- Chris Campanelli
Bowhunting: Realistic Practice Makes Perfect
The mid-August sun and warm temperatures may have you feeling a bit more summer than fall, but deer season is not that far away. Archery season openers will be kicking off hot and heavy before we know it. That drives a lot of bowhunters to the archery range on these warm summer evenings.
We have all heard the age-old saying that practice makes perfect. Indeed it does, but not all practice is created equal. You have probably heard the saying about perfect practice making perfect, and I tend to adhere to that more than anything when it comes to archery and bowhunting.
With the popularity of extreme bowhunting, western bowhunting, and the overall bowhunting renaissance we have witnessed over the last decade or so, more and more bowhunters believe that they have to create some crazy training regimen. Shooting dozens of arrows and spending hours on the range perfecting the craft. But I have also noticed that a lot of archers are ditching quality for quantity.
Meaning that they are emphasizing the repetition and ignoring quality practice. Don't get me wrong, repetition is key in anything. You have to train your mind and muscles as much as possible. But how much good are you doing if you simply sling arrows relentlessly without paying attention to your form, accuracy, and the consistency of it all?
Again, I am not saying that repetition is a bad thing. If you can maintain perfect practice through 500 arrows, that's great. If you can maintain perfect practice through 15 or 20 arrows, that's just as great. How many arrows or hours is beyond the point. It's all about quality practice.
My routine may be a bit bizarre if you come from the camp of repetition and logging several hours on the range. I like to practice with a single arrow. Yes, one arrow. I don't put much stock in tight groups. Just hear me out a bit.
I may not shoot 5-arrow groups, but I still cherish accuracy just as much as the guy who drills 1-inch groups. I just like to prepare myself for the hunt, because follow-up shots are insanely rare in bowhunting. If I can drill a heart shot on my 3-D deer target with my single arrow, it just replicates the finality of the hunt much better than slinging a quiver full of arrows until I get a satisfactory group. That's just me.
This is not to say that the repetition you gain from shooting groups is bad. I'm just trying to replicate the hunt as much as I can, because I'm a bowhunter and not just an archer on the range. It's usually a one-shot or go home type of deal in the world of bowhunting. Not a 5-shot group and go home type of deal.
I also like the single-arrow practice routine because it builds discipline. The kind of discipline that you'll need to level up your pin on a mature whitetail, or any whitetail for that matter. Any experienced bowhunter can tell you that you go into somewhat of a zone when the moment of truth arrives and you prepare to release an arrow on a living game animal. Your focus is sharpened knowing that a single arrow is likely the only crack you will have at a harvest.
It's impossible to simulate that on a backyard archery range or even on a high-dollar hunt simulator, but I like to think that my minimal shot approach builds discipline for the hunt. I tend to focus a lot harder when I know that my 55-yard walk to the target is coming up after I release the arrow. More than when I have a quiver full of arrows and I can sit back for another chance at success.
Maybe it's just something personal, or maybe there is actually something to it. That's just my approach, especially during the crucial months of August, September, and through the hunting season.
I also try to take realistic practice to the next level in a couple of aspects beyond limiting the arrows in my quiver. I'm not the guy that dresses up in full hunting gear to simulate everything exactly. Not until the weather allows for me to do that without alarming my neighbors. I'm looking at my arrow setup and my target.
If you are shooting field points and then screwing on a random broadhead on opening day, I'd have to say that you're doing it wrong. I'm not usually the kind of guy who calls out the preferences of other hunters, but I think it's ethically irresponsible to neglect practicing with a mock-broadhead or an actual broadhead.
It's never fun to dull up perfectly fine broadheads or tear up your overpriced 3-D deer target, but it's a necessity. You absolutely cannot expect a field point and a broadhead to shoot the exact same. You have to get on the range and confirm your zero as the season nears.
I am definitely not a fan of shooting perfectly sharp broadheads into my overpriced 3-D deer target, so I am thankful for broadhead companies that produce practice mock-ups of their heads. I know that Swhacker and several broadhead makers others do this. As July gives way to August, I routinely swap my field points for mock-up broadheads.
While today's mechanical broadheads fly very true to zero, you absolutely have to confirm that. Aerodynamics will almost certainly change once you add two or three blades and a sharp point to your arrow. Mock-up heads are never 100-percent reflections of the real thing, but they are a lot better than simple field points.
Once my field points have been swapped for mock-up broadheads, I ditch the blocks and bags for actual 3-D deer targets. This is less important than practicing the right way and shooting a broadhead to check your zero, but it has made a big difference for me.
A 3-D deer target is a far cry from a living and breathing whitetail, but it's a lot better than a big old block with a dartboard painted on it. Sure, you can still practice aiming small and missing small on a block target, but it's not the same as getting that true deer shape in your peep sight. That 3-D target may be stationary and pretty unrealistic, but it definitely gets you trained to settle that pin where it should be.
These are definitely small tweaks and tips that can help the experienced archer who may be a little burnt out on their typical routine. If you're a beginner, don't shy away from repetition because of what I said earlier. Repetition is what will make you a great archer, but remember the difference between meaningless and meaningful repetition.
Whether you're hunting with a bow for the first time ever or for your 50th season, I believe that the last two points we touched on can help. Simulating broadhead flight after a summer of shooting field points is critical. Getting acclimated to shooting at a whitetail is also critical, and 3-D targets can help.
While every archer has their preferences when it comes to practice, you really cannot go wrong by embracing bowhunting and archery. The sport is booming, it's therapeutic, and it's the ultimate way to practice hands-on wildlife management and conservation.
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