I was talking to a bowhunting friend of mine last week and, as would be expected at this time of year, the conversation quickly turned to the fast-approaching bow season, pre-season scouting, and target practice. It amazed him that so many of our mutual 'stick and string' acquaintances had admitted to only just recently having blown the off-season dust from their bows and had barely completed two or three practice sessions with the season now within spitting distance. I reluctantly had to admit that, with a summer full of family commitments and the never-ending list of things to do around the house, I myself fell fairly close to that same lot of folks.
We agreed that, like most things in life, with bowhunting, and more specifically archery, "you get out of it what you put into it". So it should come as no surprise that come opening day, if or when a shot opportunity presents itself, you miss the mark, or worse yet injure an animal if you haven't put in the time beforehand targeting and tuning your set-up to the point of proficiency.
We owe it to the quarry we are pursuing (and to a lesser extent, ourselves), to be as deadly accurate as possible. This only comes with time spent practicing and thorough knowledge of your gear, and each practice session should be as efficient as possible, particularly in light of those with time constraints on them. Quality is better than quantity here, where it is best if you can 'get in' six to ten well-executed practice shots each day focusing on perfecting form (or, twice a day), rather than just going through the mechanics of shooting dozens and dozens of arrows to the point of muscle exhaustion and watching your groups go all over the place as a result. Arrow grouping does tell the story of your bow's performance and state of tune, but our goal is to perfect the ONE and only, FIRST cold shot. Because during the real thing, that is most often the only one you are going to have.
Our Steve Sheetz recently posted a very informative article referencing ten specific points to help you with becoming a more consistently accurate archer. Not wishing to high-jack his article, I would like to additionally submit the following nuts and bolts directly related to the body mechanics of shooting a bow that have helped me stay accurate and get the most out of my training and each shot:
As you draw your bow and acquire your target and site pin(s) (through a peep site or not), and select the correct pin --(for those with multiple pin sites....I use a single pin site, more on that in a bit)--for the distance to target, allow the tiny fiber optic on the pin to 'settle' onto the target. You will notice that the pin will tend to 'float' or move back and forth, up and down, maybe in a 'figure 8' pattern across the target as you aim. This is natural. Don't fight it. Embrace it. Every single one of us with a heartbeat and blood coursing through our systems faces this scenario every time we aim to shoot, whether it be a firearm or bow. Sprinkle in a touch of buck fever (yes, even YOU there, tough guy), cold muscles and low light conditions, and the effect becomes even more protracted.
The natural tendency will be to concentrate on either attempting to eliminate this natural movement altogether, or even worse, to wait until the pin crosses the precise desired spot on the target and 'punch' the trigger on your release like you are playing a video game. This shot anticipation is not good. For starters, accept that you will NOT eliminate pin float. You can take steps to minimize it (avoiding caffeinated drinks on stand, controlling breathing--but not holding your breath--, and familiarity with this phenomena through practice), but it is a nemesis we humans are stuck with. Slapping or punching your release trigger will only adversely affect your shot. Once I acquire my target and let the site pin settle onto the 'brown spot' I have picked, I half exhale and squeeeeeeze the release trigger until the arrow flies. I mentioned earlier that I use a single, vertical pin site. I like this set up, because it eliminates a crowded site view of my target. The arguments for and against distance compensation with this set up are beyond the subject matter of this article.
AIM SMALL, MISS SMALL:
We've all heard this. And, it still holds true for just about any weapon you aim and fire. The bigger message as it relates to what I stated above is to pick a spot on the animal to aim at, rather than just 'center mass'. I always make my aim point slightly more to the rear of the cone-shaped heart/lung vital area on a deer, or in other words more towards the rib cage rather than the shoulder blade. This way, if my aim is off the mark by as much as two inches in either direction, I am still affording myself a broader area of error, if you will. And, this helps keep me away from the hard-to-breach shoulder blade.
I cannot think of another thing beyond the two items discussed above that could possibly more adversely affect shot placement than failure to follow through after the shot. Follow-through can simply be described as the action of disciplining yourself to hold your bow (or other weapon) on target during and after the shot is initiated. Many times, we are so anxious in the moment of the shot that we will 'drop' the bow away to check our shot and to see the animal's reaction and direction of escape that we rush the shot and actually throw it partly or way off. (Another similar example would be in a football game where the wide receiver attempts to start running downfield with the ball before he has caught and has complete possession and control of it). Everything possible should be done to discipline ourselves mentally to attempt to literally watch the arrow fly and hit the target through the site. Then, the physical aspect of holding the bow in shooting form through the development of muscle memory until the target has been engaged. It may sound like an impossibility, but with repetition and training, it can be done and has helped me tremendously with accuracy.
KEEP PRACTICING THROUGHOUT THE SEASON:
Don't make the mistake of confusing the everyday mechanics of going hunting with staying proficient and well-trained at shooting your bow. Putting on the camo and hitting the woods three times a week does not translate to target practice. Some bowhunters I know even advocate taking along one or two practice arrows with field tips and shooting them just prior to entering the woods or from the tree into a stump once on stand.
By employing these additional basic but significant functions of archery into your pre-season training regimen and throughout the year, you should be able to improve your accuracy and consistency and become a more lethal unit with your bow. Remember to practice like you play, because with a live animal during a real hunting situation, you don't shoot groups, you shoot only once!