Before I know it, hunting season is going to be here and I am going to be like a kid in a candy store. There is truly nothing like being out on a hillside, at the mercy of mother nature, with my bow glassing for critters. I wait all year for it. I eat it, sleep it, and breathe it. For this reason, I take practicing with my bow pretty serious during the off season. I remember when I first got into bowhunting and how I would pick my bow up a few weeks before season and start shooting. Every time I did this, it was almost like I had to get used to shooting my bow again, because it had been so long. Nowadays, I practice all year round, be it at 3d archery shoots or just in my backyard. This keeps me sharp all year and keeps me from having to get used to shooting my bow every year. Is this enough to get me ready for the woods though?
If you have any experience bowhunting, you know that just because you can hit a quarter size bullseye at 60 yards, doesn’t mean that you can hit an elk at the same distance in the heart. In the woods we don’t get that perfect stance and all of the time in the world to shoot at our target, a living, breathing, moving animal. There is also no orange or red dot perfectly placed on the animal’s vitals for us to focus on while the rest of our body gets beat into submission with adrenaline. I try to mimic as much of this as possible, when practicing, so that I am better prepared. The more you do now, the less you are going to tell yourself, “Man, I wish I would have done that.”
If every animal I had the opportunity to harvest let me calmly and collectively place my feet in the perfect stance for me to shoot them, I would have a lot more archery kills under my belt than I do now, not to mention a full freezer. The truth is, you never know when that moment is going to present itself and you need to be as ready as you can for when it does. For this reason, I practice shooting my bow from all different positions and angles. Sitting on the ground, sitting in a chair, crouching, standing, kneeling, shooting uphill and downhill, etc. You may think that these aren’t a big deal, but they truly are. It isn’t a skill thing, it is a mental thing. When I do all of this, I KNOW what it feels like shooting from all of these different positions, therefore I am that much more confident in myself. Give it a try. Be ready. You will not regret it.
How cool would it be if our game animals walked around with bullseyes perfectly placed on their vitals when we were ready to harvest them? It sure would make hitting that spot a lot easier. While there isn’t a red or orange dot on them, there is plenty to focus our aiming at. It takes some practice though. Most of us probably have foam targets that we practice shooting our bows with. Dollars to donuts says that all of these have marks on them for you to aim at. Pretty nice. Feels good to pound 3-4 arrows in that little orange dot. That is all fine and dandy, but I will actually aim at the blank areas on the target. This makes me “pick a spot” without a conveniently placed bullseye for me to aim at. Training myself to do this has helped me out immensely. It is even easier on animals, due to things like the shoulder line or tufts of hair. These are things that we can turn our attention to and help us focus in the heat of the moment.
We all know about this. Adrenaline is one of the beauties of archery hunting, with its close encounters. Being at eye level with an animal merely a stone’s throw away is a magical experience. It can also be an unnerving one, causing us to do things we wouldn’t normally do if we were thinking straight. Before I successfully harvested my first critter with a bow, I missed 8 times in the same season. I was not ready for that pressure and adrenaline rush. Of course you can learn to control this over time, but how many opportunities do we get to practice this? Not a whole lot. What I have started to do is to try and actually raise my heart rate before shooting to simulate the adrenaline rush we love so much. You can do this by hiking up and down hills at a quick pace, sprinting from point A to point B, or doing something like push-ups in between shots. Each one gets the blood flowing which also simulates the strenuous hiking that is often involved in bowhunting. There is no way for us to 100% mimic the feeling we get when a huge bull is screaming is head off in front of you, but we can try. If we aren’t trying to get better, what are we doing?
This might be one of the most overlooked things to incorporate in your practice sessions. I surely thought this until I decided to go out and shoot my bow with my hunting jacket just for the fun of it. What do you know? I kept hitting about a foot left at 20 yards. Took my jacket off and my arrow was right back in the bull. After going down to my local pro shop, we figured out that my string was actually hitting the collar of my jacket! How awful would it have been if I found this out while trying to harvest a big buck? It would have been infuriating, to say the least. Now, I always make sure that I practice with everything on that I plan on hunting in. That includes not only my hunting clothing, but also my backpack, binoculars, and any other things that I might be wearing while out in the field. The more ways we can be prepared for that moment we all chase, the better off we are, and that doesn’t stop at our apparel.
As I have said before, hunting season doesn’t have to end when the actual season ends. There is plenty for us to do during the off-season. I hope I have inspired you to shake the off-season blues and pick up your bow in preparation for next season. It is right around the corner, and for many, it has already started with turkey season. Do yourself a favor and BE READY.