So You Think You Can Shoot...

This past year I’ve had a meager year of harvesting to say the least. This is my second year in a row getting “skunked” in the regular deer season in the past 20 plus years. Frustrating on one hand, but as my old hunting mentor once told me “the worst day in the woods is better than ANY day at work”. This is so very true! That being said, we now have the time to move on to the next season to enjoy God’s green earth and the next season, spring turkey!!! Another one of my personal favorites. Turkey hunting separates the men from the boys!!! First of all, calling in a bird isn’t always the easiest. Secondly, turkey are very intuitive creatures. You move the wrong way, have a nasal drip and go to sniff it from dropping off the end of your nose, move your foot because it’s asleep, and you’ve been made if you are close enough for a shot. So, in these next few weeks I do myself the favor and practice. It’s one small step to maintain what I know. 

One of the most amazing things I’ve ever done was as a young lad put an arrow through a tom at about 45 yards. It felt like a mile long shot! Nonetheless, as my young heart was beating through my chest, I thought I had conquered the world! In my adult life, I’ve had the same experience every time I’ve bow hunted turkey. It’s one invigorating feeling watching that arrow gracefully fly and harvest that bird! Well, these techniques are tried and true methods which I use for everything whether it’s a competition, deer hunt, turkey hunt, or just shooting in the back yard. 

Before I delve into this, please do yourself the favor and as my boss says every Monday at our weekly safety meetings, take 15 seconds for safety. Bows are tools, and in the wrong careless hands, become deadly weapons. So, please do take care and safety as a priority. Otherwise, you’ll not be around to use these in the field and have that opportunity to harvest game and enjoy what gifts are there for us to enjoy.

My personal favorite. The “blind bale” technique. Well, this involves you going outside, with your target bag and some free time. This drill reinforces your anchor point. Put the target bag a short distance away. Less than 5 feet. Put it at an angle approximately 45 degrees from how you are standing. Make sure you are pointing yourself in a safe direction. Check your surroundings!!!! Nock an arrow, close your eyes and make your anchor points. Put the arrow in the bag. Where it goes isn’t really the issue. You want to make sure you are going to the same exact places every time you draw. Regardless of the rest of your body, you want your anchor points (for clarification, anchor points are where your release hand is in relationship to your face and where your forward hand is on your bow grip) to be identical EVERY TIME! If you move your anchor point, you have absolutely no consistency. With no consistency there is no way of knowing which is the failure, your bow, bow tuning, arrow, or weather. Basically, if your anchor point is the same EVERY time you have eliminated one third of the human error from your shot. I practice this year round. Plus, with your eyes closed, you’d be surprised what your other senses pick up. It’s seriously amazing what you hear, what you feel, and how you can visualize your shot with your eyes closed. I’ve also been able to feel a problem with my bow while doing this drill. I actually saved myself a lot of heartache on one particular occasion. With my eyes closed practicing this, I felt my draw change on the bow, not me. I immediately took it to my bow tech, and he found my upper cam bushing was worn out and about to split. There was no telling what would have happened if I had kept drawing/shooting. Could have been very painful. So try this method. You’ll be surprised how much you feel a difference when you shoot. Just a slight change of hand placement can drastically foul a great shot. This will help you put it in the same place every time without trying. 

Next thing I like to do is get a “dummy” release. You can pick one of these up at a local archery shop. I have one that doesn’t allow it to dry-fire. A lot of places have them to help you verify draw length in newer bows. If you feel comfortable using your normal release (if you use one) go for it. Just remember dry-firing a bow is really, REALLY dangerous. Basically, practice drawing your shot. I draw arrow and all, with no field point or anything on it. I use an arrow that I have discarded because I didn’t like how it spun. So draw. Hold your point of aim. I pick a safe spot and hold my aim to it for long enough to where I’d release the arrow. I practice holding on it like I didn’t have a clear shot. The waiting game is usually one of the killers of an archer. Having to have that shot lined up, but not being able to take it or not trusting it will mentally tear you up and will cause a missed shot. Also, this reinforces breathing. If you can count your pulse and slow your respirations, you will have more success with your intended target. All of these things combined make for a second-third of the human factor. Practicing this will assist in you finding your shot even if it takes a moment to present itself. I have no idea how many times I’ve been at full draw waiting for that shot, and I lose patience and shoot anyway. Almost every time that situation arises, I miss. And not by a millimeter, but 10 miles. Patience young grasshopper.

Another drill I practice repeatedly is in a stand. I’ll actually climb a tree stand in the middle of summer, and put a target bag out there. Every now and again when I have a helper, I’ll have the helper move the bag. Once again, using the safety rule obviously. I’ll practice shooting the bag as if it were the intended game. I’ll also have a helper call the spot, or call the spot on a target so I hit whatever they say, not what I want to hit, but what they say to hit. Adding a level of difficulty that is outside of your control forces you to go back to basics, dig deep, and make that shot count! Especially if more than bragging rights are concerned. Also, practice as you would in the real situation. With it being hot in the summer, but cool to downright cold in the fall and winter, suck it up buttercup! Sweat out some of those toxins in your body and wear what you would wear like you were freezing in the tree stand. Take my word for it, a change of garment will change your shot if you let it. Better to practice and know without a doubt than take a guess. 

