Practice for the extreme if you want to down an animal with one clean shot. What do I mean by that? A few years ago, I was out scouting a month before the season and at 6:00 AM it was 89 degrees. At 6:00 AM!! Imagine what it would be like at 2:00 PM. Here the temperatures during hunting season can easily reach 100 degrees midday. It gets hot, you get sweaty and uncomfortable and you need to prepare yourself for it. Also, you really should practice at ranges you aren’t so comfortable with. Shoot out further and you’ll be surprised at how your accuracy will change at closer range. Here are steps I continually work on throughout the year when I am practicing to prepare myself for the extremes.
In the early part of the year you will find me practicing in shorts, a t-shirt and sneakers when I am at the range. It helps me loosen up and it’s comfortable! The same should go for you. Start off the year practicing in your comfortable clothes, no matter where you are. Make it enjoyable. As the weeks tick by, I will add more clothing during select sessions at the archery range. On some hot days (80+ degrees), I’ll clothe myself in my long-sleeve, long pant gear. I’ll wear my hunting boots, too. Why do I torture myself like this? Hunting in the high desert could mean shooting a deer when it’s 90 degrees. You really should practice in those extreme situations. I have also had clothing get tangled into my bow string and throw off my shot. Wear what you plan to hunt in from time to time and you’ll find instances like this that can be corrected early on.
Sometime during the next few weeks I will add in a 3D target to the mix. While you can start with a regular target with dots to shoot at, in the field you won’t have a bulls eye to focus on. Buy a 3D target and practice with it as much as you can. For me, I shoot at a small javelina target. Have I ever hunted javelina? No, but the target area is very small and it leaves little room for error. I could try to pick up a moose target, but I want my shots tight and my confidence level as high as it can be. If you hunt deer exclusively, pick up a quality deer target. My shots greatly improved when I started shooting a 3D target.
Want to add some more fun to your target practice? Take an old sock and fill it with rags or more old socks. Prior washing optional! The more you stuff in the better the result will be. Once you have six or eight in, tie off the end with a knot. Success! Now you have yourself a small rabbit target to use at the range. Then, tip one of your arrows with a judo point made for small game hunting. Start shooting at the rabbit a few times during each session. Keep track of your range and how you improve over time. You might surprise yourself how confident you will become and how far out you can hit that small bundle of socks.
Keep in mind that you must also prepare yourself for failure. Without failure there can be no improvement. Even after 28 years of experience with archery I still miss my mark once in a while. I am not perfect and I have bad days at the range, too. Just a few weeks ago, I was shooting with my friends and we were shooting at sixty yards with deadly accuracy. During our round of six arrows each, I drew my bow, settled my pin, and let the arrow fly. Immediately I knew it was off the mark as I felt he bow torque in my hand just as I released. My arrow went right over the 3D target and buried itself in the thick grass behind it. Was I dejected? You bet I was! How had I missed? No matter what I thought, I had to stay positive. It was what I did next that mattered most. Instead of beating myself up for missing, I went back to shooting and focused. I found my anchor point, settled the pin, squeezed the trigger on my release and buried an arrow deep into the vitals of the javelina. My practice session ended where it should have – on a successful shot.
In closing I have one very important tip to ensure continued success. Once your arm gets tired, stop practicing. You can make bad judgments followed by avoidable mistakes if you continue to push yourself. Instead, go rest or pack up and prepare yourself to come back another day. I had to learn the hard way and now whenever my arm gets tired I am done. Remember that when shooting at an animal it is the first arrow that is the most important, not the last.