May 26, 2011
By Terry Wunderle
As deer season becomes a memory, do you find yourself anticipating and planning for that next whitetail adventure? Those big bucks that were seen, but not harvested, lurk strongly in your mind. Where can you relocate your stands? How can you provide the best shot opportunities that are crucial to your success? Even with the most careful preparation, victory will elude you if your arrow cannot hit its mark.
Physical as well as mental preparation is necessary in order to be a good archer. Simply picking up the bow and checking the sights a few days before season will not provide you with the adequate skill or confidence needed when that long-awaited deer steps into range. Preparation for hunting season should commence long before opening day; in fact, it should be a continuous process in the off-season.
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 the 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.
After several weeks of the previous style of practice, take your skills to the outdoor range and shoot the same shot at the target. Seeing the bulls-eye in view, the tendency will now be to over-aim the shot. With aiming as the focal point, the forward pressure of the bow arm is lost and a poor outcome will follow. Instead, let the sight pin float on the target. Talk yourself through the shot and work to duplicate the form you mastered indoors. The results will surprise you.
This type of preseason practice not only gives you effective form; it conditions your muscles and develops the strength and stamina needed to be a successful archer. Begin by lowering the draw weight of the bow for the early practice sessions.
After a few weeks, weight can be increased in small increments until you are back to your normal hunting weight. Use caution in applying too high a draw weight, as it causes a breakdown in effective form. If you find yourself straining to pull and hold your bow at full draw, your poundage is likely too high and should be reset.
You'll be happy to discover the lower, more comfortable draw weight will actually shoot more accurately. For most hunters, this lower poundage reduces the penetration from 10 inches to maybe four inches -- into the ground after the arrow passes through the deer. Nearly all bows set at 40 pounds or higher will shoot through the chest cavity of a whitetail.
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.
Another valuable form of practice is to participate in 3-D tournaments. You don't need to compete for trophies or money; shoot for fun and experience. Instead of focusing on the ten-ring, concentrate on the mark you want to hit if the target were an actual deer. Create the mental image of a live animal under hunting conditions. With each 3-D shot of your mock pursuit, begin to feel the excitement and anticipation of your hunt.
As you develop the power of focus and confidence, you will be prepared to make your shot when a real trophy whitetail emerges from the woods in front of you.