-axis leveling adjustments. Without a properly leveled sight, you can miss big time — even when using correct form.
When practicing, don’t forget to include holding your bow for long periods of time, then doing your best to execute a good shot. The more you practice worst-case scenarios, the more confident and prepared you’ll feel about opening day. Remember, you can still make a good shot, despite shaking and being nervous. Focus on letting the pin float while pulling solidly through the shot until the bow fires.
Visualization Techniques: I often practice the art of visualization prior to a big hunting trip, and I’m convinced it helps. I picture a monster muley nibbling on browse as I come to full draw and settle my sight pin steadily on his quartering-away vitals. Then I imagine myself aiming with tremendous focus until the arrow flashes ahead — exactly as I wanted it to.
When you visualize yourself killing a buck over and over in your mind, you’re feeding your subconscious mind positive thoughts. Unlike your conscious mind, it can’t tell the difference between what’s real and what’s imaginary. It’s a great way to program your mind so it knows what to do when faced with the same scenario but in real-time.
Missing shots is not fun. It can lead to sleepless nights and awful bowhunting memories. By following my advice, I guarantee you’ll improve your proficiency and confidence as a bowhunter, and you will deliver accurate shots when they count most.