Last Wednesday, my deer season successfully concluded with the simple act of releasing an arrow from my long bow. In the instant that followed, my broadhead-tipped dart had covered 12 yards and passed through the lungs of a mature whitetail doe. She did one mule kick and ran less than 50 yards before piling up. It was a quick, humane kill for which I am both proud and grateful.
It was also the culmination of another year’s worth of dedicated practice. My practice sessions for this year’s hunt started the minute last year’s ended. Now, I am starting my new practice regimen for next year. This is the surest way I know to put venison in my freezer.
Practicing the month before deer season works for many people, I suppose. But, as far as I’m concerned, it doesn't provide the average traditional archer with enough experience to be a truly confident or consistent shooter. And it certainly doesn't give you enough time to make adjustments or get used to equipment changes. If you need to break in a new shooting glove or bow string or even switch to a different broadhead or arrow, more time is needed to work out all the nuances.
I know I keep beating this drum but I’ll say it again: in traditional bowhunting, confidence in your ability and gear is key.
And the only true way to remove doubt, in my mind at least, is it to make your bow and gear an extension of you. Simply put, you need to know them inside out. And that’s what happens when you shoot year round.
The good part about all this is that shooting traditional gear is fun. Most longbow and recurve shooters know this and, as a group, I think we shoot more than most. But serious practice is often confused with casually flinging arrows.
What I try to do in my practice regimen is address concerns from this year’s hunt. For instance, I blew an opportunity on one small buck because I decided I would stand for the shot rather than shoot from a sitting position. But my knee cracked as I stood and alerted that little buck who stood only 7 yards away. Needless to say, he made tracks — and fast.
I only stood, by the way, because I don’t practice shooting from a seated position enough — but that will be rectified this year. Similarly, I also passed up on a nice, relaxed doe at 20 yards because that’s beyond my comfort zone with a longbow. That too will change as much of this year’s practice will be devoted to extending my effective range.
I’m also planning on setting up a bit of a range in the woods behind my place so that I get totally used to shooting in that setting — as we all know 20 yards at the range and in the woods appear as two completely different things. I’ll also step up my stump shooting efforts to address this issue.
In the end, I think it is our responsibility as traditional bowhunters to practice so that we can wring out every last ounce of potential both from ourselves as shooters and from our marvelous gear.
For me, that starts now.