I've written about what we can do to improve on a season that possibly ended with tag soup. One of my main points in that article is the importance of learning to squeeze the trigger on every shot you take while practicing and hunting. While that is an overriding fundamental of good shooting form, there are many other small steps you can take that will contribute slightly to your ability to deliver an accurate arrow. In this column, I will touch on these smaller steps that can really help you get dialed in.
You don't necessarily have to reinvent yourself as an archer to shoot two times better. While I suggest that you do - at least when it comes to creating a surprise release - you can improve with simple changes that are not difficult to make. By applying some, or all, of the following advice, you will definitely see an improvement.
Switch to a Release Aid
If you are still shooting with fingers, switching to a mechanical release aid is the easiest way to improve accuracy. But it is going to take some practice time, at least up front. Now - right after the season - is the time to do it. When I switched to a release aid, the improvement was immediate and considerable. Within a few days, I was shooting better than I had ever shot with fingers. If you make the switch, you will quickly cut your average group size in half within a month. If there is a quick way to shoot two times better, using a release aid is at the top of that list.
Install a Peep Sight
You have likely shot an open-sighted rifle. Assuming you are serious about accuracy, you wouldn't think about removing the rear sight. A peep sight in the bowstring serves the same purpose on a bow. Those awkward, leaning, bending and twisting shots you've missed through the years will be much simpler with a peep sight that locks you into a consistent anchor point regardless of position. Choose a large peep sight for greater visibility and field of view. My own peep is a full ¼-inch in diameter and allows me plenty of visibility in low light.
Shoot a Sight with a Round Pin Guard
I have written about this several times, but it's a tip worth repeating. Rather than centering each individual pin within a standard 1â„8-inch diameter peep sight, center the entire pin guard in a ¼-inch peep. This has two benefits. The larger peep lets in more light for better visibility in low-light conditions. And because the round pin guard just fits inside the peep's periphery, it allows you to maintain a very precise anchor point for maximum accuracy.
Learn to Relax
Tension is the enemy of accuracy. From the ground up, your whole body should remain relaxed throughout the shot. It starts with your feet and legs. However, a relaxed bow arm is especially critical to solid aiming. Rather than creating tension by forcing it to stay straight at full draw, bend your bow arm just enough to unlock the elbow. This will cause the arm to relax more fully and serve as a shock absorber. If you find yourself fighting the bow, you'll never shoot your best. Don't be too proud to turn your draw weight down a few pounds. You can always turn it back up as your strength increases with more practice.
If you have a good, steady follow-through, you can overcome many flaws in your shooting form. In fact, the first thing I look at when I'm helping someone with their shooting is their follow-through. Invariably, if they are having problems with consistency, they are not holding their bow arm steady until the arrow hits the target. Usually, they are dropping the bow arm just as soon as the arrow is released.That creates all kinds of problems with accuracy. Keep your arm up in the aiming position until the arrow hits the target. That is the number one tip I can offer for anyone struggling with their shooting.Your bow hand must stay relaxed until the arrow hits the target. Don't snap it closed at the same moment you release the string. The bad habit tends to happen earlier and earlier until it occurs while the arrow is still on the string, ruining the shot. Hold all your body positions until the arrow hits and you will enjoy much greater consistency.
Stretch Your Skills
To avoid reaching a plateau in your abilities, it pays to make practice sessions challenging. One of the primary ways you can do that is to practice at longer ranges than you plan to shoot when hunting. For example, if you want to become deadly accurate at 30 yards, do most of your practicing at 40 and even 50 yards.Often, when hunting, you will be twisting, kneeling, bending, leaning or sitting as you try to bring the pin onto the animal's vitals. If you make a habit of regularly practicing awkward positions, you will be prepared to turn every shot into venison this fall.
Shorten Your Release Aid
The trigger of an index-finger release should contact your finger at, or even inside of (closer to your palm), the first joint of the finger. Most bowhunters use the tip of their finger to pull the trigger. That contact point has too much sensitivity. It is very easy for you to feel the movement of the trigger and anticipate the shot. Instead, by shortening the release's stem, you can contact the trigger on a part of your finger where your sensitivity to movement is reduced. This permits you to make a surprise release more easily to beat target panic and improve your accuracy. In the feature I wrote for this issue, I talked about the importance of squeezing the trigger and making a surprise release. This is one practical way you do that.
First Arrow Accuracy
We do all this for just one shot. Think about the countless arrows you will shoot this year in preparation for that one important shot you may or may not get this coming fall. You won't be able to go through your quiver first to get warmed up. The shot that really counts is the first one. I remember reading a quote by Jim Dougherty a few years back where he said he was only concerned with one-arrow groups. Jim boils things down as well as anyone. So, be sure to mix up your practice routine to include sessions where you shoot very few arrows and give each one first-arrow focus so you know your tendencies when approaching a shot without the luxury of a warm-up.
Keep up your strength and maintain your form throughout the season so it will still be sharp when you need it. Find an indoor range where you can shoot every other evening after work or after hunting. Carry a portable target in your vehicle and take a few shots whenever possible between hunts.
Don't overlook the importance of your ability to convert fleeting encounters with game into trophies. These skills don't suddenly materialize just because the calendar flips to October. If you will make a commitment to improving your ability right now, you will not only fix last season's miscues and improve your odds on game this coming fall, but you'll have a lot of fun in the process.