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9 Top Pre-Season Shooting Tips

Practice these now so you're ready when the shot really counts.

9 Top Pre-Season Shooting Tips
You can only focus on one thing for about seven seconds. So, it is critical to learn when to lock in your aim so you aren’t mentally exhausted by the time the shot finally arrives.
From the annals of Petersen’s Bowhunting...

After 45 years of bowhunting, I have compressed my pre-season prep to a short list of key checkpoints. If I focus on each one and get them right, I know I will be ready when the shot comes in the field. Here are the nine key shooting tips proven to get me ready for action:

Relax Your Bow Arm & Hand

A relaxed bow hand has become critical to my annual preparation. If I am seeing poor groups and maybe even slashing arrow flight, I first look to my bow hand. Actually, getting this right starts with eliminating tension in your feet and legs. That leads to your entire body feeling more relaxed. Everything should be supple — from the ground up.

Bend your bow arm just enough to unlock the elbow and let your fingers hang naturally in a relaxed grip. The hand should be lifeless in order to shoot your best. It is just a cradle with no power to control the bow. Ideally, you move the bow by turning and tilting your entire upper body, not just your arm or hand.

Now focus on the hand itself during the shot to make sure it stays relaxed and lifeless all the way through.

Focus on the Spot

You have likely heard the old saying that if you aim small you will miss small. Learn to maintain a sharp focus on a small spot you want to hit. When it comes into focus, you know you are ready to start executing the rest of the shot.

Learning to focus starts with your practice sessions. Twenty or 30 great shots with maximum concentration are much better than 100 mediocre ones. Shoot every arrow as if it is the only one you are going to shoot that day.

Aim Time

Studies done by the military have shown that seven seconds is the longest an average person can stay focused on one thing before their mind starts to wander. Maybe if you have a special knack or shoot year-round, you can stretch this for a second or two, but seven seconds of total lock-down aim time is a good rule of thumb.

Granted, the animal will ultimately dictate the timing of the shot, but in the absence of a reason to rush or wait, strive for a shot within that seven- second window.

Generally, I pick my spot and start locking in on it as I am settling in at full draw. That gives me a total of about five seconds once I settle in to squeeze off the shot. If I have to wait for the animal to offer the shot, or for the wind to lay down, I will wait to lock in mentally until it is actually time to shoot.

A Surprise Release

I have struggled with target panic in the past, and still do if I am not careful. And this battle has gotten worse as I have gotten older. Target panic is the attempt, and the inability, to hold the pin steady on the intended target while taking a shot. The afflicted all issue a “Now!” command in their heads when the pin hesitates on the spot. Trying to time the shot eventually creates a mental gridlock resulting in very inconsistent (and unenjoyable) shooting.

The cure is simple: learn to create a surprise release. Discipline yourself to squeeze the trigger, or switch to a specially designed hinge-style release for off-season shooting. With no articulating trigger, these hinge releases eliminate the negative effects of anticipating the shot.

I find I can better create a surprise release with my index-trigger hunting release by pulling solidly into the back wall at full draw and getting a deep bite with my finger on the trigger (all the way up to the first joint). You do this by shortening the stem of the release so the trigger contacts your finger farther in.

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If you want to learn what the correct release is supposed to feel like, hit full draw and have someone else trigger the shot. You just aim and keep your finger behind the trigger. At first this will freak you out, but if you do it several times, you will start to reprogram your central nervous system and this will feel a lot more comfortable. And, surprisingly, your shooting will improve!

Float Your Pin

Many feel the pin should settle rock-steady on the spot they want to hit. This is where target panic gets the spark that turns into a flame. If you are releasing the string correctly, with a surprise method, you won’t be able to time the shot, nor do you want to.

Just let the pin float around and over the spot. Your subconscious mind doesn’t need much help here. Just focus on the spot and let the pin float around it in a small circle, trying to keep it close without trying to force it onto the spot. When the surprise release goes off, you will be amazed at how close the arrow impacts the center. Somehow, we have a natural centering tendency built into our central nervous systems and this just happens. It is kind of spooky, really, but it works. Floating the pin is one of the keys to good shooting.

String Side Elbow

One of my main cues now is the direction the elbow of my string arm points at full draw. This translates directly into the direction I am pulling on the string. It is easy for me to make the mistake of pulling the elbow around behind me at full draw while creating the holding force with my back muscles. This causes poor arrow flight and (for me at least) misses to the left.

To shoot my best, I have to make sure I am pulling straight away from the target. I can’t tolerate even the slightest bit of side force that takes the elbow around behind me.

Follow-Through

I know my shooting is getting on track when the bow jumps straight toward the target after the shot, without any twisting or sideways movement.

Follow-through is both mental and physical. Done right, the follow-through can smooth over a lot of form flaws. It is the super glue that holds everything together long enough for the arrow to escape the bow. If the follow-through is the same on every shot, you are going to shoot very consistently no matter what else you are doing.

On the physical side, your grip-hand must stay relaxed until the arrow hits the target. As I have already mentioned, many bowhunters snap it closed when they release the string. This creates inconsistent shooting.

Your bow arm must remain as steady as possible. Resist the common tendency to drop it or move it to the side when you release the string. Try to keep your bow arm up and pointed toward the target until the arrow hits.

On the mental side, stay focused on the spot. Continue aiming until it disappears at the end of your arrow.

Mid-Flight Obstacles

Because your arrow has an arcing trajectory, it is easy to hit something you don’t even see while aiming. Be aware that anything above your line of sight could potentially deflect your arrow. I have had this happen four times, costing me very good animals. I will never get those shots back. I could have been successful had I just been aware enough to check my arrow path when arriving at full draw.

This pre-shot habit (like most of them) starts on the range or backyard. Even though you know the shot is clear when practicing, consciously look for any obstacles above the line of sight on every shot. Practicing this step in the backyard will make it a permanent part of your pre-shot routine while hunting.

In-Season Practice

Most bowhunters make the mistake of practicing less when the season starts. I am guilty of this too. We need to keep up our strength and maintain our form and focus throughout the season so we will still be sharp when the hard-earned shot finally comes. Find an indoor range where you can shoot every other evening after work, or after hunting. Better yet, carry a portable target in your vehicle and take a few shots whenever possible between hunts.




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