As bowhunters, our time at the archery range is mostly spent practicing shots we expect to encounter in the woods. We typically start out summer practice sessions by dialing in at 20 yards and moving back until we hit our effective range. So a five to 10-yard shot should be a drop in the bucket, right? If our highest pin is dialed in for 20 yards, all we have to do is aim a little lower to compensate for the shorter distance. At least that’s what my shooting instincts once told me.
On a mid-afternoon bow hunt a few years ago, I was headed to a tree stand deep in the timber. I had an arrow nocked because after the second time seeing a good buck step in front of me as I snuck along, I figured I might be able to take a shot. Little did I know I was about to learn a bowhunting lesson that will stick with me for the rest of my life.
I peeked my head over the top of a creek bank and spotted a turkey standing seven yards from me, facing away. I thought I would finally get to use my fall archery turkey tag I pick up each year. I gained my footing on a ledge and slowly rose up until my waist was above the dry creek bank. I settled my 20-yard pin on the turkey’s spine and then moved it down to compensate for the short distance. This was too easy, I thought. When I released the arrow, I saw it bury into the ground about two feet in front of the bird. Of course, he took off out of sight.
I was flustered. Did I punch the trigger? Compensate too much? How did I miss such a close shot? The next morning, I counted off seven steps from the 3D deer target in my yard. I replayed the shot and aligned my pins the same way I did the evening before and released an arrow. It pegged into the leg of the target, nowhere close to the vitals. I shot another arrow, this time lowering my sights only an inch or two. Better, but still in the leg. After missing the vitals repeatedly I stepped back to 20 yards, assuming my sight was off. I put my 20-yard pin right on the deer’s shoulder, released and saw the arrow hit right where I was aiming. Then it hit me: my preconceived notion of needing to aim lower from close distances was wrong. I stepped up closer and touched off an arrow at close range using my 20 yard pin. Bullseye.
For me, this was a wake up call. It was something that as a bowhunter I should’ve been aware of. Needless to say, I started practicing from close range, making it a regular part of my offseason preparation. To be a proficient bowhunter, it’s best to practice a host of shots, with varying yardages and angles, during the off season. When opening day rolls around, you’ll be prepared for virtually any situation.
Nail Down the Basics
Accurate shooting starts with good form. Stand comfortably with your feet shoulder width apart and your body weight equally distributed between your legs. When you draw back, ensure your grip on the bow handle is relaxed to prevent torque. Use the base of your thumb to take the brunt of the pressure, while your fingers hang limp. Lastly, keep your bow arm (the one holding the bow) slightly bent, so that you don’t strain your joints. This also will result in the bow naturally jumping forward after a shot, instead of pulling to one side as is common when shooting with a locked arm.
One of the most important archery tips we can offer is to have good form - from there, it's easier to become a proficient shooter.
Always, and we mean always, use the same anchor point. If you need to, purchase a kisser to ensure you’re consistent. Or place your thumb under your ear in the exact position each time. Find something that works for you and stick with it. A proper anchor point will have string contact against the jawbone and the tip of the nose, which should have the peep perfectly aligned with your sights.
Keep the shoulder of your bow arm stationary while shooting, and slowly pivot the opposite one backwards to pull the trigger. This way, you’re not bending your finger, which results in a surprise release. While shooting, inhale, then hold your breath. Don’t hold more than 10 seconds. After the shot, it’s important to follow through. Keep your bow arm up until the arrow impacts the target.
Practice Makes Perfect
Once your form is nailed down, the only way you’ll become proficient is through practice. While shooting at a target from the ground will increase your accuracy, it won’t necessarily prepare you for a hunting situation. It’s best to mimic the exact situation you’ll be in during the season. Do you use a treestand? If so, shoot from an elevated position at a 3D target from several distances. Eventually, you should shoot with all of your equipment on (facemask included), to replicate a real-life situation as much as you can.
Whitetails rarely present you with a broadside, 20-yard chip shot. Often, they’ll be positioned at angles that require precision to ensure a clean, ethical kill. Practice from every angle possible and be able to routinely shoot a tight group from several yardages - especially those super-close shots.
Since that missed shot a few years back, my offseason routine has involved regular practice so that I’ll (hopefully) never miss another easy shot like that again. As hunters, it’s our responsibility to be as proficient as we can out of respect for the game we pursue. No one ever wants an animal to suffer, and being an accurate shooter is a surefire way to reduce the chance of that happening. It’ll also put more meat on your table - and that should be reason enough.