UPDATED ON: May 1st, 2015
Variety is the spice of life. Generally, that’s true of all things – including bowhunting. Every now and then, it’s good to try something new to make sure we’re at the top of our game. You don’t want the bowhunting world to leave you behind because you’re too set in your ways. The offseason is a perfect time to do some experimentation such as check out a new bow and/or try some new accessories, a new shooting style, or maybe work on your form; assuming it needs some tweaking. A good question to ask yourself is “How are you going to know if you can make some improvements unless you experiment with new things”? With that in mind, let’s look at some of the areas you can experiment with this off-season.
Is it time for a new bow? There seem to be two basic camps of bowhunters. Those who change bows frequently, and those who find one they like and keep shooting it until the wheels fall off – figuratively speaking, of course. Bow manufacturers make incremental improvements in their products every year. Cumulatively, those improvements add up over time. There’s nothing wrong with going for the latest and greatest each year, if you have the money to do it. But for the rest of us, figure that cumulative improvements add up to significant advances about every five or six years. That is, a top of the line bow one year is a technological dinosaur five or six years later. The new bows are faster, smoother, lighter, etc. They’re more efficient in virtually every way.
The offseason is a perfect time to check out new bows to see if it’s time to make an upgrade.
Go to your local archery shop and play around with the new bows. A good shop with its own range will let you try out anything. See how they feel. Does the bow draw easier than yours? Is there less hand shock? Is it faster? If the answers are “yes, yes, yes,” then you know you’re holding an instrument that will allow you to deliver arrows on target more effectively than yours. Switching to a new bow in the offseason gives you plenty of time to become familiar with every aspect of it by the time hunting season rolls around. It also gives you time to become proficient with it.
The offseason is also the perfect time to try out some new accessories for your bow. Let’s start with sights. Pretty much all bowhunting sights feature fiber-optic pins. Did you know those pins come in various sizes? The smaller the pin, the more precise you can be with your aiming. However, small pins are more difficult to see in low light than larger pins. So which one is right for you?
The most common pin sizes are .10, .19, .29 and .39, with .39 being the largest and .10 being the smallest. Try a couple different sizes in varying light conditions to see which one performs best for your eyes. Just because .10 is the smallest, doesn’t mean it’s the one you should choose to achieve optimum accuracy. You might have trouble seeing that pin. But on the other hand, the .39 pin might be so big that it covers too much of the target, and you might not be able to achieve pinpoint accuracy.
Maybe a new sight is what you need to improve your shooting.
Long sight bars allow you to be more accurate than short ones. Hold a pencil point right in front of your eye, then push it out to arm’s length. You’ll notice you can be more precise in using that point for aiming at arm’s length. But a long sight bar also can create more problems maneuvering your bow, especially if you hunt from a ground blind. What’s best for you? You won’t know until you try a couple sights.
Stabilizers help keep the bow steady while you’re aiming. And a stabilizer performs best when you concentrate its weight at the very end, away from your bow, as far away from the bow as you can get it. Target archers use stabilizers that are as long as 36 inches. Bowhunters probably don’t want to lug something like that around the woods, which is why 12 inches generally is considered the maximum length for a bowhunting stabilizer. Have you ever shot with a 12-inch stabilizer, with 8, 12 or 14 ounces of weight at the very end? Try it and see if you find something you like. Maybe your bow arm tends to move all over the place with the stubby, 4-inch stabilizer you’ve been using, but you find your pins settle down with a 12-incher tipped with a 10-ounce weight. Steady pins lead to more bull’s-eyes.
Try out different stabilizers in the offseason.
Some hunters swear by T-handle releases. Others love the triggers that strap to their wrists. Some even like a back-tension release. Try a couple different releases to see if you are using the one that suits you best. Also, not all releases function the same. There are calipers that require only slight pressure to set them off, versus jaws that only open as far as you pull the trigger. To open the jaws totally, you have to pull the trigger all the way back.
Try out different releases in the offseason.
Broadheads can be the most frustrating piece of equipment bowhunters deal with. Some fly great for one guy, but poorly for another. There are many reasons why broadheads don’t fly well. We’re not going to get into all that here. The bottom line is, you need ones that work for you. Have you been using fixed-blade heads? Or have you opted for expandables? If you’re thinking of switching, the offseason is the time to play around. Get packs of different heads and put them through the paces. See which ones fly best on your arrows, from your bow.
Any one of us can develop bad shooting habits over the course of a year. They creep into our form without us thinking about it, and they’ll hang around until we do something to root them out. The most troubling thing about bad shooting habits is they are just that – habits. That means they feel normal to the shooter. Changing to proper form is going to feel abnormal, until you’ve practiced it so much that it becomes the norm for you. Go to an archery pro shop and ask one of the experts to check out your form to see if you’re doing everything correctly. The archery community is pretty generous, and I’ll bet you’ll have no problem getting this advice for free. You can even get helpful advice from archery forums.
This photo shows a common “improper” positioning of the hand on a bow. Notice how the knuckles are straight up and down, like someone grips a pistol.
It is said the most common error in form among bowhunters is hand position on the bow grip. Many, many hunters want to hold that grip like it’s a pistol. That’s a recipe for disaster. Actually, it’s a recipe for torque. If you’re holding a bow like it’s a handgun, you’re very likely to torque the handle left or right the instant you release the string. To get proper hand positioning, hold your bow arm out straight and open your fingers so that you form a “V” with your forefinger and thumb. Set the bow vertically right inside that V and relax your fingers. If done properly, the knuckles of your four fingers should extend at about a 65-degree angle away from the handle.
This photo shows proper hand position on a bow. Notice how the knuckles extend out from the riser at an angle.
Conversely, when you grip the bow like a pistol, your knuckles will be lined up straight up and down, parallel with the riser. With proper hand position, the only influence your hand should have on the bow is to push it straight away from your body. And when you do that, your arrows will fly true. Don’t Choke Archery (dontchokearchery.com) makes a training tool called the True Shot Coach that will teach you perfect hand position. It’s a small pad that slides over your first three fingers and sits on the inside of your hand. With it on, you can only hold the bow in the correct position.
The True Shot Coach promotes proper hand position on a bow.
New Shooting Positions
The last thing you want to have happen on a hunt is to attempt a shot from a position you’re not used to, while drawing on a game animal. The moment of truth is stressful enough under perfect conditions. Your heart is racing, your body is shaking, your nerves are tweaking. In that moment, you want the act of shooting to be instinctive. You want to be so rehearsed that your body just goes on autopilot and executes the shot without you really thinking about it too much. So if you’re planning to start using a ground blind next season, you might want to spend the offseason shooting from a chair. You’ll be surprised how different a shot feels just by sitting down. Do you want to shoot while holding the bow between your legs? Or are you better turning sideways, so both legs are behind the bow? You won’t know until you practice. But drawing on a big whitetail is not the time to try to figure that out.
Use the offseason to become proficient at new shooting positions, such as sitting down, if you intend to hunt from a ground blind.
Perhaps you’re planning a spot-and-stalk bowhunt for antelope this fall. Such a hunt often calls for shooting from your knees. It’s easy to stabilize your body when you’re on your feet. It’s not so easy from your knees, since you won’t have the stable platform your feet provide. Practice often from your knees in the offseason, so it’s a perfectly natural act by the time you’re on the hunt.
On spot and stalk hunts, shooting from a kneeling position is often required.
Archery has been advancing at breakneck speed the past decade or so. Either you keep up, or you get left behind. And if you’re going to change something in your gear or your form, now’s the time to do it. You want everything dialed in come opening day.