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Deadly Accurate

November 2, 2013 - Mathews Inc
As seen in Bowhunting World magazine Annual 2013 issue
The fates of bowhunting are a fickle lot. They subject us to severe and ever-changing weather, animals with minds of their own, and unforeseen equipment issues. Top that off with airlines that seem willing to cancel flights anytime the wind switches directions, limited field time, and a host of other variables, and it’s easy to realize why only those who love a true challenge head to the woods with a bow in hand.

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But, even though so many of the elements that affect our hunts are simply out of our control, one very important thing isn’t: our own proficiency with our bows. If you do everything in your power to shoot confidently and prepare for all likely and unlikely shot scenarios, you’ll be one step closer to a set of grip-and- grin photos.

Personally, whether I’m after domestic game animals or preparing to head halfway around the world for something exotic, my pre-hunt ritual is the same, and it involves a lot of carefully planned practice.

Miranda ToeTheLine-#154644DFirst things First
Initially, my goal is to set up my shooting range to cover a wide variety of shots. I achieve this by using block-style targets and life-sized 3-D targets. They allow me the opportunity to pick specific spots (block-style) and add the challenge of shoot- ing at a target with very little definition (3-D targets). Both are important because shooting at contrasting spots builds confidence and solidifies shooting form while shooting at animal- shaped targets forces me to carefully settle the correct pin and identify exactly where I want to shoot.

To further challenge myself, I almost always turn my block- style targets toward me at an angle. This means that I either shoot at a quartering-to or quartering-away “spot.” Turning the target to a 45-degree angle reduces the shooting surface and forces me to focus more on the shot because the margin for error increases. I prefer to think of the leading edge of the target as the shoulder blade of an animal, which means I’m always envisioning slipping my arrow three or four inches be- hind the edge.

I also like to set up obstacles to shoot through or around on my range. Instead of simply standing flat-footed and shooting at a big, easy-to-hit target, I’ll prop targets in front of one an- other and aim for a specific, small spot that is tucked behind an obstacle. This is one of the best ways to prepare for a shot at a live animal. Rarely do bowhunters earn shots where there’s nothing between them and the animal but air and opportunity!

Miranda ToeTheLine-#1546400

The author’s practice range allows him to set targets at challenging angles, and easily introduce obstacles he must shoot around to better simulate real-world shot opportunities. The result is more in-the-field confidence—and bowhunting success.

Distances & Pins
Probably the single biggest mistake any one of us can make is by practicing solely at even distances. If you use a multi-pin sight, practice at mid-ranges is imperative. Gapping is one of the most underrated aspects of making good shots in the field, and if you don’t work on it at the range you’ll be in trouble. I spend most of my practice time shooting at all of the odd, in- between ranges because it’s not simply enough to understand what to do when gapping. Because of the nature of arrow trajectory, pin gaps grow larger with the farther pin distance settings. I need to know how to gap at middle distances all the way down to my bottom pin.

This also reinforces my muscle memory when it comes to choosing a pin. If a shot is 45 yards, I either need to hold high with my 40-yard pin or low with my 50. If I’ve shot that distance enough in the pre-season, I’ll naturally pick the one I’m used to, and it won’t be an issue when I’m bearing down on a trophy bull elk or a bedded mule deer. But, if I’m unsure of which pin to use or I opt to aim with the gap between the pins, I’m in trouble. Personally, if I’m dealing with an odd-yardage shot, I always opt for the lesser pin (40 instead of 50), but it’s up to you to determine what works best for your shooting style and setup.

Miranda ToeTheLine-TuleElk

Successful bowhunts often come down to a single quality shot opportunity. Here Miranda poses with a California tule elk taken after the bull lost interest in the call and began to leave the area. Curiosity prevailed as the bull stopped for one last look. Tom touched the release and sent the arrow 38 yards to its mark.

The Build-Up
When I get close to a hunt date, I start to ramp up my shoot- ing sessions. Often I’ll shoot close to 100 arrows a day once I’m in good shooting shape. Ramp up or not, just be sure to shoot every day leading up to a hunt or the bow-opener.

In the days before an actual hunt it’s also important to shoot in all conditions and from multiple positions. Shoot in windy conditions if you have the opportunity, and try to shoot in a style that will closely mimic the kind of shot you’ll be taking. If you’re heading out on a spot & stalk hunt, take plenty of shots from your knees or while flat on your butt. If you’re going to hunt bear or deer from a treestand, shoot from an elevated position. I know it’s been said time and time again, but this style of practice will open your eyes to any alteration in your shooting form and will best prepare you for a true shot opportunity.

Lastly, shoot in low-light conditions. Aside from antelope and lightly pressured deer, the odds are that a shot opportunity will occur early in the morning or late in the evening. A sight that glows brightly at noon might be a dud when there is only
10 minutes of shooting light left, or you might realize that the .019-inch pins you love in broad daylight start to blur in low light. Iron out these important details long before they become an issue in the field, and you’ll end your season a much happier hunter.

Although the main goal of multiple practice sessions is to achieve the highest level of accuracy possible, the reality is that it’s all about confidence. Every time you toe the line, you’re attempting to build confidence in your equipment and your shooting abilities. The bowhunters out there who brim with steely reserve and seem to fill tags at will may vary a lot personality-wise, and they may favor vastly different hunting techniques, but they all share one common attribute: extreme confidence in their shooting. Practice correctly and you’ll be well on your way to joining their ranks.

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