The giant buck was already in my shooting lane when I spotted him. In a panic, I grabbed my bow off the hook, pivoted and drew all in one motion.
It wasn’t a hard shot, but I rushed it badly. I assumed there was no way I could miss him at that range, but I did. I shot right under the buck.
I could have easily made that shot if I had just taken the extra moment required to pick a spot. That is all it would have taken to slow the moment and ensure success. If only we could get mulligans in bowhunting…
I have also had a few shots that seemed simple while they occurred but were, as I reviewed them later, more difficult. In each of these, the common theme was the simple act of first choosing a small spot on the animal. Picking a spot focuses everything that happens later. It slows you down and forces your decision-making to fall in line. It brings order to chaos.
As important as we all know it is, picking a spot can be tough at full draw. Often taken for granted when standing in the backyard or at the stake in a 3-D tournament, it’s as difficult as saying the alphabet backwards when confronted with real game.
Your first attempt to slow down the moment can’t happen when you’re at full draw on a live animal. It has to become part of your routine, something developed in the off-season. We need to beat it into our heads on every shot we take between now and first light on opening day.
You have to make a conscious effort to pick a small aiming point on every shot you take at the range. Don’t automatically jump past this step and start slinging arrows. Build the extra second required to pick a spot into your routine by actually thinking about it on every shot.
Ideally, you’ll pick the spot you want to hit before you draw the bow and then lock onto it until the arrow hits that spot. Only when you build this step into your everyday shooting routine will you be able to do it consistently when it really counts. Even then, it will be tough — at least it is for me.
After you pick a spot, stay focused until the arrow hits it. Strive for the feeling that your concentration is so tight that you’re actually controlling the arrow as it flies toward the target. This type of mental follow-through will really raise your accuracy standards, as you won’t be satisfied unless you hit that exact spot.
Controlling Your Emotions
Picking a spot is extremely helpful, but you also have to control your emotions. I’m not the world’s best at this; in fact, I’m prone to make mistakes during the moment of truth that break my heart when I review them later. However, that doesn’t mean I can’t bear up under the moment if I prepare correctly.
Learning to control your emotions is more about mental preparation and conditioning than discipline. Visualization is the best way I have found to improve my mental performance during the moment of truth. Prepare for pressure by putting yourself in that situation as often as possible.
Since getting a nice buck into bow range isn’t a common event, we have to invent the moment mentally through a form of daydreaming. Fortunately, our subconscious minds think those dreams really happened, so these mental dress rehearsals have the effect of better preparing us to handle actual encounters.
As often as possible, even while on stand, close your eyes and imagine a nice buck offering you a shot. Go through your entire pre-shot routine, including selecting a spot. See the arrow hit home and the deer run off and fall. If you get good at visualizing successful encounters, it will be much easier for your brain to process the action when it actually happens.
Quality, Not Quantity
The best way to practice emotional control on the range is to shoot fewer arrows and give each one maximum effort. Think of every shot as if it is the only one you’ll shoot that day. When putting the final touches on your pre-season prep, shoot only 15 arrows per session and give each one every ounce of your concentration. Focus on every single step of your pre-shot routine on every single shot.
Regardless of what faces you in the field this fall, the simple act of picking a spot is the superglue that will keep you together. It’s the key to slowing the moment at its most critical point.