If you have a compound bow, you can adapt it for both bowhunting and competition archery use. Each discipline is unique, and so your practice routines to prepare for them should be, too. We spoke to American compound archer Paige Pearce to learn how to tailor a training regimen for each activity.
Pearce is well versed in bowhunting and competition archery. Her parents did both when she was little, so she followed suit. She didn’t expect to become a professional archer, but she now has a lengthy resume and several accolades to her name, including several World Cup and World Championship medals. She “without a doubt” prefers bowhunting over competition because she likes being in the woods and connecting to nature, but she said being immersed in both worlds has helped her excel in archery sports as a whole because there is crossover in the mental and physical preparation required for each.
I really think that they both kind of go hand in hand, but I do train a lot differently for a tournament than I would if I was hunting,” Pearce said. “As long as everything is set up correctly, then this will benefit that and vice versa.”
So, how does she train and come up with a suitable practice routine? She first evaluates what kind of tournament she’s shooting or what kind of bowhunt she’s going on. Then, she bases her practice routine, including how many arrows she shoots and when, based on the activity she wants to prepare for.
As a general rule of thumb, Pearce said archers should focus on quantity when practicing for competitions, but quality when practicing for hunting. Additionally, you should start preparing months in advance to build the necessary skills and confidence needed to conquer the activity. Doing so also gives you a fair chance at being successful, and makes you a more ethical bowhunter. Let’s take a look at a few subtle practice differences for each activity.
Bowhunting requires patience and the accuracy of a single shot. “When you’re hunting, it doesn’t matter if your 30th arrow is right (on the mark), your first one needs to be,” Pearce said.
Because everything rides on the spine of one arrow, Pearce tries to simulate that by shooting a few arrows over a long period of time, meaning she takes breaks between each arrow release to reset the situation.
“When you’re hunting, you’re not warmed up; you’re starting cold,” she said. “(For practice), I’ll grab my bow and say to myself ‘this is the one; make it count.’ Then I’ll shoot an arrow and maybe a few more but then stop and do the same thing an hour later.”
Most compound bow archers increase their draw weight for hunting to ensure their arrow penetrates deep enough for a lethal shot on an animal. Pearce said hunters must be able to smoothly draw their bow to be stealthy, so she insists on doing some strength-building exercises or shooting at least 25 times per day to build muscle.
Most hunters set their pins to 20, 30, 40 and 50 yards, but shots at animals are rarely that exact. Pearce encourages hunters to shoot from random distances to become familiar shooting at distances between their pins, or “the gaps” as she calls it. You should evaluate your skills and stay within your effective shooting range, too. For example, if you only practice to 40 yards, you should never take a shot on a live animal beyond that distance.
Target archery requires repetition and consistency. You usually have time to warm up and prepare, but you need strength and stamina or you’ll tire and burn out. Most outdoor tournaments require archers to shoot 72 arrow, or 12 “ends” of six arrows.
Pearce said archers must be able to physically shoot that many arrows, so quantity is key when you first start practicing. Work your way up to shooting 72 arrows and then surpass that number for good measure. You might find that you hit your groove after warming up, too.
Once you feel strong enough to comfortably shoot all the necessary arrows without getting exhausted, switch up your practice routine for a few days to concentrate on accuracy. For example, Pearce shoots two ends of six arrows because she believes “12 practice arrows is the equivalent mentally and physically to shoot six perfect arrows in a tournament.” She’ll do this a few times each day to get a feel for how she’ll shoot in competitions.
Outdoor tournaments are often really windy so Pearce said your arms must be strong enough to hold your bow steady. Repetition during practice can help increase that strength and therefore your arms’ stability. Additionally, there’s a lot going on at tournaments, from spectators to announcements to competitors, so archers must learn to tune out distractions. Focus on your form and breath to center yourself. These techniques should also be practiced regularly.
If you’re preparing for an indoor tournament, you won’t have to deal with weather elements, so practicing is easier. Just make sure you can shoot the required number of arrows without fatigue and be consistent with your pre-shot process, which is a personalized step-by-step approach to calm your nerves before the shot. A routine pre-shot process also helps competitive archers focus and avoid mistakes that can throw off their score.
Regardless of the activity you’re practicing for, Pearce recommended shooting a few times a week to stay consistent and keep your strength up.
Also, develop something that works for you, because everyone’s training session should be unique and specific to them. “Everyone is different and their practice routines should be, too,” Pearce said. If you struggle to shoot a lot of arrows, stick with it to build your strength and endurance. If you struggle with buck fever, try 3D to simulate a more realistic hunting setup. Always focus on what you need to improve during your training sessions.
Pearce doesn’t force herself to improve if she’s having an off day at practice. Instead, she shoots the bare minimum, gives herself grace and tries to forget about the experience so she doesn’t get in her head. She said it’s OK to stop and try again another day.
“One thing you’ll learn with archery is there are going to be good and bad days,” she said. “It’s hard on the professional level because they expect all your days to be good, and the reality of it is, we’re human and that’s not really the case. The more practice and time you put in, the less bad days you’ll have.”
You might be amazing in practice but choke from buck fever or under the pressure of an intent and interested audience. You must learn how to get in the zone and keep your nerves in check.
“Mental preparation is just as — or more important than — the physical side of things,” she said. “I spend a lot of time shooting my bow, obviously, but I also visualize shots while I’m driving or in the shower. I walk myself through a scenario and what it looks like so it’s like I’ve seen it or I’ve done it before. I think that builds your confidence and helps you stay a little bit more calm in those situations.”
Lastly, make your practice routine fun. Shooting in a competition or bowhunting scenario is serious business and practicing should be too, but it shouldn’t be boring. Come up with ways to laugh or challenge yourself, like practicing with friends or shooting oddball targets one day. No matter what you do or how you practice, shooting regularly will help you improve your skills as an archer.