There’s a lot to love about archery. It improves focus, builds confidence and brings people together. One of my favorite aspects is the constant learning curve. There’s always another goal on the horizon. Whether it’s pulling a higher draw weight, shooting a longer distance or getting a tighter group, you can always improve your abilities. It’s fun to track your progress and push boundaries.
Archery allows you to set individual goals that needn’t be the same as the goals of your partners, friends or teammates. And there are a few cues to take for knowing when you should push yourself to that next level.
Some archers want to max out their bow as soon as possible because they believe the more poundage they pull, the better their shooting. But that’s often not the case. Drawing too much weight causes bad form, which leads to poor shots and possible injuries. However, that doesn’t mean you should stick with what’s easy. Working your way up to a higher draw weight will generate faster arrows with more penetration, and that can improve performance. It’s important to strike the right balance by adding weight as you’re ready.
You should be able to draw your bow smoothly and steadily. If you have to “sky draw,” meaning you point the arrow up to the sky as you draw, then it’s too much weight. If you’re super shaky while aiming or can shoot just a handful of arrows, those are additional signs you’re pulling too much. If you can draw smoothly and shoot comfortably for hours, it’s time to up your weight.
Try increasing by a pound or two at a time, and plan to practice at least twice a week to gain muscle. Even if it doesn’t feel like much more, you will likely feel the effects the next day in sore muscles, or you’ll get shaky much quicker during practice. Shoot at this weight until you can shoot for hours and then up it even more.
Shooting long distances is a lot of fun, and it’s a great way to improve your abilities. At a long distance, your mistakes are magnified. Little inconsistencies in your form and execution are masked at shorter distances but not at farther ones.
You probably don’t want to go from 20 to 80 yards. Increasing your distance and then missing the target completely is demoralizing. Instead, most archers increase their distance in 10-yard increments. If you’re new to archery, you’ll be amazed at how 30 yards can feel like a mile when you’re shooting that far for the first time. As your distance increases, there are a lot of factors to consider. Increasing your draw weight is a great complementary step toward increasing your distance. If you’re shooting a lighter poundage bow, arrows drop much quicker.
Hitting your mark is all about aiming steady, or is it? Archery instructors will tell you it’s pretty much impossible to hold your pin perfectly still. That’s why practicing the proper way to aim is important. Experts say the best way to aim is to make a figure 8 around the bull’s-eye. If you practice this at short distances, it will improve your longer shots. Some archers use a back tension release to improve accuracy. This eliminates the effects of target panic, which can jerk your shot on the release. A back tension release surprises you with the shot before you can react.
Practicing at longer distances can improve your aiming abilities. This increased precision will amplify your abilities at shorter distances. Shoot at your max distance and then go back to 20 yards. You’ll be amazed at how your groups tighten.
“Aim small, miss small,” is a popular saying among archers. Aiming small improves precision. Shrinking the size of your target will help tighten your groups. Start with a bull’s-eye diameter the size of a pie plate, then a coffee cup. Shrink it down to a quarter and finally a small “x.” Shrinking the target will surely shrink your groups.
Every bowhunter needs a maximum shooting range. This is the range you won’t shoot beyond in perfect conditions (wind, rain, fog and other elements can reduce your maximum range). It’s based on several factors like bow setup, accessories, draw weight, arrow setup and shooting abilities. Your range can also vary in the moment based on factors like weather conditions and your gut instinct.
A lot of maximum-range decisions come down to ethics. Do you feel like you’re in a position to make an ethical shot? If there’s any hesitation, you should pass on the shot. To extend your maximum range, first take a look at your equipment. Be sure to shoot your broadheads at every distance to make sure they shoot properly. You’ll encounter a lot of debate about the proper poundage, broadhead style and arrow setup. You know your equipment best, but if you have any questions talk to the pros at your local archery shop.
With the right equipment you may be able to extend your distance, as long as you practice. There are a lot of amazing archers who can shoot incredibly at 80 yards, but they won’t take such long shots at animals. Practicing at longer distances helps prepare you for the shots you will take. The more you practice, the more prepared you’ll be in the moment.
You need to decide your effective range before you enter the field. And it’s important to stick to it, no matter how tempting it might be to ignore. I know how heartbreaking it can be to pass on a shot that’s just outside your range. This year I passed up a bull elk that was 2 yards beyond my effective range. I went home with a tag in my pocket but memories for a lifetime and a sense of pride in my ethics.
Pushing the boundaries of your abilities is all about commitment. The more time you invest, the more results you’ll see. With the right gear, attitude and plan for progression, you’ll soon be meeting and exceeding goals.