September 29, 2010
By Terry Wunderle
Mentally place yourself in a tree stand and picture a buck working its way toward your shooting lane. The animal saunters along under the weight of a massive rack that would claim the pinnacle of your antler collection. After much anticipation, the 20-yard, broadside shot is yours for the taking.
Now consider your thought process as you draw and execute the shot. Are you nervous, hoping that you don't miss? Are you confident that you can hit the spot and claim the prize? Could you be trying to hurry the shot sequence, fearing that the opportunity might deteriorate? Is the sight pin resting in the area you wish to bulls-eye? Or are you trying to shoot the same form you use on the practice range? Your thinking will play a vital role in whether you celebrate or mourn the results of the hunt.
You might be one of the thousands of archers who have missed a deer at 20 yards or less. Most of these sports enthusiasts are capable of remarkable accuracy while shooting at the same distance on the practice field. However, this talent will be of little use if you cannot maintain focus when faced with a trophy deer. Then what should be your focal point? The answer is simple. Avoid thinking about the kill and concentrate on executing the shot with the best form possible.
The archers whom I have coached have won more than 300 national and world championships. The primary factor they all have in common is their ability to remain focused. This skill draws a fine line between the good archers and the great ones. One must be completely involved in the task of creating each shot with the best form that he or she is capable of producing. The thought process cannot deviate and become directed toward the results. If you are a target archer, you cannot be placing emphasis on score or winning. As a deer hunter, you should not be focused on capturing the deer. Once the shooter places more importance on the results, anxiety can build and cause nervous tension, while the person attempts to control the situation.
If a hunter is stalking a prize buck and his or her thinking is directed at claiming the magnificent animal, the resulting concern and apprehension will prevent the shot from being executed in its normal manner. A person's thinking needs to be directed at producing the shot process. To accomplish this, you must train your body and mind to work together as a single unit. When you practice, talk yourself through every shot. Are your shoulders perpendicular to the target? Is the sight pin resting in the kill zone? Now pull the bow apart and release the arrow. If you utilize and concentrate on your personal shot sequence, the odds of making a successful hit are greatly enhanced.
Pressure shots are created because you allow your thinking to escalate to the level of anxiety. Change your focus by refusing to place a higher value on any shot of this nature. I personally know that the only way I am going to kill that buck is by trusting my normal shot process and producing a shot with good form. Consider the irony of missing a deer at only 20 yards. On the practice range, most archers can keep every arrow in a saucer-size target. If not, they need some serious practice before attempting a hunt. The perfect kill zone on a deer is larger than a dinner place.
Then why do so many hunters miss the mark? The thought process they applied when shooting at a deer was quite different from the one used to practice and sight in the bow. To be successful, pick the spot you want to hit and concentrate on it. Let the sight pin float (or jiggle) on or around the desired impact point and shoot the same shot you have perfected during practice.
Whether taking a shot on the practice range or at a prize buck, trust your form and ignore the movement of the sight pin. Naturally, there could be considerable repositioning of the pin when attempting a hit a trophy whitetail. However, trying to guide or hold the pin in one spot will redirect the pressure on the bow. The resulting tension will alter the flight path and make the sights ineffective. In addition, once you begin executing the shot, do not try to fine-tune the sight pin. This will start and stop the shot process, causing the forward pressure on the bow to be lost. With compound bows, more than 90 percent of the misses stem from the bow arm.
As long as the bow arm has steady pressure straight at the target, the result will be the best shot you are capable of performing at the moment. Prove this to yourself. Go to the practice range and make 20 shots, letting the sight pin float and maintaining steady pressure on the bow as it presses toward the target. Then shoot 20 shots while attempting to hold the sight pin on the bulls-eye. The results should convince you to trust your form and shoot. The forward pressure of the bow arm is a correcting measure for the extra sight movement. When a hunter starts and stops the shot process, "buck fever" will intervene and disaster will follow.
Accomplished archers spend considerable time practicing and honing their skills. Make it your goal to practice, so it will enhance your power of focus and develop muscle memory. Then, when it's time to ascend your tree stand, you will be mentally and physically prepared for that shot opportunity. Capturing a whitetail can be just as easy as shooting on the practice range. Remain calm, focus on shot execution, and trust your form.