The perfect archery practice regimen

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 adjustments, precision bow tuning, and shooting drills to get you going. (If you missed any previous installments, check them out here: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, Part 5, Part 6, Part 7 and Part 8.)

There is a myth that the more arrows you shoot down, the better archer you will become. Yes, it’s a good idea to shoot regularly, but your practice also needs to be intentional, or you could end up drilling into bad habits. If you’ve followed this series, your bow is now perfectly tuned, primed, and ready for the field. Is dead. So the question now is: Are you dead?

To make sure you’re shooting at your best every time you hit the range, you need to develop a practice routine and stick to it as much as possible. This does not mean that you necessarily have to shoot every day or shoot a certain number of arrows. This means you shoot enough to inculcate good habits and stay sharp.

Earlier in this series, we talked about developing a repetitive shooting process that involves talking to yourself about the basics of good form. This should come into play during every practice session. To quickly recap, my mantra (and, yes, I whisper it to myself before every shot) is: The grip. Anchor. Acquire. Focusing. Take a breath. Run it. Saying these words out loud or in my head reduces the target’s panic, slows me down, and instills a repetitive shooting process. It’s important to incorporate this into your practice, but you also need a regular practice routine. Here’s what you should do.

Keep the practice close enough to start

photo of bow hunter practicing
Get outside for a practice session at least every other day to stay sharp. Jace Bauserman

Yes, I realize that TikTok, Instagram, and Facebook are filled with archers who make amazing shots at foam targets at distances beyond 100 yards. Excellent! I also enjoy long range shooting, but I’m also thankful that my first archery coach limited me to 50 yards my freshman year. Why? Because the most important thing in archery is to develop good shooting habits and practice that repeatable process—and it’s much easier to do that at fairly close range.

As you move back from a target, the pin-float increases. Pin-float is simply the uncontrollable movement of the pin to where you want the dart to hit. The best archers in the world can’t keep their needle dead on a target. These archers have learned to trust their needle point, push and pull through the shot, and stick to their process. And the reason this is easier to do at closer distances is because the pin float isn’t magnified like it is at longer distances. When archers try to move too far off target too quickly, the needle looks like it’s doing a disco dance on the target, panic sets in, shooting routine goes out the window, and the trigger is punched. So start up close and stay within 50 yards for a while, especially if you’re new to bowhunting or if it’s been a while since you’ve shot. To start, practice at least every other day and try to shoot some good three-arrow groups at 20, 30, 40 and 50 yards.

Once you shoot great and are sure your process is drilled, then you can go 50 as far as you like. But if things go sideways at any point, get close and hang in there for a while.

Mix up your practice distances

Practicing at evenly spaced distances in 10-yard increments is fine, but only up to a point. As you approach a particular hunt, you want to mix things up. Otherwise, if you only shoot at 20, 30, 40, and 50, you won’t know where to target an animal with 23, 35, 47, and 54. So at least once a week, take six arrows and place them randomly on the range your practice at unknown distances. Then, in whatever order you like, catch one arrow at a time, move the target, talk yourself through your process, and make the best possible shot. Doing this will teach you where to hold, so that when the moment of truth strikes, and the shot is 37.2 yards, your mind will automatically put your 40-yard pin where it needs to be because you’ve practiced so much .

Practice shooting in the wind

I wouldn’t say I like shooting in the wind, but when Mother Nature stirs up some winds, I think about going outside and shooting. You should too, because you need to know how your bow and arrow setup works in different wind speeds and what, if any, compensations you need to make in a headwind, headwind, and tailwind. Chances are good that the air isn’t dead yet when you’re hunting, and you want to be prepared for anything. Stick to your process and trust your pin float, which the wind will inflate. Don’t worry, our subconscious mind will consistently bring that pin pack to where you want the arrow to impact.

Shoot at 3D targets

photo of 3D archery target
Shoot at a 3D target to prepare for shooting in the game. Jace Bauserman

I know, 3D lenses are expensive, but if you add just one to your collection every year, it won’t break the bank—and it’ll be totally worth it. You only need to practice your 3-D targets once or twice a week, at most, which keeps them from wearing out. Place the targets at different angles (quarters straight and far, up and downhill) and shoot to “kill”. Don’t shoot for results. Work on getting your dart in the center of the lung on a broadside target, behind the last rib on a quarter target, and tight behind the shoulder on a quarter target. Set up realistic forest situations that have you shooting over and under limbs and squeezing arrows into tight spots.

Know when to stop

Some days, it will seem like you can’t miss on the practice range. The release will break perfectly and the arrow, even when you feel like a shot is off, will find its way to the exact spot you want. When this happens, rely on it to build trust. But there will be days when I can’t buy a bullseye. When this happens, put the bow down. Don’t fight it. Accept that you just don’t have it on that particular day and start fresh the next day.

Enjoy the process and give yourself some flexibility with your training. If you have to miss a day, no big deal. One last tip: as hunting season approaches, make it a habit to step on the range at random times by shooting a single arrow from a certain distance. This distance for me is 36.5 yards, which is the average distance when I counted over 120 arrows sent to game animals.

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