It’s easy to get caught up in scouting, game cameras and just the excitement of being in a tree during hunting season.
I love that as much as anybody, but it often feels like actually practicing the most important part of the equation -- the shot -- gets to be an afterthought by many. It was for me a few years ago.
I always shot my bow, but I spent many more hours looking over properties on my OnX Hunt App. I was addicted to scouting any chance I got. I still love doing those things, but falling into target panic a few years ago drove me into an obsession of trying to get my shot right.
The summer of 2018, I really started shooting. A lot. I’m fortunate to have five acres to work with at home, so I could shoot in my backyard.
That first summer was a nightmare. I’d shoot and be locked off target. My mind wouldn’t let me center that pin on the bullseye, so I would swing the bow through the dot and punch the trigger.
I thought I could shoot myself out of this, but that doesn’t work in archery. Just shooting with the idea that repetition was all I needed to kick this was a flawed approach.
I did everything in the summer of 2019 to cure my target panic. I shot at blank targets at 10 yards after spending all winter shooting close range in my shop working on form.
It got to the point where I felt much better. I wasn’t locking off target. I could pile up solid groups out to 30 yards -- the yardage I consistently find myself with shots on deer out to.
But I was still punching the trigger on a new thumb release. My mental control in the shot process wasn’t there, and it hindered what should have been an incredible year with my bow between Minnesota and North Dakota.
This offseason has again been about going further to be a better archer this fall. Some of that centers around equipment. Some of it is form, and much of it is continuing to work on my mental approach. Here are a few thoughts on what has seemed to help with accuracy, in hopes that it can help others who are frustrated with their shot.
The importance of grip
Much of my success, and lack thereof, in shooting this summer centers around my grip.
If my arrow flight isn’t perfect or I’m hitting two inches from where I should, it drives me crazy. When things go wrong, it almost always comes back to inconsistencies with my grip.
I have a natural tendency to tilt my bow hand more straight up and down than it should be. That made finding the right balance with my bow a nightmare, even when adjusting my stabilizers. It causes my pin to settle low and left, and that is exactly where I miss when things go wrong.
Guys like John Dudley have great tutorials on what proper grip should look like to maximize accuracy. For me, consistency came when I focused on applying even, up-and-down pressure across the inside portion of my thumb muscle. A turning point that allowed me to hold steadier at full draw came by applying slight pressure with the tip of my index and middle finger on the back of the riser. When I do this correctly, my bow sits perfectly level and my hand pushes the bow straight forward upon explosion instead of falling low and left.
If you are having problems with arrows flying off track even when the pin feels dead center, the first thing I would do is examine your grip.
Shooting bare shaft
I didn’t grow up around bow hunting.
Like so many hunters in Minnesota, I was part of the gun-hunting tradition. It wasn’t until after college that I decided I wanted more time in the woods.
There was a speed movement during my early years of bow hunting. The idea was that fast bows and light arrow setups were the way to go, so that’s the direction I went. I killed some deer, but I also had deflection issues on impact of animals that left me shaking my head.
A buck I lost two years ago in North Dakota really made me examine what was going on. I hit that deer right where I wanted to at 15 yards with a 100-grain mechanical head. What I thought was a double-lung hit ended up hitting a single lung and liver. The buck was bumped off its bed by a coyote that came through, and we never found him after two days of searching.
I know a lot of guys struggle with the confidence to experiment with their own equipment, and I have been in the same boat. One easy thing to start with for even the novice archer is shooting different weighted field points with a bare shaft -- meaning with no fletchings.
I picked up field points weighing 100, 125 and 200 grains this summer. My 300 spine, Victory RIP TKO arrows with 60-grain stainless steel inserts flew like darts on my fletched shafts with the 200-grain points.
To be sure, I cut the fletchings off one of my arrows and shot bare shaft with all three weights. The 100-grain tip came out of the bow and hit the target at 20 yards at a sharp, nock-down angle. The 125-grain inserts alleviated that somewhat, and the 200-grain points flew very close to my fletched arrows.
Those 200-grain heads still fly slightly nock down on a bare shaft. I may continue to tinker with the rest position, but just experimenting with different weights on a bare shaft helped me see what arrows naturally fly best with my setup so the fletchings don’t have to work so hard.
Finding your fit
Everyone hears that they need to find a bow that fits them, but what does that really mean?
I didn’t know exactly when I bought my Mathews Creed XS in 2014, or even my Hoyt Carbon Defiant a couple years later. Both felt fine when I shot them at 10 yards in the shop, and they were a Mathews and a Hoyt. Everyone shoots them, so they had to work for me, right?
I liked, but didn’t love, both of those bows. I set out this year to find a bow that really fit me, but I needed to emphasize a few other things first.
Late last winter, I switched to the hand-held Stanislawski Perfex resistance release. That greatly affected how my Hoyt fit me because my anchor point and string angle changed.
A resistance release uses pressure by pulling through the shot to get the arrow to go off instead of hitting a trigger. One of the benefits with that is it forced me to identify flaws in my form. My stance and where I had my anchor point was important in helping me execute the proper shot.
I went into the shop and shot all the new bows before settling on the Bowtech Revolt X. A 28-inch draw fit where I wanted that anchor point. The 33 inch axle-to-axle platform of the Bowtech made for perfect contact points with the string on the corner of my lips and tip of my nose.
There’s no leaning into the string or searching for the peep sight to make it fit. Knowing the anchor point I wanted and emphasizing proper form in my stance really helped me identify a bow that fit me.
Stabilizers are another piece of equipment I have worked with this summer.
I reached out to some great bowhunters who use both front and back-bar stabilizers, and a popular theme is that a 3-to-1 weight ratio on the back bar to the front bar fits many hunters.
“You need to experiment, though,” is the message I got from them.
I found that running a 12-inch bar with four ounces out front and a 10-inch bar with eight ounces on my rear bar works best on my bow.
Finding a personal fit with your equipment is important in archery. Focusing on these steps to create the most accurate, forgiving setup I can has given me a boost of confidence with the season almost a month away.