This is another of my personal favorites. Do a few jumping jacks, and then take a pressured shot. This goes back to muscle memory. I call it the “shakey-jake” shot. I’ll be honest. I’ve been hunting for many years. Harvested quite a few animals. Not once has my heartbeat failed to increase dramatically when it came to take my shot. That bit of increased heart rate and blood pumping through your veins will change your shot! And to be honest, the minute that excitement goes away, I’ll never hunt again. That excitement and then the immediate reverence for the hunt is one of the best parts of it! But that same part can make your shot go south quick! So, do some jumping jacks. Get that heart rate elevated. Get it elevated like that giant record breaking buck or that huge long beard is walking RIGHT in front of you and didn’t even know you were there! Bound to get you slightly excited and that heart pumping, so simulate it! Then, after a few jumping jacks or equivalent exercise, take a shot within 5 out loud counted seconds. Say “one Mississippi, two Mississippi” and before you hit five Mississippi take your shot. Obviously be safe. Make sure you don’t take a shot until you know it’s safe and you aren’t going to impale someone or something you aren’t supposed to. Granted, a rushed shot or unsure shot is NEVER a good idea. This is merely a simulation. If you simulate a rushed shot, it will simulate it when you get “harvest fever” and rush YOURSELF or get excited. An “old timer” taught me this trick, and I dearly miss hunting with him. He had all sorts of tricks and this is one I still use today. It definitely makes a difference. When I was in the Army, they did this drill at the range. It demonstrated what happens when you take a poor shot. In this instance, it will show you what to expect if you don’t calm down and plan your shot better. This is also another method of humanity you can practice to eliminate.

Sighting. Well, I can’t help you if you are hard of seeing. All I can say is the better you see, the easier it is to discern your shot. Randomly throughout the season, I’ll go out at almost dark, or basically where I can barely see. I’ll draw and take ONE shot. I see where I am at. Just to verify that I can take that shot when it’s at the end of legal shooting light. Some mornings I do this before heading to work. I pick the most inopportune moments to do this too. It’s hardly the most opportune time you have to take a quick shot, so I prepare for the worst. This helps you to take that calculated shot when it counts. It also verifies you sight didn’t get bumped. I have found that after a long hard day of hunting, or even a weekend of trudging through some of the harshest environments never touched by man (except a very select few group of hunters) that perfect shot arises. I tend to take shots after a long tiring day of physically demanding laborious activity too. This shows you what it’s like to draw your bow after spotting and stalking an animal, so you know how your body feels and can take that shot perfectly, even tired. 

Another tip I picked up from an archery coach that I had on the Navy archery shooting team was the tape trick. I never was told the technical name for it, but it does work. I get a regular target. Use some of that blue painter’s tape on it across the middle in a straight line. Use the 1” wide tape. I prefer using a “5 spot” target, it just makes it easier. The goal is to get all your arrows in that 1” piece of tape all the way across. As evenly spaced as possible. Now, I know no game animal that’s going to pull out a tape measure and check you for being exact. But work linear. Work from the dead center and alternate out side to side (hit dead center, then off to the left or right with one then go to the opposite side and so on until you run out of tape you can cleanly hit and space evenly). This shows you how you are aiming without a bulls-eye representation of the target. It also helps you dial in your shot progression. You have to make the shot count before you release the arrow. Just like a rifle or handgun, if you jerk that release the arrow will show it. Planning and visualizing your arrow before it leaves the bow makes for a cleaner shot. This not only works for a competition preparation, but it has definitely helped my hunting habits. I see and plan my shot before I release. I can visualize the arrow in flight and the path it is going to take. 

There are a million different drills and things to do. I could give you so many that your eyes would go numb and brain would shut off with the multitudes out there. There are so many books out there as well with so many good ideas out there. There are so many books out there with the SAME information out there in them as the next one as well. If there’s one opinion on how to do it, there are countless. These are things that I do personally and have taught others who went from novice to shooting in competitions. Just like building your arrow, or tuning your bow, you have to tune yourself to go along with it! And just like your equipment, garbage in = garbage out. My 4th grade teacher Mr. Pritts used to say all the time “perfect practice gets perfect results”. I remember this because he used to hammer this in our heads over algebra and all that “complicated” math stuff with formulas. The better you practice, the better your results. 

Remember, BE SAFE out there. PRACTICE PRACTICE PRACTICE!!! If you don’t practice, you only have yourself to blame for that missed shot! Get ready for those long beards! Shoot straight!

-Bill Vahle, Fall Obsession Field Staff

Samuel Thrash