Now that most hunting seasons have closed, it is important to discuss a common “post-season” trap. And, while it may seem innocent in nature, make no mistake it is one that prevents a lot of bowhunters from reaching their maximum potential; with regard to bow shooting skills, number of tags filled and even overall physical fitness. I understand that after many long months chasing your favorite game animal the urge to “take it easy” for a while can be overwhelming. However, if you want next season to be better than last season, now is the absolute best time to work toward that goal. Later, in subsequent blogs, we will discuss Hunting Prowess (tags filled), and Physical Fitness in more detail. But for now, let’s take a closer look at the first of these three areas: Shooting Skill.
Your favorite treestand may be sitting dormant, but that doesn't mean that the time for perparation is over.
You don’t have to be a competitive shooter to be a successful bowhunter. In reality, perhaps the most deciding factor in closing the deal on your next bowhunting opportunity comes down to 2 things: muscle memory and your ability to handle pressure. Thankfully, if you put enough time into actually shooting your bow, muscle memory will take care of itself. This is important because you might believe that you can talk yourself through such details as picking a spot, bending at the waste, relaxing your shooting hand or squeezing the release trigger----all in the heat of the moment! But, the truth is, you will most likely forget, simply because your heart will be in your throat. I know because I have tried. It should come as no surprise that my odds of success were very low during those seasons when I tried to will my way through tough shooting situations.
The off-season is a great time to introduce advanced shooting techniques such as "Blind-Bale Shooting" into your practice regimen.
During those seasons when I failed to pick up my bow until late summer, I was essentially “relearning” all of the skills I had worked so hard on during the previous year. As a result, even though I was practicing, I wasn’t really making any strides in my ability to shoot well. Thankfully, I wasn’t loosing much either. But honestly, I definitely wasn’t getting any better. I quickly learned that maintaining some form of consistency during the off-season was the only way to really improve my proficiency to hit what I was aiming at in actual hunting situations. Some of this included just slinging arrows in the back yard. A good deal of it however, entailed actually shooting from a treestand, long-range shooting, and even up close, blank-bale shooting.
Shooting from the ground, in a kneeling position, while wearing a face-mask, can affect your odds of filling a tag; especially if you wait until the moment of truth to find out if doing so alters such things as anchor point and arrow flight.
I should also mention how important it is to make a good deal of your practice time “situational”. For example, if you primarily hunt above “terra-firma”, then you should conduct the majority of your practice sessions from a treestand. This will only add “realism” to the situation and better prepare you for the real thing; and, what better time to do this than during the boring winter months. In addition, shooting outside when it is cold allows you to evaluate your cold-weather gear for any potential interference problems with the bowstring. This can be hard to do in the heat of summer or just before opening day when temps are still high.
While everyone else is spending time doing something non-archery related, why not try out a new grip or arrow and broadhead combination. The new Mathews Focus grip is great for reducing hand-torque and the new NAP Big Nasty broadhead, along with the new Easton INJEXION arrows should prove to be leathal. It's never too late to start dialing things in and testing new gear.
Your ability to handle a pressure situation in the treestand can be increased by spending time behind the bowstring. There is no question that when your shooting skills improve----your confidence goes up. When your confidence goes up, so does your ability to manage pressure; simply because you expect to perform well. The old cliché that archery is 90% mental carries a lot of merit. Even if you only shoot a few arrows a week, that is better than laying the bow down for the entire off-season (until just a few weeks before opening day).
When the moment I have worked so hard for finally arrives......I want nothing more than to deliver. For me, this starts in the off-season.
I like to think that my bow is an extension of my arm. I maintain that feeling by making sure I don’t let too much time go by without launching some arrows downrange. When faced with an actual shot on a living, breathing animal, I want my mind and body to go into sort of an “auto-pilot” mode. That way, all I have to do is find the single hair I want to split….nothing more. Of course, I am only human and completely capable of screwing things up. However, I can decrease the chances of that happening by constantly sharpening my shooting skills----year round.
Next time we will discuss ways to improve our ability to fill tags. Again, post season is the optimum time-frame to accomplish this. However, there is more to it than aimlessly stumbling through the woods. You need to have a plan.