By Joe Bell
Every bowhunter has a certain thing they cling to in order to improve results. For me, it’s sifting through the details and gaining as much precision as possible from my shooting tackle and form.
After all, there are many things I cannot control during a hunt, such as the weather, my sleep, my excitement, or game travel. But I can control my equipment setup and how much time I spend learning every nuance of how it performs under a variety of conditions. This approach encourages positive thinking, and prepares my mind for the most difficult situations I’ll face in the field.
As a kid who reloaded ammunition in his early teens, I realized that every speck of powder that varied from one cartridge case to another made a difference in how well I shot, and how confident I felt about making that important shot. This same analytical approach has carried over into my archery passion.
Successful bowhunters know they will do well when the chips are down. Just knowing you can deliver to the best of your ability epitomizes what this column is all about.
Bowhunters and their personalities can vary quite a bit. What works well for one may not work well for the other. However, I’ve made so many mistakes over the years that I think I’ve got a pretty good handle on what will work for just about any kind of bowhunter. Through all these trials that make up my 30-year bowhunting tenure, I’ve now come to rely on a three-step equipment and shooting plan that produces serious results. This concept will serve as the very foundation for this column.
The first part of my plan involves gaining more precision. This means scrutinizing every detail involved with a shooting component, and determining what will yield the absolute most precise, most accurate possible outcome. In simple terms, what tweaks can you make to your bow, accessories, or technique that will yield better results?
This new system must be “field worthy,” meaning every bow accessory or component must be able to withstand normal, rough-and-tough field use.
For example, one thing I do not like for bowhunting is flimsy, so-called “precision-based” bow hardware. Yes, such gizmos often deliver exceptional accuracy that tournament pros love, but will they prove reliable on a basic 35-yard shot, or will they rattle loose or become bent and spoil an easy opportunity?
In my experience, most “micro-tune” stuff on the market is very temperamental, and often lets you down when it counts most. For this reason, the majority of such gadgetry is unlikely to find its way into this column.
Testing The Results
Secondly, precision is nothing more than theory, until it’s tested out under tough shooting conditions. This worth must be conveyed using hunting broadheads and hunting-like practice simulation. This is where data-based field shooting comes into play.
This is the most difficult, time-consuming step in the plan. Many times, it’s extremely hard deciphering which equipment details actually improve accuracy, and which do not.
A great example would be switching from three to four-fletch arrows. You can spend a great deal of time buying new vanes (and maybe even a new jig) and gluing them in place, only to find out that both fletching configurations shoot with similar results. All that time and energy spent ends up being wasted.
It’s a common scenario precision aficionados must deal with in order to check certain accessories or equipment tweaks off the list. But, this is the pathway that eventually leads to success.
Persistence and dedication are a must with this phase. When you keep pressing on, trying different gear and shooting techniques, sooner or later you’ll hit the jackpot. Most of the time, the payout is small. But, nevertheless, it’s a payout, and the more payouts you hit along the way, the more substantial the eventual prize will be. You’ll reach a new dimension in shooting accuracy.
Now, suddenly, every time you shoot your bow, you’ll become astonished. Shooting becomes more effortless, almost as if the bow begins to shoot itself. Your job now is simple: Focus on the shot execution part and nothing else.
Of course, to achieve any of this for long-term gain, good patience must be exhibited. Every bit of good archery instruction I’ve learned over the years resulted from slowly delving into the process, while my mind was completely relaxed and focused.
I cannot overemphasize enough how important it is to maintain extreme patience throughout the phase of experimenting with gear or shooting technique. Calm the mind, and it’ll deliver the right results. If you don’t, then seeking greater accuracy while trying new stuff will break you down mentally, only causing bad shooting habits to develop and making things worse.
To get an idea of how this system can be beneficial, let me tell you about one of my years leading up to an early season bowhunting encounter. It was March 2013, and I was already thinking about drawing my usual coveted Nevada mule deer tag. I wanted to be ready and, like most years, I was wondering if I could up the accuracy ante a little bit more using my old tried-and-true setup. I felt I could do this by switching to a slightly heavier arrow, while also increasing the shaft’s front-of-center weight.
For two straight summers I had conducted several accuracy tests to determine the benefits of added front-of-center weight. The results were clear: Whether it was calm or windy, a heavier broadhead and/or insert almost always yielded a slight accuracy/forgiveness edge.
Now, mind you, my bow was already “sweetened” to near perfection from three years of constant fine-tuning. With deer season nearly five months away, I began shooting Easton A/C/C Pro Hunter arrows fitted with 23-grain HP inserts and 125-grain Wac’Em Triton broadheads. I shot the arrows from close range first before stretching out to longer distances. I did this because these were new arrows, and I wanted my mind to adjust casually to the setup change.
Once everything became more second nature, I began shooting at extreme distances. My mind stayed strong and focused on good form and back tension, and nothing else.
As expected, my bow was belting out some seriously tight groups, even beyond the 60-yard mark. However, during the process, I noticed that my sight pin seemed to drift and bob more than I wanted it to, and I wondered if I could make a small improvement.
I noticed the bow exhibited some top heaviness, so I added a five-ounce counterweight on the string side of the bow, just below the grip. My bow now held more plumb and dead center on target, and my groups tightened a bit more.
By midsummer, I was slicing nocks and cutting vanes. My confidence level was soaring.
Yet, by early July, something went wrong with my release aid. It didn’t feel smooth anymore. I contacted the manufacturer and was told that this model’s sear mechanism was notorious for filling up with dust. I was advised to use compressed air to blow the dust out, and to place a drop of Tri-Flow lubricant in the mechanism. After that, the trigger was as smooth as silk.
My confidence soared as I headed into the Nevada mule deer season.
To make a long story short, it came down to the second to last day of the hunt. I had backpacked to a completely different spot and was now 16 miles from the trailhead. The clock was ticking, and the pressure was definitely building.
I began still-hunting an aspen thicket early in the afternoon. Before long, I caught a flicker of movement. It was a bachelor group of bucks, calmly feeding. I eased in, taking in two feet of space maybe every 10 minutes at a time. Eventually, I was inside 45 yards of the deer.
I kept telling myself, “Stay patient. Have faith. If it’s meant to be, it’ll happen. Don’t force anything.”
I knew even if my excitement, my physical strain, my lack of sleep, and any awkwardness in my shooting stance caused a slight flaw in my shooting form, it wouldn’t be enough to ruin the shot. Just knowing I could slice vanes off arrows from 40 yards put my mind at rest. I was ready to execute the shot.
When the buck I wanted stepped into the clear, I slowly came to full draw and brought my 40-yard pin up behind his shoulder. A wave of excitement hit me, but that small voice kicked into gear. Stay calm. Let the bow go off all by itself. Pull...pull...pull....
The next thing I knew, my bow recoiled slightly, and I heard the unmistakable sound of my broadhead hitting home.
Harnessing more perfection from your setup and shooting form has many advantages. For one, it’ll make you more confident and more inspired as a bowhunter. Secondly, it’ll make you more ethical as well. You’ll increase the likelihood of making cleaner, more humane shots because of your progression into greater accuracy and forgiveness. These are the primary motivations behind next-level bowhunting.