I have received many good tips during the 40 years I have been shooting a bow. This issue, I’ll share my three favorites in hopes they help you as much as they’ve helped me.
One of the most memorable shooting tips I ever got came from fellow Field Editor (and world-champion target shooter) Randy Ulmer back in the late ’90s. His simple advice put everything into proper perspective. Randy said, “Any method is good form if you can repeat it exactly the same way every time you shoot.”
Unfortunately, being perfectly repetitive is hard to do without focusing on eliminating the source of the variable. Randy’s tip was simple: Look for anything that can change from one shot to the next and then find ways to eliminate the chances of that happening. In other words, find shooting methods that remove as many variables as possible.
Here’s an example of what Randy was talking about: Look at how you hold the bow, where it sits in your hand and what part of your hand puts the most pressure on the grip at full draw. Randy’s advice to me was to not only make sure I was gripping it exactly the same way every time, but to go one step farther and eliminate the wrist hinge completely.
You do this by finding the point in your palm where the wrist doesn’t hinge no matter how hard you press on that spot. For me, that is the place where the “lifelines” come together; I can press hard on that spot and the wrist is dead. This will line up with the bones of the forearm. Making sure this is the spot where I put the maximum pressure when at full draw eliminates one variable from my shooting — the hinging of my wrist. Thanks, Randy!
Now, apply this simple way of thinking to every part of the shot. Where you anchor, how you set your feet, your pin positioning in the peep, control of your breathing, etc. Rather than dive into all these variables, I bring this up only to prove a point: There’s a lot of really good advice out there.
As good as this tip from Randy is, though, it isn’t the best I’ve ever received. In fact, it’s third on the list.
Squeeze the Trigger
I’ve received this tip from several archers over the years, but the one who made it most real to me was Pete Shepley. For those new to the sport, Pete is the founder of PSE Archery and one of the early pioneers of our great sport.
I always thought squeezing the trigger to create a surprise release was only for target shooters. I felt that bowhunters needed timing over pure accuracy, and pulling the trigger quickly on command was the way to do that. Pete set me straight on that. He told me the very best way to shoot accurately while bowhunting is the same as the best way to shoot accurately at targets: a surprise release.
Slowing things down and squeezing the trigger while floating the pin on the center of the vitals not only produces an accurate shot, but it has a way of overcoming a very real affliction common to bowhunters: rushing the shot. Once I applied Pete’s advice to my hunting, my confidence went way up and my issues with buck fever went down.
As good as this tip from Pete is, though, it still isn’t the best I’ve ever received. That tip would be …
The best advice I ever received was some of the earliest and some of the simplest. I can’t remember where I heard it first; I think it was in a hunting magazine, probably a tip from Chuck Adams. It went something like this: Keep aiming at the spot you want to hit until the arrow strikes it.
Applying that wholeheartedly did two things for me. First, it kept me mentally focused on the spot until the arrow hit. Second, it helped me keep from dropping my bow arm during the release of the arrow.
Now, when my groups start to get bigger than I can tolerate, the first thing I focus on is keeping my bow arm pointed at the target until the arrow hits. This takes a conscious effort, because it’s very easy to pull the arm away during the shot, especially if you punch the trigger. Holding that bow arm up and pointed at the target really improves consistency.
The original tip was to keep aiming until impact. In its strictest sense, that’s unrealistic. It’s impossible with all of the forward jump of the bow to keep the pin locked on the spot until impact, but the simple act of keeping your bow arm pointed at the target (in a general way) is very realistic and a simple fix.
The first time I offered this tip to another bowhunter was a real eye-opener. My friend Mike was just learning to shoot a bow. He’s athletic and has good hand-eye coordination but had never shot a bow before. His arrows were hitting all around the spot at 20 yards. After I suggested that he focus on keeping his bow arm up and pointed at the spot, he immediately began hitting a six-inch circle with every arrow. Two days later, he shot his first deer! No doubt Mike was a fast learner, but the advice has worked for others, too.
It’s more than just holding your bow up, though. The other part is to keep your mental focus on the spot you want to hit until the arrow strikes. If you do both of these parts well, you’ll be amazed at how quickly you can tighten your arrow groups. Now, you just need to become disciplined enough to do both parts on every shot you take so it becomes second nature.
Since I began using this tip, I have, in turn, offered it to dozens of bowhunters. In every case, it immediately improved their shooting. Like I said, it’s the best tip I’ve ever received, and it’s the best one I can offer others.