The next 10 yards

“…Practice? We talkin’ bout practice man? … I’m supposed to be the franchise player and we sitting here talking about practice.” – Professional hunter and outdoorsman Allen Iverson. Well not exactly. But he does provide a great opening to this post. There are many things that we bicker and debate about over a beverage at hunt camp but interesting practice doesn’t seem to be one of them. Why? Good question. There are as many ways to practice as there are different hunters. Some guys go through arrows like match sticks shooting their bow near every day. While we all know that one guy, ya you know who you are, who shows up to camp every year having not shot his bow or gun since he missed high right on that deer last fall.

Use field tips to tune your bow.
Use field tips to tune your bow.

How often should you practice? How many shots should you take? Field tips or broad heads? Paper, block target or 3D? What distance do I practice at? Do you practice from an elevated position? Sitting, standing, lying down?

These are just a few questions I have been asked about practicing. Regretfully I cannot quote hime exactly but the great Fred Bear, perhaps the most famous modern day archer used to shoot only a single hunting arrow a day because this most closely represented a hunting situation. This makes a great deal of sense to me because who cares how tight your group is after you warm up a few arrows.

Focus on keeping the same anchor point every time.
Focus on keeping the same anchor point every time.

Practice good form
Practice good form

For this post I am going to shed some light on how we practice not because I think there is a right or wrong way but hopefully to generate some discussion on our message board. I also limit the discussion to that of bow hunting as I am no expert on gun mechanics and that is an entirely different ball game but some basic principles still apply.

1. Types of practice. certainly my mind set changes over the course of the year when it comes to practice. I love shooting a few dozen field tips with friends tightening up my groups, playing HORSE and wearing out my shoulder. That said for me this is done in the summer usually months away from hunting season. As the days get shorter with the impending hunting season so do my practice sessions. The field tips are put away and my practice sessions turn to 10 arrows or less. During these times I focus on using my exact hunting set-up and yes this includes lighted knocks. Lighted knocks are great for getting an idea of how your arrows are flying at different distances. It is also during this period that I am selecting which arrows it is that make make the draft for my quiver. Then in the last week before the season and each time before I hit the stand its a simple 3 shot group to make sure my sights are still on target and haven’t been knocked while hiking through the woods. I also use these sessions to build confidence for when its crunch time on a big buck.

2. Shot distance. As my father and fellow pro staff Greg Mather once so eloquently put it ” I can pick fly #$%* off a mules ass at 20 yards.” Fact of the matter is that the majority of bow hunting shots are inside 30 yards. And for that reason I focus the majority of my practice building confidence at those distances. These are ‘chip shots’ for most of us. Although when you look at 10 steps on the ground it doesn’t seem like much, making the jump from 30 to 40 yards seems like a mile. That 10 yards amplifies any mistake. Any torque on your bow. Any mis-alignment of your peep. Your pin size stays the same but the target through your peep shanks by 25%. Just stop and think for a second what that means for accuracy. I do not spend hours playing with my groups at 40 or 50 yards because frankly I think in 20 years of hunting I have had only one shot at those distances. Instead I focus on perfecting form and anchor point at shorter distances and fire a few shots at the longer distances to reassure my confidence at those longer yardages. Again I do not intend this to be a discussion about ethical shooting at longer distances with a bow as that is a very complex and individual discussion for another time and place. I guess in summary perfect your form at practical hunting distances and this will translate to confidence on longer shots.

3. Play like you practice: This is one of the biggest practice techniques we use and something often overlooked. That is practicing from elevation. Most bow hunters hunt whitetails from tree stands shooting at declines of 30 degrees or more. So why does it make sense only to practice on horizontal plane. If you have never done it before take some practice shots from your tree stand and you may be very surprised what you see. Now I understand that this isn’t always practical and there is certainly a role for horizontal shooting to make sure your sights are accurate but I would never set foot in a stand before making sure I am confident with my set-up from multiple angles.

Practice from elevated angles to simulate hunting scenarios
Practice from elevated angles to simulate hunting scenarios

One thing is for sure no matter how you do it, practice makes perfect and is an important part to your hunting preparation. Please join in on the discussion and leave us your comments below with your tips for bow practice.

We look forward to hearing about all your deer in just over a months time.

James Mather

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  1. Great post James! One point I would like to make is when practicing from a tree stand take the “real hunting scenario” practice a little further by shooting from a sitting position, a crouched position, kneeling position and finally the standard standing position.

    I remember a great shot James made on a nice six point several years ago from a stand he had never hunted from before. The deer came across the field behind James with only one shooting lane that called for a 40 yd crouched position shot, through some limbs at a quartering away deer. Again we practice this shot and James smoked the buck.

    Like James says…practice practice practice but don’t forget to practice real hunting situational shooting techniques!

  2. The old adage “Practice makes perfect” definitely applies when it comes to any sort of hunting. When you miss, you may injure or cripple an animal which is not a humane way to die. I’d venture to say that its quite irresponsible to not practive enough to have at least 75% confidence that your shot is going to get the job done. Your mileage may vary….

  3. We are about 2 weeks away from opening day, and I am yet to take my bow out of it’s case since turkey closed. With my Excalibur Equinox, once I put the cross hairs where I want them, the bow typically puts the arrow where I want it as well.

    My challenge is creating the field scenarios, where my heart is pounding, my body is begging for more oxygen, and my bowels are still working out my coffee and morning Egg McMuffin.

    None the less, I will have my bow, block and stand out before opening weekend, ensuring I can get up the tree as quick and quiet as possible, I can caulk my bow fluently, and of course, put that arrow through both lungs.

    Happy Hunting Y’all

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