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Pre-Season Practice for Bowhunters

Late in the winter when deer season ends, most bows become objects used for gathering dust. Then, just before the next season, the weapon appears on the practice range, reuniting with its owner.

Most hunters confront the elements and spend countless hours pursuing the whitetail of their dreams. Too often, when the opportunity comes, the results fall far short of the expectations. Many factors can contribute to this disappointing finish. Misjudging yardage, getting nervous, movement of the deer or simply poor shot execution can ruin a good hunt.

Fortunately, most reasons for failure can be eliminated through serious practice. Preseason practice is the cornerstone for a successful season. No matter how great your deer woods might be, it will do you little good if you are unable to make the shot. Preparation on the practice range should begin at least six weeks or two months before the hunt. If you have not been using your bow, the first few weeks of practice should be dedicated to building muscle strength and establishing consistent form. With safety factors in mind, strategically place a target butt in your basement or elsewhere in your home. Distance is not an important factor, since this type of practice can be accomplished at 15 or 20 feet. You'll get to enjoy the added luxury of shooting day or night, even in air conditioning when the days are warm.

Whether you are a professional archer or a weekend warrior, all archers should usher in the new season by establishing consistent form. An effective way to achieve this is to practice on a blank target butt several times a week. Shoot the arrows at the practice bale, but don't focus on where they are hitting or even aim at a specific point. Instead, concentrate on shot execution, keeping the bow pulled apart ۬solidly throughout the entire shot process. Be aware of what your bow arm is doing. Does it explode toward the target as the arrow is released, or does it drop because you aren't maintaining proper back tension? More than 90 percent of bad shots can be attributed to the bow arm, and most are caused by lack of adequate back pressure. Strive to duplicate the shot with good form. The release hand and the bow arm should complete the sequence in the same position at the conclusion of every shot.

It's essential when doing this type of shooting that you talk yourself through every shot. Choose three or four steps to repeat to yourself as you concentrate on the sequence. For example, you might say, "Let the pin settle; pull the bow apart; and drive the arrow into the target." By mentally saying and following these simple steps, you will be focusing on good shot execution. This process keeps your attention on using proper form, not on harvesting the big buck.

Think of the situation logically. How hard is it to stand there and shoot every arrow with the same form? With some quality practice, it should be fairly easy. That's all you have to do to become a successful shot. Focus on your form and not the distracting stimuli, such as a tantalizing trophy whitetail.

After several weeks of blank bale shooting, take this skill to the practice range and use it on a target. Remember, talk yourself through every shot. When attempting to hit the mark, most archers place the thinking on keeping the pin on the bulls-eye. This does not work! Instead, let the pin float on the target and keep your concentration on shot execution. If aiming is the focal point, the forward pressure of the bow arm is lost and a poor outcome will follow. Practice shooting at a target and fight the urge to over-aim the shot. You will be pleasantly surprised to discover how accurate you can become.

Once you have honed your skills, put them to the test. One of the best forms of practice is shooting 3-D targets, which simulate more natural hunting conditions. If shooting a 3-D tournament makes you nervous, what will happen when a trophy buck walks in front of you? Now is the time to deal with the problem.

While shooting a tournament, remember your objective. It should be the same as when a handsome whitetail saunters into view. Mentally talk yourself through the shot, executing it with perfect form. A common weakness for many hunters is yardage estimation. Disciplined yardage practice should be done on a regular basis and 3-D tournaments can be an excellent place to test these skills.

How many deer shots do you get or expect to get while standing on the ground and squaring up to the target? The answer is probably none. A bow hunter should practice the types of shots that he or she anticipates facing in the field. Most hunters use a tree stand. After you have perfected your form on level ground, take your skills to the elevated position and work from there.

When shooting in the downward direction, an archer must bend at the waist in order to utilize the same form that was mastered on an even surface. If the bow arm is bent lower for the shot, the anchor point and peep alignment will be altered, making it very difficult to maintain forward pressure. While practicing or shooting at a deer from a stand, be certain your shoulders are perpendicular to the target, just as they were on level ground. If they are not, the draw length will feel too long and a good shot will be very difficult to execute.


Practicing on the archery range is when you refine your skills for hunting. Such exercise not only prepares you physically, it also conditions your thinking to handle the pressure shots. Then, when the shot opportunity presents itself, calmly let the pin float, pull the bow apart and drive the arrow into its target.

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