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Learning From The Season

Learning From The Season

I've discovered long ago that I won't reach my potential as an archer or hunter if I accept my failures readily and without serious soul searching. Sometimes things happen for reasons outside of my control, but those aren't the ones that concern me as I pack my gear away for another year. The ones that really cause my gut to churn are the missed opportunities that I can trace back to my own shortcomings.

The off-season is a great time to shoot at a blank bale at close range with your eyes closed. You will rediscover what a relaxed, perfectly executed shot feels like.

If an animal got away last season because I missed the shot or because I made a mental or tactical mistake, I want to do everything possible to keep that same thing from happening again. I don't buy into the excuse a lot of guys use. "Well, that's just bowhunting." I agree that things tend to go wrong in bowhunting situations, and that we will rarely do things perfectly, but by striving for perfection, we can reduce our margin of error until even a bad shot (by our standards) is still lethal. Now is the time to get all this under control, while the events of the last season are still fresh in our minds.

You have several months before it is again time to aim at game, so you have a prime opportunity to research better equipment, change your mental approach and improve your shooting techniques, all with the goal of eliminating the possibility that a mistake will cost you a buck next season. Now is the time to get started on next season's success.

Shooting Gaffs
Did you make any bad shots? Improving your shooting is the easiest place to start your self-improvement campaign. To fix these problems you first need to determine the root cause of the miss. There are typically three reasons we miss: mental errors, physical errors and equipment malfunctions. In this article, I am only going to look at the physical and mental errors. I'll get to the other causes later.

Examples of physical errors include punching the trigger, dropping your bow arm, lifting your head to watch the arrow fly, leaning your bow to the side while aiming, being unable to adapt to an awkward shooting angle or failing to bend at the waist on a downward shot. There are many others, as well.

Spend time thinking through any poor shots to determine the ones that were caused by execution errors. Generally, you will find that your miscues resulted from a combination of errors, but for now, focus on the physical things you did wrong. Once you have pinpointed the problems, work on the solutions--many of which I have probably covered over the years on this column.


Second-guessing yourself before or during the shot is a shortcut to failure. Once you make the decision to shoot, based on your proven abilities, don't look back unless the situation changes. Stay committed and focused until the arrow hits.

Second-guessing range estimates is one common form of this problem. This will cause you to try to "help" the arrow. Helping the arrow never works. Just aim, squeeze and let the bow do the work. If you think you may be guilty of second-guessing, make it a priority this year to revamp your thought process. Plan your pre-shot routine carefully and then stay committed to every shot you take; your success will improve.

Mental Preparation
Poor distance estimation is one of the biggest reasons many archery hunters miss. They may think the shot is 36 yards when it is actually only 28 yards. This is an easy error to fix. Simply use your range finder as much as possible before and during the encounter.

Don't get lazy in this regard; a few minutes with the range finder when you settle in for an ambush or get into your tree stand will pay huge dividends.

Buck fever is another very common cause of missed shots. Excitement clouds your judgment to the point where you make boneheaded mistakes or needlessly rush the shot. Learn to function rationally even when you are pumped up with adrenaline. It just comes down to discipline--doing things you know you need to do in spite of how you feel inside. Even if you feel like you are coming unglued, stay focused and work through it. You will never eliminate the excitement (who would want to) so learn to function correctly in spite of the intense emotions you are experiencing.

Mentally work through the steps of your pre-shot routine one at a time. If you repeatedly visualize yourself going through your shooting routine, it will be much easier to execute correctly when the real shot presents itself. Professional athletes use visualization to prepare for big moments in big games and visualization is what you need to use to prepare for your own big moments.

The off-season is a great time to shoot at a blank bale at close range with your eyes closed. You will rediscover what a relaxed, perfectly executed shot feels like.

Gear Tweaks
Outright malfunctions are rare, but they do happen. Missing a shot because your sight or rest moved is unforgivable. Those are issues that you should address well before the season ever arrives. If you have sloppy gear, it will eventually cost you an important shot. A loose center serving on your bow plays the same role. It is a ticking time bomb waiting to blow up during your most important hunt.

Inefficient and underperforming gear is insidious and will cause more missed opportunities than outright malfunctions. Watch out for sight pins that are hard to see, peeps that are too small or don't always rotate correctly, a string that stretches, an arrow rest that lets the arrow fall off when you are drawing back, a thick facemask that causes you to change your anchor when aiming, a baggy jacket sleeve that snags your bowstring€¦ you get the picture. Idiot proofing your setup will go a long ways toward making you more successful this fall.

Now is the time to take full inventory of your season. Use a critical eye when analyzing those things that went wrong. Try to determine how you can keep them from going wrong again in the future. If you do this each year, perhaps as the seasons pass, you can become a better bowhunter rather than just an older one.

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