Bow Bootcamp is a 10-part series designed to get you, your gear, and your skills in peak shape for fall. That means gear checks, accessory tweaks, precision bow tuning and shooting drills to get you fully on the phone. (If you missed any previous installments, watch here: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4and Part 5.)
If you have followed this series, your bow is now set up, the card is tuned, and it shoots well. This is wonderful. But that doesn’t mean you can just look quickly and switch to tuning with your feet or broad head. Take an initial look, of course. But then it’s time to get extremely familiar with your bow just by shooting it a bunch. Many archers skip this step. understand. We’re all busy, and it’s easy to grab your bow a few days before the season, throw everything in a few practice sessions, and call it good. But this is a bad idea.
If you’ve been shooting all summer, OK; you are off the hook. But if you’re like most bowhunters and have done little or no shooting over the summer, you need to take some time to get your shooting form back. Muscle memory goes away quickly, especially for bowhunters. I’ve coached many shooters over the years and left shooting sessions with guys and girls stacking arrows at 60 yards, who then returned a week later only to sail three shafts over the same target at the same distance.
The common theme was that each archer had not shot their bow once since our last session and something in their grip, anchor, sight alignment, etc., changed. If you haven’t shot in a while and don’t take the time to get to know your bow and develop a sound shooting system, you’ll have a long and frustrating road ahead of you trying to get your bow perfectly tuned. . So the next step in this bow program, after you’re done tuning the paper and sighting first, is to start shooting. Here’s the drill.
Nail your shooting routine
Start at 20 meters. You will need a bag or block target with one or more dots no larger than 3 inches in diameter, as well as a 3-D target. Your initial goal here is to develop a repetitive shooting routine that works for you every time. This routine starts when an appropriate check is received and ends when the release is activated. During the process, I highly recommend talking to yourself. For example, when I shoot an index release, every time I grip my bow, I whisper the word “grip,” and then as I pull and crawl on my two-piece anchor, I say the words, “nose tip to string tip; index finger knuckle on jawline.” I say something a little different when shooting versions with different styles, but the bottom line here is to say something that reminds you of your exact anchor points.
I know, it seems a little strange, but don’t let that stop you; self-talk creates a repeatable routine and helps reduce anxiety. As you transition from your anchor to the actual execution of the shot, you should say one more thing, but what you say here is entirely up to you. I whisper a Bible verse I’ve memorized. Other bowhunters I know have different phrases they say to themselves. Some are as simple as, “Here we go.” The key is to have something that takes the thinking from the process of pulling and anchoring to executing the shot.
Develop your process from 20 yards and don’t finalize your 20-yard pin placement after placing an arrow or two in the center of the dot. Shoot until you place multiple arrows both in the center of the dot and in the lungs of the 3-D target, and then put the bow down for at least an hour. When you return, go back to 20 yards, go through your shot process and see where you hit. Chances are good you’ll be slightly up, down, right or left, even at 20 yards. It takes time to develop muscle memory and do everything the same every time. Don’t finish sighting the 20-yard pegs until you can come back after lowering the bow for an hour or more and repeatedly hitting the same spot.
Confirm, Move Back and Repeat
Now move to 30 yards and do it again. My goal over the two days is to get my 20, 30 and 40 yard pins, or those marks set on a sight tape. Don’t rush and don’t get bored. It is also important during these two days that every shot is quality. It doesn’t matter how many arrows you sling. It’s about honing your process on every arrow and making the best shot possible every time. This is why I like to have a 3-D target next to my dot-style target. Moving from a dot, which can create anxiety leading to panic on the target, to a 3-D target every few arrows relaxes my mind and helps me stay focused.
On the third day, confirm your 20-, 30-, and 40-yard distances, then come back in another 10 years. Do this even if you don’t plan to shoot an animal past 40. Longer range shots will make you much more accurate. Again, the key is to take your time. Go to 50 yards and do not move beyond that distance for at least two shooting sessions. Some western hunters talk about 50 and 60 yard shots as if they are close, but they are not close shots. Shooting at longer distances takes time and practice. You may have an uneven grip or unstable anchor, or the bubble in your sight may be slanted one way or the other, and you may make a dead shot at 25 yards. Do any of those things at 60 yards, and you’ll miss—or worse, injure the animal.
Aim for perfection
Once you’ve gone through your entire shooting routine from start to finish, take time to reflect on each arrow. Do not grab another shaft and throw. This leads to bad habits. Instead, take two or three minutes to reflect on the shot. Did you talk yourself through every step? How was the execution? Did you punch the release or pull it? It doesn’t matter if you hit the bull’s eye from 50 yards if you know it was by accident. You want to know that the arrow landed in the center of the target because you executed it perfectly. This creates maximum confidence. Don’t settle for hitting close to the spot at 50 yards. You want perfection.
Follow this routine as you retreat to the yard day after day. How far you decide to sight on your bow is up to you. If you ever start to feel uneasy as you move further away from a target, stop and get closer. Target panic is ugly, so don’t give it a chance to break through. Move in, gain confidence, then try again.
Once you’ve done your shot routine and feel good about your shot, then it’s time to move on to back-motion tuning and wide tuning. Do one of these too quickly, and you’ll probably have to do it twice or more, which is a huge waste of time. So take the time to fix this, then you’ll be ready to fine-tune your gear for the field, which we’ll cover in the next installment.