August 08, 2023
My favorite Toby Keith lyric goes, “I ain’t as good as I once was, but I’m as good once, as I ever was.” I quote that song from time to time, and when it comes to bowhunting, it’s true in some instances.
By nature, I’m an aggressive bowhunter, but experience has taught me to make better judgment calls, and as a result, I’ve become more patient when I need to be. When it comes to shooting, however, it’s an outright lie! I turned 50 this year, and the sad fact is, I’m simply not capable of shooting as well as I did 10–15 years ago.
As I’ve aged, two issues have become more pronounced in my shooting, and I’m not alone in dealing with these challenges. The first issue is my vision. The human eye is incapable of focusing on both your pin and your target at the same time; however, both used to be much clearer in my youth. These days, if I focus on the target, my pin becomes a haloed blur. If I focus on the pin, I have the same issue with the target. Visiting my eye doctor and experimenting with Specialty Archery’s Verifier peep sights, have helped me clear-up my sight picture, but there’s really no way to train yourself to have better vision. It is what it is.
The second issue I’ve been dealing with can be improved with a little experimentation and training, and that’s keeping steady at full draw. When I was in my 30s, I felt like I was almost rock-solid at full draw, and now my pin seems to dance around the target like a chicken full of Ex-Lax! It’s frustrating to say the least, because it’s a problem that snowballs and creates other problems. The more your pin moves, the more anxious you are at full draw, and the more likely you are to start suffering from target panic.
Here are some tips on how aging bowhunters, or any bowhunter for that matter, can work to improve steadiness while holding your bow at full draw.
Start doing some strength training. Focus on exercises that target the muscles used in archery — such as the back, shoulders, and arms. Strengthening these muscles can improve stability and help you hold your bow steadier at full draw.
Experiment with your draw length. For years, I typically leaned toward a draw length that was a tad short. This allowed me to keep a little more bend in my bow arm to avoid string contact with my forearm when I was wearing bulkier clothes. I was amazed at how much steadier I could hold by lengthening my draw length by as little as a quarter-inch.
Conversely, many bowhunters might be able to hold steadier by shortening their draw just a bit. With a little experimentation, you will find that there’s a sweet spot where your body seems to naturally relax. Even if you have been comfortable at a consistent draw length for years, adjustments may be needed as you age and your strength or range of motion changes.
Practice Being Steady
Start incorporating some stability-building exercises into your practice routine. Begin by taking a small paper plate and pinning it to your target. Now, back up in 10-yard increments, until you find the distance at which you begin to struggle to keep your sight pin within the edges of the plate. At the end of each practice session, return to that distance and simply stand and hold the pin on the plate for as long as you can. Don’t shoot — just hold and aim. As your stability improves, keep moving back. Not only will this exercise help you become steadier at full draw, it will also dramatically increase the amount of time you are capable of holding your bow at full draw before executing an accurate shot.
Stabilizers & Side Bars
Change the balance of your bow by experimenting with stabilizers and side bars. Return to the small paper plate that you have pinned to your target. If you have already noted the distance at which you begin to struggle holding your pins within the borders of the plate, you might be surprised at how many yards you can add to that distance by playing around with the balance of your bow. Adding a longer stabilizer and potentially a side bar can make your bow much more stable at full draw.
Experiment with the length and weight of these accessories to see how much steadier you become at full draw. Just remember that running a longer or heavier stabilizer or side bar can lead to new challenges when bowhunting with them in the field. There can be a tradeoff for the extra stability you gain with them, so make sure to take that into consideration.
Create a shot process or routine that forces you to focus on controlled breathing, stability, and visualization of an accurate shot. Develop your shot routine by talking yourself through each step, and I mean actually talk to yourself. The routine becomes a mantra, and mine goes something like this: Knuckle to jaw, nose to string, breath out, breath in, see it, steady, squeeze. Many coaches recommend creating a mantra out of your shot routine to keep you calm, focused, and steady.
Watching a legend like Larry D. Jones bowhunt well into his 80s, and to continue to thrive while doing so, is a real inspiration to me. As we age, routine tasks, like remaining steady at full draw, become new challenges. But with proper adjustments, practice, and focus, aging bowhunters can continue to shoot with accuracy and precision. The real key is to embrace the challenges, adapt, and continue to pursue your passion for bowhunting.