If you want to fill your freezer with wild protein, you need to master the craft of archery first. Being better with your bow is a lifestyle commitment that’ll help you feel comfortable in the moment of truth and extend your effective range. More importantly, honing your archery skills is just plain fun. So don’t wait until the last minute. Dive into the following archery drills and complete your bowhunting master class before opening day.
A shot trainer is like a fidget spinner for archers, but more addicting. A shot trainer is designed to simulate the release process by connecting string to a wooden grip, and repeated use will help you fine-tune your release. Consistency is critical for repeatable shot execution, so look to a shot trainer to kill time when conditions aren’t optimal for shooting outside. The more you use it, the more you’ll familiarize yourself with your hunting release, so it’ll become second nature at the moment of truth. You can also experiment with different trigger sensitivity settings or release aids in a low-pressure environment. Grab a shot trainer for about $30, and it’ll be the most practical investment you’ll make in becoming a better archer.
Dots, bull’s-eyes and target faces can induce target panic, which is the pressure archers feel to create a “now” command that causes them to yank the trigger as soon as the pin approaches the target. The result is inconsistent groups and bad habits. However, you can get ahead of any bad habits by shooting a blank target (large hay bales can work; hence the name). Instead of focusing on your pin’s proximity to the center of the target, think about good form, consistent push/pull pressure between your bow arm and release hand, and breaking a surprise shot. Work this drill into your shot regimen early on to proactively get ahead of any bad habits when you pick up your bow after a few months in the case.
If you’re still struggling with target panic after some blank bale drills, it’s time to switch gears. Expose the face on your target and stare down your proverbial archery fears. Nock an arrow, draw your bow, let your pin float amid the center of the bull’s-eye and hold at full draw. Remain at full draw for a few seconds, and gently let your bow down. Repeat this drill for about a week without releasing an arrow. At its conclusion, holding full draw while your pin floats amid the target’s center will help you face the anxious feeling that encourages you to punch the trigger.
If you’ve hunted long enough, you’ve likely been caught at full draw while an animal stopped behind brush or at a poor shot angle. You might’ve even thought to yourself, “If I only could’ve stayed at full draw for a few more seconds, I would’ve had him.” No matter your quarry, building your archery muscles so you can hold your draw for up to a minute or more will help you be more successful. Start by setting a 30-second timer on your phone’s stopwatch and remain at full draw until the timer goes off. Work your way toward a more prolonged duration at full draw in steady increments until you feel comfortable holding your draw weight for more than a minute. As important as it is to be sure your bow is correctly sighted in, it’s equally important to push yourself physically to be effective during crunch time. Someday, this drill will pay off.
A general rule of thumb is to practice at twice your maximum effective distance in the field. If the farthest you’d shoot at a deer is 30 yards, this means you should be regularly practicing out to 60 yards. Extending your practice range also exposes any slight imperfections in your accuracy that would otherwise be difficult to account for at closer distances. You’ll build confidence and make close shots feel like a walk in the park when you practice at long range. Keep this drill in your practice regimen during the season, and you can rest easy knowing you’re ready for anything at the more reasonable distances at which you’ll be hunting.
It’s essential to make sure your broadheads are flying true. Swap field tips for your hunting heads about two months before opening day, and start by shooting a broadhead followed by two field-tipped arrows afterward. Ideally, all three arrows will group tightly together. If they don’t, you might have to revisit your paper tune or broadhead tune to make sure your arrows fly straight out of the bow. Pro tip: Make sure you shoot your broadhead first. If you don’t, you’ll risk slicing vanes or splitting an arrow with the larger cutting diameter of the broadhead.
In the real world, you’re not always going to have time to range your quarry. Mix up your practice session by shooting at unknown distances. You can do this in your backyard range, but for the best results, shoot an entire 3D course without your rangefinder. You’ll improve your ability to judge distances in the field, and that skill will give you peace of mind if your rangefinder battery dies unexpectedly.
Don’t wait until it’s too late to layer up with your insulated clothing and shoot a few arrows. The last place you’d want to find out that your insulated parka interferes with your bowstring is when the buck you’ve waited all season for is standing at top pin distance. Even if it means sweating a bit during the summer heat, add a few layers and make sure you can shoot accurately and comfortably with insulated gear.
Your shooting regimen should be constantly evolving. Stagnant practice doesn’t foster growth, so get out of your comfort zone and try something new. You’ll shoot better and have more fun with archery in the process, making it a win-win situation.