September 22, 2010
The hunter stood motionless in the tree stand while anxiously waiting for the buck to close the gap to 20 yards. As the trophy animal fed on the acorns 30 yards away, it was evident he wasn't going to come closer. Being an ethical sportsman, the hunter didn't attempt the shot, because he had previously decided that 20 yards was the maximum distance he should shoot. The buck walked away.
Many of you have experienced this typical scenario. However, wouldn't it be nice if you could extend your effective shooting range by 10 or 15 yards? You can if you'll put in the extra practice time to achieve the goal. Today, archery manufacturers are offering highly efficient equipment. Most people don't realize how accurate a bow can be in the hands of a skilled archer. I coach many shooters who can place nearly every arrow in a paper plate at 100 yards.
The key to improvement in any sport is practice. When my older daughter Dawn was in school, she was on a team in which the coach played only the starters during many of the drills and competitions. So Dawn became a benchwarmer. I told her that if she would give me half as much practice time, she could become a national champion archer. She did, and she went on to win five national championships in archery!
To improve your game, you must develop consistency in the shooting process so that every shot is executed in an identical manner. Achieving this goal requires a minimum of a half-hour of daily practice while shooting at a blank bale (an archery butt with no target). This can be done in the comfort of your home at a distance of five yards. The purpose of the exercise is to ensure that you are making every shot in the same way. Pay special attention to how your bow arm and release arm execute the shot. The bow arm should maintain a steady pressure directed at the target. The release arm should maintain a steady pressure away from the bow.
When it's done properly, each arm should finish in the same position with every shot. This practice, which is one of the most important parts of an archer's routine, is what my son Vic did for three months prior to winning a silver medal at a world championship. Every serious archer should shoot "blank bale" several times a week, even if he or she is performing well. Hunters also need to continue practicing this method even after the season begins.
After a few weeks of blank bale shooting, your shot execution will be more consistent. Now try duplicating this shot at a 20-yard target. Make this shot the same as if you were shooting the blank bale. Even though you will be using a target, put the emphasis on duplicating the process. Don't be overly concerned about aiming. Let the sight pin float on or around the target and execute a good shot. As long as you maintain the pressure on the bow directed at the target, the arrow will hit its mark.
If you try to hold the sight pin on the bull's-eye, you will lose the forward pressure, and a bad shot will result. After a few practice sessions, you should be producing good arrow groups. Note that if this is a different shot group than you used to shoot, the arrows will be hitting in a different location. Just move your sight pin.
When you're efficient at 20 yards, move back to 30 or 40 yards and repeat the process. As you master this distance, move back more. After a few weeks, you'll discover you're producing respectable groups at longer distances. The key is to trust your form and shoot the same shot you learned while blank bale shooting. Don't try to over-aim the shot.
When practicing at the longer yardages, you'll discover that any imperfection in duplicating your form will be revealed when the arrow hits in a different place. The longer-range shooting will make the closer shots become more accurate. This routine will add 10 or 15 yards to your effective shooting distance.
Structured practice will give you the confidence needed to shoot accurately at a deer. Trusting your form and not the sight pin will help make you a successful archer. Being able to produce a longer accurate shot also comes with added responsibility. Before making an attempt at the greater distances, certain criteria need to be met. Make sure you use a rangefinder and know the exact length of the shot. If there is any question about whether or not you can make a clean hit, do not shoot.
I once had a 170-class 12-point buck at 35 yards. A strong wind was blowing and I never felt comfortable with the shot, so I let the deer walk. Two days later, when the wind was calm, I had another shot opportunity on the same buck at 35 yards. The trophy now hangs over my fireplace.
When taking the longer shots, always be certain the animal is broadside to you. This provides a much larger kill zone. Never attempt the longer shots when the deer is nervous or on alert. It will react to the sound of the bow, and the chances of a marginal hit are too great. Most hunting bows shoot an arrow around 250 feet per second or less. Sound travels at 1,100 feet per second. The sound of the bow discharging reaches the deer about four times quicker than the arrow. If the deer is nervous before the shot, it will react and move before the arrow arrives.
I never encourage hunters to go out and attempt long, hard shots on deer. The purpose of this article is to help typical archers become more accurate and comfortable at the distances they are presently shooting and learn how to extend their accuracy range as they become more proficient hunters. A common question I am often asked is, "How far should I shoot at a deer?"
My answer is, "At whatever distance you can keep every arrow in a saucer!"