As you practice shooting your bow this summer, it is best to work on the kinds of shots, and the aspects of form, that will make you more accurate when hunting.
In this feature, I will go through a few of the most important form keys and then relate them to hunting situations. This will guide your practice sessions in a way that will make all the hard work pay off in the end.
Hold Your Follow-Through
I often hear bowhunters say they "peeked" during a poor shot. They are saying they believe they looked up while the arrow was in the air, or dropped the bow out of the way so they could watch the arrow fly toward the target.
This is definitely one of the most common form flaws I see when I'm at the shooting range. It's simple to fix though; you just have to know you are doing it and the remedy is relatively easy.
Understanding the Flaw: First off, if you see the arrow in flight for more than the last few yards before it hits the target, there is a good chance you are focused on the arrow. The more you focus on the arrow, the less accurate you will be.
It is true that nothing you do after the arrow leaves the bow will have any effect on accuracy. However, what you do right after the arrow leaves the bow is usually what you are starting to do while the arrow is still attached to the string. So, if you drop the bow arm after the arrow leaves, you are probably starting to drop it while the arrow is still attached.
The same is true for mental focus. If you are watching the arrow shortly after it leaves the string, you probably shifted your focus from the target to the arrow far too early, causing inconsistency with the shot.
I played basketball in high school. I was definitely an underachiever in that regard, but I did learn that if I wanted to make free throws consistently, I had to focus on the target (in my case, the back of the rim) on every shot until the ball got there. If I dropped my focus and looked at the ball too soon, I always missed. I missed a lot of them anyway, but at least by holding my focus until the ball got to the rim, there was some hope.
Pay very close attention to your follow-through, both mental and physical. Keep aiming with both your focus and your bow arm until the arrow hits. You may have to make a very intentional effort to do both at the start, but over time, the follow-through will become very natural and you won't have to think about it much.
Application: If you tend to peek or drop your bow while practicing, you will be much more likely to do it while hunting when the urge to watch the arrow hit home is even greater.
If I had to guess what causes the most misses in bowhunting, I would say string-jumping animals first and second would be a faulty follow-through. Practice holding your bow arm on target and keeping your mind focused until the arrow hits and you will see much better results while hunting.
How to Fix It: The best way to force yourself to execute a good follow-through is to practice at longer distances than you plan to shoot when hunting. You will be punished with lost arrows until you learn to do it right — to stay focused and stay on target until the arrow hits.
Beat Buck Fever
Learning to shoot a bow in a way that the shot takes you by surprise is the best medicine I have ever found for buck fever.
Understanding the Flaw: We all have a tendency to rush the shot once we hit full draw and there is an animal right there at close range. I think we have a natural fear that the whole thing is going to blow up at any second and we need to get the shot off before it does.
In reality, we have a lot more time to execute a good shot than we think we do. Unfortunately, just knowing that doesn't mean we will do it when the blood is boosted with a 50 percent blend of adrenaline octane!
Application: The buck you have been hunting all season is finally right there. Your heart is pounding out of your chest. You feel like it might explode. How are you going to think your way through this and make a sane shot? It is really tough and one of the main reasons that big bucks seem to live a charmed life.
They aren't charmed; we just make it seem that way by our own reaction to the encounter. Beginners don't seem to fall into this trap and are able to kill big deer because they don't get buck fever. But we do, so we need to learn to deal with it. One of the ways is to use a shooting style that naturally slows down the process and gives us that extra second or two or settle in and make the shot.
How to Fix It: I have often written about the importance of the surprise release as the most effective way to beat target panic. It certainly is that, but it is also the most effective way that I have found to beat buck fever. It is hard to panic and punch the trigger in a mad rush to get the shot off if you have trained yourself to squeeze it every day in practice.
Yes, you still need to make a conscious decision at full draw to squeeze and not punch, but it is much easier to do that when you have been shooting that way all summer.
The absolute quickest way to learn what the shot is supposed to feel like is to have someone trigger the release as you aim at full draw. You just focus all your effort on aiming — keeping the pin floating near the spot — while someone else works the trigger.
At first, you will be shocked when the bow goes off, but eventually it will become just a pleasant surprise. You will actually come to enjoy it. Then the biggest shock will be how accurately you are suddenly shooting! Once you reach that point, your nervous system is reprogrammed enough that you can move forward on your own.
Ideally, you have enough time in your practice schedule between now and your first hunt that you can learn to master a back-tension release aid. These don't have triggers, so they make it much easier to learn the surprise release method. Once you have that mastered on every shot, you can go back to your hunting release, relying in a slow squeeze to produce the same results.
Now, all you have to do is force yourself to use the same deliberate method when hunting that you use in practice. When you make that conscious decision to do that, the buck fever will melt away immediately and in those few seconds your focus will lock in on the spot you want to hit rather than be distracted by a burning desire to get the shot off as quickly as possible.
Bend at the Waist
In addition to peeking and string jumping, there is another reason we miss treestand shots in particular, and that is because we simply don't practice them. So, when the shot comes, we use poor fundamental shooting form. Our angles are bad.
Understanding the Flaw: First, most bows will shoot higher from a treestand than they will from the ground. Suffice it to say this can, and often does, occur. So, even if you do everything right when aiming and releasing, the shot may still go high just because of the physics of shooting down.
Now mix the trigonometry with poor form and you can get some surprisingly bad shots at what should be easy targets.
To avoid shooting poorly from a treestand, you have to bend at the waist when forming your downward shot angle. Just dropping your bow arm won't get it done. If you do that, you change the relationship between your eye and the peep sight and between your anchor point and the bow — resulting in poor accuracy.
The result is generally a high hit.
Another common flaw that comes when shooting down is the tendency to cant the bow to the right (if right-handed). This happens because it is awkward to bend perfectly at the waist at a 90-degree angle to the upper body. We tend to bend forward a little bit when doing this and that results in a bow that is tipped to the right.
When you lean a bow to the right, you will shoot to the right. The misses can be fairly dramatic, even at short range, if you lean the bow sharply.
Application: The goal is to shoot just as accurately from a treestand as you shoot from the ground. This is not always the case. When the action is happening fast, it can be very easy to forget to do certain things when at full draw. It has to be part of your every-shot routine or you likely won't do it.
How to Fix It: Practice is the most important thing here. We tend to spend very little time practicing from elevated positions. We take a couple of shots and they seem just fine, so we assume we are good to go. Practicing from a ladder or off a roof or balcony is inconvenient at best, very difficult to arrange at worst. However, getting truly comfortable and consistent from the trees takes more than a few chance shots.
Make a point of maintaining good form on every shot you take. Lean fully from the waist so you don't lose that 90-degree angle between the bow arm and upper body. That is one of the keys to accuracy.
Second, you need to put a bubble level on your sight or buy one that already has a bubble level so you can tell when you are tipping your bow to the side. Use your bubble level on every shot, and especially those from an elevated position.