If the only time you shoot at game is when the buck or bull of your dreams appears, it's difficult to approach that shot opportunity confidently. I gain confidence by repetition. The more I do something and succeed, the more confident and comfortable I become with accepting greater challenges.
It's often said that nothing instills greater bowhunting confidence than placing your pin on real hair, feathers or scales and executing perfect shots. It positively reinforces good shooting mechanics, and it's the only practice that replicates a real hunting-shot scenario. There's no better way to build your confidence than shooting game in low-pressure hunting situations.
Let's review three such opportunities.
Each year while bowhunting elk, I carry an arrow tipped with a "shocker" point for grouse encounters. Elk-country grouse are commonly calm and only wise up once a few arrows have strayed past their heads.
For that reason, these succulent birds make excellent low-pressure targets. They generally give you time to burn the sight pin through them at close ranges before sending carbon their way. Often, they'll pose stock still, but other times they'll walk while bobbing their heads as if to determine what you are. This, of course, adds challenge to an already small target, which is a good thing.
The goal is to settle the pin and use back-tension to trigger a perfect shot. You won't believe how satisfying it is to nail several of these small targets.
Want another moving target? A fall turkey is it. Unlike spring gobblers that strut and then stop, these suckers are like Pac-Man — they're always moving. Anchor one or more of them with perfect shots, and you'll surely boost your confidence for tougher challenges.
Tons of folks focus so heavily on deer hunting that turkeys aren't even thoughts in their minds. At a minimum, I suggest adding a turkey tag or two to your pocket to use if a flock wanders too close to your deer stand. You also might find that taking a break from the deer — perhaps when warm conditions slow deer movement — is a welcome change. The chance to loose an arrow or two can be great after weeks of sitting in treestands without shot opportunities.
Turkeys have larger kill zones than grouse but are more difficult to anchor since they're so powerful. Don't take sloppy shots that will result in a wounded, departing bird. This will drain your confidence and leave a turkey for dead or a coyote feast. Bare down and make good shots to boost your confidence.
Wild rabbits are plentiful and appear in places that won't ruin your deer spots. If you're needing a confidence booster, take a morning stroll into a meadow or pasture with some brush piles nearby. In years of plenty, a morning outing can yield multiple shot opportunities.
Since rabbits sit so still until spooked, you can really take your time to make your shots count. A 30-yard kill shot on a rabbit is similar to a 50- or 60-yard shot on a large animal. Rabbits are perhaps the lowest-pressure species you can hunt — if you miss a chance to shoot, simply move on a find more rabbits.
Rabbits are more comparable to larger four-legged critters than birds in that a behind-the-shoulder hit constitutes a perfect kill shot. Drill rabbits behind the shoulder, and you'll gain confidence to do the same on deer and other big game.
Want to add a little more pressure to the equation? Hogs are the answer. These mudders are considerably larger than the species we've covered so far, but still smaller in most cases than deer.
Pressure comes because they're a larger "small game," and because they have sharp senses of smell. More forethought goes into bow-killing hogs than birds or bunnies. And, if you choose the spot-and-stalk approach, you'll get to perfect that skill for an upcoming mule deer or antelope hunt. Perfecting your shooting and stalking skills in one â€“ that's hard to beat.
As I mentioned earlier, nothing instills greater shooting confidence for high-pressure big-game encounters than picking off small-game critters in both low- and moderate-pressure situations. It enables you to duplicate your practice-range skills in hunting situations, which positively boosts your confidence and ability to do the same when a large buck or bull is on the receiving end of your arrow.
If you ask me, heading to a deer stand with confidence in your shooting is an unbeatable feeling. And it can be yours if you get out and boost it on small targets.