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How to Practice with Purpose

The only shot that matters is the first one. Randy Ulmer's son, Levi, took this Arizona bull elk last fall with one perfectly placed arrow.

If you are a serious hunter, there should be one overriding reason to practice with your bow: to become a better shooter.

You need to deeply dissect and analyze every aspect of your shot to identify where you most need improvement. This requires brutally honest self-evaluation. Once you've identified your areas of weakness, you need to work on them with single-minded determination.

Most people find it very difficult to honestly evaluate themselves. If this is the case with you, consider hiring a shooting coach. It helps to have an unbiased outsider to shed the light of truth on your shooting.

Attack Your Weaknesses

Everyone seems to enjoy doing things they are good at doing. However, people don't like to do the things they are not good at. For example, those of us who have trouble shooting in the wind hate shooting in the wind. We never practice when it's windy. So, obviously, we never get better at shooting in the wind.

You need to have the discipline to break this cycle. You must force yourself to practice and improve those things you do poorly.

The first step is to learn to make a perfectly executed shot under ideal circumstances. Once you have learned to execute a perfect shot, you'll realize it is actually a very simple process. (Just to be clear, a perfectly executed shot does not necessarily have to hit the mark.)

During a less than perfectly executed shot, aiming and concern over where the arrow will hit completely occupy the conscious mind. The quickest way to discover how to execute the perfect shot — and become fully aware of what you are doing before, during and after the shot — is to shoot with your eyes closed. Closing your eyes eliminates the aiming process and quiets that nagging concern over where the arrow will hit.

To do this, stand a few feet away from a large target and close your eyes while you draw, anchor and shoot. Try to "feel" the shot. Freedom from visual distractions will allow you to discover things you are doing wrong.

When you've learned to execute a "perfect" shot with your eyes closed, you must learn to experience that same feeling with your eyes open. This will take a while. When you have mastered the perfect shot with your eyes open, you must take this shot process and modify it to all the different scenarios you will find yourself in while hunting.

Your goal is to make one good shot from any position, under adverse conditions, without warming up.


As you do this, you will discover situations or positions that give you trouble. Once you have identified your weaknesses, take one particular issue at a time and practice it with full focus. Do not let the rest of your form fall apart while you focus on the issue at hand, but do try to keep the laser light of your focus on this one issue. Repeat, repeat, repeat until the bad habit is broken. Once you have that issue under control, move on to the next.

Only One Shot Matters

Here's the take-home message: your goal is not to be like a target shooter who can repeat shot after shot in a controlled environment, after you've warmed up. Your goal is to make one good shot from any position, under adverse conditions, without warming up. The only shot that matters is the first one. Bowhunting is not about shooting groups; it is about shooting one arrow as well as you can, when you need to.

In order to become this versatile "shooting machine," you need to practice shots that are considerably more difficult than any you'll face in the field. I'm talking about shots with awkward body angles and radical positions: standing on one leg, leaning around a tree, sitting flat on the ground or kneeling behind a bush. Try everything can think of to challenge your shooting form.

Think of your shot as a chain. Each part of the shot process is a link in the chain. In order to make a perfect shot while hunting, every step in the process has to be done correctly; every link in the chain must be strong. Your job is to identify the weak links and repair them. Your confidence will soar. It is not always easy or fun. But it is worth it!

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