Archery is a precision shooting sport. To be an efficient bowhunter demands consistent proper practice.
After months of neglect, you strain to draw your bow. Back in the fall, the simple act of drawing, anchoring, aiming, releasing, and following through, was effortless. Back then, muscle memory, and fluidity of our draw, were second nature. Realizing your predicament, it hits hard. You’ve been shooting a bow for years, but just didn’t make it happen over the winter months. Now it’s time to pay the piper.
The struggle is real, but don’t worry, you’re not alone. There’s no time like July and August to get your body back in shape and establish an off-season practice regimen. You’ll likely need to push through several days of regaining form and function to reclaim fluidity and accuracy.
Full disclosure – when my wife and I first had kids, it was tough to practice as much as I did previously – and my hunting success showed it. Thankfully, it only took a couple of years and a handful of missed opportunities to realize it was all on me. As soon as I returned to a rigid training routine, my shooting was far more comfortable, way more accurate, and my hunting success showed it.
Practice doesn’t necessarily make perfect, but proper practice does. I’m referring specifically to form. Bad form can generate bad habits and these inevitably result in accuracy problems. For example, gripping your bow tightly or at an improper angle, canting the bow, leaning backward slightly, twisting your body, too much nose pressure on your string, locking elbows inward, and releasing while your bow is being lowered or raised are all common form problems. By practicing correctly and often year-round, you not only improve your precision, but you also make drawing, aiming, and releasing a familiar maneuver. Your goal is to make this sequence of motions kinesthetic. When your muscles are in shape and you can concentrate on proper arrow placement as opposed to just getting your bow drawn, your chances for accuracy are greater.
Fitness & Focus
Archery commands the use of both mental concentration and muscles not commonly used in everyday activities. When muscles are toned and your body is accustomed to the motion and strain required to hold at full-draw, you will find it both easy and comfortable to do so. By practicing in the off-season, we can ensure muscles, and joints, stay toned and in shape. Mental concentration and focus are equally important. By repeatedly going through the motions, we learn how to focus on the target and release when everything feels right.
To be a proficient archer, you need to throw a lot of arrows. And, to be a consistent bowhunter, you need to not only shoot a lot but also do it under a wide range of circumstances. The best way to achieve this is shooting at 3D targets, or even competing in 3D tournaments in the off-season.
If you live in a mild climate, you may enjoy the comfort of shooting outside all year long. For a good number of us here in the U.S. and Canada, we have anywhere from four-to-six months of the year that can be excessively cold and miserable. The solution – indoor archery ranges. Most archery pro shops have shooting lanes. Even the smallest of shops typically offer at least a 20-yard backstop for paper targets. Some ranges even offer variable distances from 10 to 50 yards. Some have club events or special times where members can shoot. Similarly, for a nominal fee, most of these indoor archery ranges provide public shooting times for walk-ins as well. Likewise, many clubs organize competitive indoor 3D tournaments. These are another superb opportunity to hone and test your shooting skills in the off-season.
Almost all outdoor ranges have fixed butts at variable distances and 3D targets too, are more popular than ever. My own club, for instance, has the standard 10, 20, 30, 40, 50, 60, and even a 90-yard static target butt.
Even still, when it comes to off-season practice for the hunting archer, no other option provides as realistic practice as 3D targets. Products like the Big Shot Pro Hunter Double Duty Buck Target fill the bill perfectly. Manufacturers like Big Shot, Reinhart, Mackenzie, and Delta make life-like facsimiles more or less to scale. Available in a wide range of species, archers have their pick of small, medium, and large game including everything from wild turkey to alligator, moose, and even exotic African and other species. In my opinion, nothing beats shooting on a 3D course. Many shots are uphill, downhill, sidehill angles, and more. Most leagues offer a schedule of competitive tournaments, and I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the newest 3D super events, the Total Archery Challenge (TAC) competitions. For off-season practice, these extreme tournaments essentially test the whole archer. Best described as both physically and mentally demanding, they are a true test of fitness, focus, and your ability to shoot not only a wide range of distances and targets but also extreme uphill and downhill angles in the midst of a wide assortment of life-like hunting scenarios.
In the end though, remember you owe it to both the animals you hunt and yourself, to make sure you’re in top form before drawing your bow on any given hunt. The early season opener is just around the corner. It’s up to you to prepare appropriately by practicing in the off-season.