Setting the level on a Black Gold single pin bowsight. Photo credit: Brady Miller
Photo credit: Brandon Evans
The arrows I placed on these bucks are where I would aim and practice visualizing the shot.
Grabbing the range with a Leica rangefinder on marked course because "your rangefinder" distance is the one that matters. Photo credit: Brandon Evans
We are knocking on the door of the 2017 archery openers across the West. The bulls are finishing up and the velvet bucks are getting to the point where you can estimate the inches they may top out at. It's almost my favorite time of year and, like a lot of you, I've been working on my skillset to give myself the confidence it takes to pull back, anchor, and connect if I get lucky enough to get within range. The split second when that buck or bull settles within your sight picture is an intense moment and one way or another you will remember the results forever. The result is what I've been thinking about lately and I've compiled my personal checklist and practice tips that will hopefully help improve your odds of having a positive opportunity when the time comes.
Make sure your first, second, and third axis adjustments to your sight are correctly set. If you don’t have a sight that has the ability to adjust the second and third axis, get one. It's that important. We have a bunch of bowsight options with second and third axis in our Gear Shop, you can check them out here. Hunting the mountains of the West regularly requires you to take an uphill or downhill shot and if you are not level you are setting yourself up to miss before you even draw back. This means it is also important to set your levels and get use to shooting your bubble. By shooting your bubble I mean draw, anchor, level your bubble and execute. You can read more on this subject here.
If you think about why you practice, hopefully it’s with intent of maintaining proficiency or, even better, increasing your ability. I am by no means an elite archer, but I do try to practice deliberately and I believe it has helped me capitalize on opportunities that I may not have otherwise. I try to pay attention to every shot and mentally check off each stage of the shot sequence. Drawing smoothly, anchoring solidly while noting all three anchor points, feeling the tension build behind my shoulder blade, focusing on the target staring exactly at where I want to hit, maintaining a relaxed grip, releasing cleanly and maintaining follow through. Take time to assess the shot. If you didn’t hit where you intended, then take a second to think about why. Did you drop your hand, did you lose focus, were you tense? Assess each shot and, on the next one, give some special attention to the one thing that seems to be plaguing you. Work deliberately on your weak spots and over time those little things will become automatic.
Is it important to shoot at something besides an orange dot on the face of a block target? Well, yes, but learning to recognize and aim at a spot is equally important. I've made some good shots on animals and I've made a couple that were sub-par and, without a doubt, I can say that the biggest difference between the results was that on the good shots I remember picking a spot to aim at. Pick a spot is a pretty common term in bowhunting, but how many of us remember to do it at crunch time when your brain turns to mush? I'd suggest you start practicing now. If you see a doe on the side of the road while driving, pick a spot. When you are reviewing trail camera pictures or scouting and watching a buck or bull through the spotter, pick a spot. When you are shooting 3D targets, think about the spot you want to hit before you even draw. Is there a tuft of hide, a shadow, anything that you can use for an aiming reference? Pick it out, aim, and make the shot. The first thing that should come to mind when a shot presents itself is where to aim.
If you don’t have a rangefinder, get one and use it regularly. Many of us have a range or location where we practice. We know the distances, we sight our bows in, and we get used to stepping up and shooting without ever thinking about the distance. For starters, sight your pins into your rangefinder. When you are hunting the only distance that matters is the one your rangefinder identifies; make sure your pins are sighted in accordingly. Secondly, mix up your range and get used to using your rangefinder, drawing, anchoring and executing. Pulling, ranging, and putting your rangefinder back into the case seems easy—and it is—but make sure you've done it enough that it's a seamless act with no noise, no interference with clothes or anything else. Lastly, you don’t always get a chance to range the animal so take time when you are practicing to estimate the range, then check it. In the long run, an accurate range is ideal, but if you practice estimating range enough you can get very close.
Please, please, please do not screw on your broadheads the day before the opener and go hunting without ever having shot them. I know that broadheads and targets are expensive and it takes time and effort to tune your bow, but I promise if you get within range and miss or worse yet make a poor shot, you would trade all the money and time for a successful recovery.
Finally, hunt hard, have fun, take it all in and try to relax. All the best this 2017 season!