Twenty years ago, I made the decision to start shooting competitive target archery. It wasn’t because I wanted the medals, the trophies or the money. It was simply because I wanted to be a better bowhunter. I knew that success in a treestand or up on a mountain would only happen if I was capable of making the ONE perfect shot I needed when I had the opportunity.
At that time, I had already been a bowhunter for 10 years and had made countless mistakes and had more stories of the ones that got away than the ones on the wall. For almost 30 years now I have been a bowhunter, but my success has really come after learning some important lessons in competition.
To get to a top level, I had to learn how to eliminate mistakes. Since turning pro in 1997, I have made a career as a coach and hunter because of what I learned. What I would like to do is let you know five critical mistakes with these archery shooting tips and how you can eliminate them.
Buck fever isn’t the only kind of pressure that can hinder your accuracy. In fact, the pressure that causes the most inconsistency in both accuracy and arrow flight is facial pressure. What many people don’t realize is that on a compound bow, the arrow spends much of its “cycle” time on your face.
Slow-motion video shows us that an arrow spends more than half of its cycle time back in the first two inches of the release. For example, my arrows take about 18 thousandths of a second to go from the release to the arrow coming off the string. Although that is extremely fast, the video also shows that for over 12 thousandths of that time — two thirds of the total launch time — the arrow is still in contact with my face.
What this tells us is that string and arrow pressure is extremely important at the moment of release, and any change in pressure has an immediate impact on arrow direction.
Take a look at the accompanying photo. Notice there is a lot of facial pressure on the arrow as well as the string. Although this is an extreme example, it is still very common and you should know that ANY pressure on the string or arrow could cause your arrows to miss the mark.
Many people are naturally trying to find a consistent anchor point so they really dig into their faces. This applies too much facial tissue to the string and to the arrow.
What you want to do is focus on drawing the bow with the release hand in line with your jaw until the bow stops, as demonstrated in the second photo. Then bring your hand lightly to the side of your face to find your anchor position. You should keep the string light on the side of the face and let the string barely touch the tip of the nose. This keeps the string and arrow free from obstruction and gives perfect consistency in arrow launch.
Another problem many hunters don’t think about involves loose facemasks, thick beards and heavy gloves. Each of these things can change your facial pressure in the woods versus how you practice on the range.
It is critical that you take a look at your gear and your beard and make sure you are consistent all the time. For example, I prefer a form-fitting mask and face paint to a bulky mask for this very reason.
The next problem area is in the bow grip. Regardless of what you are shooting at, it is proven that when adrenalin is pumping and the stakes are high, people commonly get tense and make a fist. This is a natural habit, but the bad part is that a tense bow hand and a tight grip on the bow will diminish your accuracy. To be a top shot, simply remember not to choke yourself!
Don’t miss because you are too tense on the bow handle. Always keep your bow hand and arm relaxed from the elbow forward. The only pressure you should feel in your front hand is the pressure of the grip against the inside of your palm. Other than that, you should be very relaxed and torque free.
I have made it part of my shot routine to consciously focus on relaxing my bow arm from the elbow to the tips of my fingers once I have looked through my peep sight and initially started aiming. Between the facial pressure you make with your anchor position and the hand pressure you make on the bow grip, you can drastically change your arrow’s path even if you make a clean release with the pin on the target.
Have you ever missed, seemingly for no reason? These are certainly areas that can cause that to happen.
Use a Peep Sight
Let me ask you this. Would you use an iron-sighted gun if there was no rear sight to line up with the bead on the front of the barrel? Probably not! I am sure you could still be fairly accurate if you benched up and spent ample time shouldering and perfectly aligning your face on the stock. However, in a deer stand, where shots don’t happen in a controlled environment, it is almost a guarantee you would not be accurate with this gun.
It is the same with a bow. Although you may be able to shoot accurately at home on level ground without a peep sight, I speak from experience and guarantee you still need one in the field.
Once you are in a spur-of-the-moment hunting situation, your alignment is sure to falter without a peep and you will focus more on the front pin than the string’s alignment with the pin. This is where you miss your mark!
I still have a few friends who refuse to install a peep sight, and I’m sorry to say they are always the friends who need help finding something they shot at. Don’t put yourself in that position. Instead, go to your local pro shop and find a large-diameter peep that is easier to get used to and start learning to center your pin housing in the center of your peep.
Embrace Your Limits
I know from extensive coaching experience that many archers are pulling far more draw weight than they should. If you are trying to be Superman and shoot a maximum weight, you are sure to miss in the moment of truth. Believe me, I have done it many times and have friends who continue to do it every year.
Shoot a draw weight that is easy to handle and you will fill more tags because of it.
My basic rule is that, while in a seated position, you should be able to point your bow at your target and easily pull the string back without having to raise the bow above the target. If you can do that with ease, you are shooting an appropriate draw weight.
Todays compound bows set at 60 pounds are more efficient than a 70-pound bow made 10 years ago. So, take advantage of this higher efficiency by shooting less weight. That will not only increase your accuracy but also your ability to practice more with better form.
Practice Like You Hunt
As a bowhunter, you owe it to yourself and the animals you’re after to always practice with something before using it afield. Simply put, don’t shoot it unless you have shot it!
In archery, experience has taught me that anytime you change something, you have changed everything. Believe me, I have proven that time and time again when testing products. One marketing claim being too easily accepted by hunters is that something “shoots just like your fieldpoints.”
Do yourself a big favor and adopt an “I’ll believe it when I see it” approach to such claims. I test everything I shoot at an animal on my range before I ever take it hunting.
First off, I believe that’s the ethical thing to do. Second, it really educates me on what gear works best. You may think I am only talking about broadheads, but I’m not. Nocks, vanes, spine size — literally anything can have an impact on your arrow’s impact. If you want to be successful, then shoot it on the range before you shoot it in the field!
The Bottom Line
When I started understanding the cause and effects of archery, I started becoming a much better bowhunter. I want you to learn from my mistakes and take note of these five important things. I know with certainty that facial pressure, bow grip, peep sights, draw weight and new gadgets are all responsible for missed opportunities.
Target archery isn’t for everyone, but I believe competitive archery gave me a much better understanding of my shooting form and technique. The tight scores and longer shots magnified every mistake I made, and once I learned to correct those mistakes, I shot a whole lot better. It brought my accuracy to a whole new level and dramatically improved my confidence.
I am proud to say that in the last 20 years of bowhunting, I have had far fewer missed opportunities than I did in my first 10. I’m positive you can do the same and take aim knowing you will certainly hit the mark when you need it most!