When you only practice under ideal conditions, it’s easy to be lulled into thinking you are very proficient with a bow.
The conditions you’ll face when hunting will certainly be different than the conditions at the shooting range. Your accuracy and maximum range will both be adversely affected by weather, excitement and other factors. Before the season starts, you need to assess your ability and your limits in real hunting situations.
Be honest with yourself. Do you really practice the shots you will be called upon to make this season? Probably not. So, try to get away from easy practice sessions and work on realistic shots. Not only will this improve your basic skills, it will boost your confidence.
Get Off The Ground
If you hunt from a treestand, there are shots you will see again and again. You need to practice these shots and set up your stands to reproduce the same type of shot. The better you become at setting up your stands, the narrower the range of shots you will face. You can all but eliminate tough shots from your stands if you set them up the right way.
Obviously, you’ll be shooting down, sometimes over branches or through gaps in the limbs. The shot distance will rarely be much beyond 30 yards — a bit more if you hunt near food plots. Sometimes, the deer will be moving, but you can usually stop him first.
None of this is particularly difficult if you prepare correctly. Shots from stands should never be as tough, on average, as those foot hunters face.
Set the stand up in such a way that will eliminate awkward shots. There is no reason not to make all your shots as easy as possible.
I’m not going to get into stand placement tips here because there are guys that know this subject better than I do. I just want to emphasize that when you are placing your stand, you are setting up the shot, not merely trying to see game. Focus on producing easy shots.
Prepare for the Worst
I prefer to stand up while hunting in a tree because it allows me to create routine shots. Most of the awkward shots I’ve faced came when I was sitting. Shooting while sitting becomes especially difficult if you have to twist and turn.
When practicing, set up the exact shots you expect to see when hunting. You will not be at ground level shooting 20 yards when you hunt, so don’t spend all your time practicing on flat ground at 20 yards. Put up a stand or find an elevated position from which to practice. Keep it safe; wear your safety harness. This will also give you the chance to find out if the harness will affect your shooting.
Many bowhunters shoot high when they are shooting from a treestand. If you do too, reset your sight pins for elevated hunting. Be sure to use correct form; bend fully at the waist to produce the necessary downward shot angle so you can keep your bow arm at a 90-degree angle to your upper body.
If you are still shooting high after several thorough practice sessions, move your sight pins to compensate. Don’t sight-in for ground level shooting if all your hunting will be from a treestand. Using a tilt-compensated rangefinder may also help keep you from missing high.
When you deviate from standard shots, you may find yourself struggling. For example, if you are caught sitting and a buck shows up to your right, you need to know how far you can turn and still shoot accurately — so practice that. After trying that shot a few times, you’ll understand why I stand up most of the time!
Your maximum effective range changes with the environment. Under ideal conditions, it may be 40 yards. But when it is windy, it may be 30 yards, or even less. It is also important to know how low light affects your maximum range.
Most people don’t shoot as well when visibility is limited. As a result, their maximum range decreases. You need to know this before the season.
Don’t assume you have just one maximum range that applies to all shots. The only way to learn your maximum range under every condition is to practice under those conditions. Again, make your practice reflect true hunting conditions.
It is seemingly obvious advice, yet bowhunters continually overlook realistic practice in favor of convenience. Why worry about shots you’ll never face? Our goal is to fill tags and do it humanely. First, make every effort to standardize your shots through careful stand placement.
Try to make every shot as easy as possible. Next, practice these standard shots until you can make them without effort. Finally, add a few awkward angles to your practice regimen so you know your tendencies under worst-case scenarios.
Convenient practice produces false confidence; real practice produces a full freezer. Which do you want?