July 13, 2022
If you read this column regularly, you know my primary focus is on sharing the most important things that I have learned in 45 years of bowhunting. A lot of these lessons came through failure, so my hope is that I can save you from those patches of thin ice.
This month, I am offering my list of the Top 10 things I have learned about shooting a bow over the years. In no particular order, they are:
Practice Treestand Technique
When bowhunters miss from a treestand, they usually miss high. There are two reasons for this, with the first being the deer itself dropped.
Since I started to video my hunts, the number of deer I see that attempt to drop to load their legs after hearing the shot is much higher than I had thought. Almost all of them drop at least a little; some drop a lot. This accounts for many of the high misses.
The second reason is that the bowhunter lowers his or her bow arm instead of bending at the waist to create the downward shot angle. This also tends to produce high hits because it changes the relationship between the bow arm and the upper body, and it also affects the angle between the bow arm, the eye and the peep sight.
Relax Your Bow Arm & Hand
Relaxation starts with your feet and legs and leads to your bow arm and bow hand. Everything should be relaxed, from the ground up. Bend your bow arm just enough to unlock the elbow and let your fingers hang naturally in a relaxed grip. The hand should be "dead" if you want to shoot your best. It is just a cradle with no power to independently move the bow; you move the bow by turning your hips very slightly and bending up or down at the waist.
Take a Deep Breath
Take a deep breath when drawing the bow and then let it out halfway as you acquire the target with your pin. Don’t breathe in or out as you are actually squeezing off the shot. It makes a noticeable difference in your relaxation level when you add the simple step of taking a deep breath while drawing the bow.
Follow-through is both mental and physical, and it serves to hold everything together long enough for the arrow to escape the bow. On the physical side, your grip hand must stay relaxed until the arrow hits the target. Many bowhunters snap their hand closed at the same moment they release the string, throwing the arrow off-target.
Your bow arm must remain steady. Resist the common tendency to drop it when you release the string. Try to keep your bow arm up and aiming until the arrow hits the target.
On the mental side, continue aiming until the small spot you are trying to hit disappears at the end of your arrow.
Try the Two-Finger Release
There’s no question that the mechanical release is the most accurate way to shoot an arrow. However, if you want to use fingers, then imitate the consistency of a mechanical release as closely as possible. Use only two fingers to hold the bowstring at full draw. After reaching letoff, drop your top finger off the string and then execute your anchor and release with the other two.
Many of the best finger shooters carry 70 percent of the holding weight with their middle finger (just under the arrow) and 30 percent with the remaining finger.
Make a Surprise Release
Target panic is the attempt — and the inability — to hold the pin steady on the spot you want to hit. The afflicted will issue a “Now!” command in their heads when the pin hesitates or crosses the spot. Trying to time the shot eventually creates a mental gridlock resulting in very inconsistent and distressing shooting.
The cure is simple: learn to create a surprise release. Discipline yourself to squeeze the trigger or, better yet, switch over to a specially designed back-tension release for off-season training. With no articulating trigger, back-tension releases eliminate the negative effects of anticipating the shot. You can then switch back to your normal release a couple weeks before bow season.
Float Your Aim
Many bowhunters wrongly believe that the pin has to settle rock-steady on the spot they want to hit in order to achieve great accuracy. This is where target panic gets the spark that quickly turns into a flame. If you are releasing the string correctly, with a surprise method, you won’t be able to time the shot — nor should you.
Just let the pin float around the spot. Your subconscious mind doesn’t need much help here. Focus on the spot you want to hit and let the pin just hang around. When the surprise release goes, you will be amazed by how close the arrow hits to the aim point. It is hard to explain, but the body seems to have a centering instinct that keeps the pin working toward your focal point.
Focus On the Spot
You have likely heard the old saying that if you aim small you will miss small, and that’s definitely true in archery. Learn to pick a small spot and maintain a sharp focus on it while the pin floats around it. When your point comes into focus, you know you are in the zone and it is time to start squeezing the trigger.
This starts with your practice sessions. Twenty shots with maximum concentration are much better than 100 mediocre ones. Shoot every arrow as if it is the only one you are going to shoot that day, and do it with maximum focus.
Watch Your Aim Time
Studies show that seven seconds is the longest the average person can stay focused on one thing, so make every attempt to perform your shots within seven seconds from the time you pick your spot. If you start your draw right after picking a spot, you have roughly 4-5 seconds at full draw to squeeze off the shot.
If something breaks your concentration — like if you have to wait for the animal to offer the shot or for the wind to lay down — you need to start your routine over. Wait to lock in on the spot you want to hit until it is time to shoot.
Avoid Mid-flight Obstacles
I have lost three great animals because I hit branches above my line of sight. Your arrow does not follow your line of sight, so you have to be able to visualize your trajectory. When you get this figured out, you can often lob a shot over an obstacle or zip it under.
With your bow at full draw, aim at the intended target with the correct sight pin for the range of the shot. Quickly guess the distance to each obstacle along the way. If the pin that corresponds with that distance is clear of the obstacle, you will miss it and your arrow will fly cleanly to the target.
Most bowhunters make the mistake of shutting down their regular practice when the season starts. However, you need to keep up your strength and maintain your form throughout the season so it will still be sharp when you need it.
Carry a portable target in your vehicle and take a few shots whenever possible between hunts. Remember, shooting skill will always be the final test that separates you from a full freezer. Right now, it’s only June, so you have plenty of time to fix any problems you might have before the season arrives.