Preseason practice improves your chances of a successful hunt
By Wade Middleton
I’ve seen it time and time again: that moment of truth when a buck or a doe walks into bow range and the hunter totally forgets his or her shot routine. It’s either a total miss or worse, a wounded deer. The reality of that moment, in my opinion, is the hunter didn’t get enough practice.
I feel if you prepared properly through practice, then muscle memory, as it relates to how you shoot, takes over and everything goes smoothly.
What’s the answer to this scenario? It’s simple. Practice, and more practice. The word practice might invoke negative memories for some. Here are a few tips to help counteract the negativity and practice for your next hunt.
Tune Up Your Bow
If you’ve not shot, or shot very little, since last deer season, I suggest you grab your bow and head to Cabela’s. An Outfitter in the archery department can give your bow a quick inspection and fine tuning. Don’t be afraid to ask questions. They will check out everything so you know the bow is dialed in and nothing is loose or needs adjusting.
After you have your bow inspected it’s time to pull out a target to work on your shot routine and start building muscle memory.
Proper Bow Practice
I recommend placing your target at a 20-yard distance for this type of practice. To get started, frame yourself up to the target so that you are standing with your toes slightly toward the target. Then, you want to make sure you are not choking the bow by holding it too tight. I like a loosely relaxed grip as I start to draw and when I’m shooting.
Next, move the bow slowly into shooting position so you are not using jerky movements (think stealth mode in a deer stand). Lift the bow toward shooting position while drawing the string back to your face. As you reach full draw, while aiming at the target, find all your anchor points.
Finally, while you are focused on the target, it happens. The bow string releases and while not even thinking about it you follow through while still mentally aiming at the target.
If you can do all of this on every shot while practicing, you are making great strides in creating good muscle-memory habits as it relates to how you shoot. This practice and good muscle memory will help you from making mistakes in the stand because the whole routine of all that practice will take over. You won’t even think about anything but where to place that shot.
Repetition is the Recipe for Success
Personally, I like to do this routine around 15 to 20 times a day. In most cases I suggest shooting every other day for at least three months before the season. Once your grouping really well (say 1- to 2-inch groups at 20-30 yards) then you’re ready for the next pre-season practice step.
Pre-season practice is what I call hunting practice where you’re basically getting ready for game day and, in this case, upcoming hunting trips. I like to start this routine about a month before the season.
I do this by thinking about various stands I’ll be hunting from. I take into account the shots I might encounter from standing up, sitting down, possibly from my knees, and from a variety of distances. When possible, and feasible, even wearing the clothing I’ll be hunting in so I can learn if it’s too loose, going to catch when drawing, and any other number of things that can go wrong in bow hunting.
This type of shooting is fun and allows me to test new bows while simulating hunting scenarios to get my mind ready. Case in point was learning more about the behavior of the new Cabela’s bow. One key item I wanted to know was how long I can comfortably hold that bow while shooting from my knees. I knew one of the stands I hope to hunt this year has a shot back to another angle that will require me to go to my knees to make it. After shooting it several times recently I’m secretly hoping deer come down that trail as I know exactly what I’ll do and I’m comfortable knowing my moves to get ready for that shot.