LAST UPDATED: May 1st, 2015
I jumped off the lawnmower as I wrapped up mowing the back field behind our house right at last light. I had hoped to spend the last 30 minutes of daylight flinging arrows at targets but the chores took longer than expected. Darkness was coming quick as I walked back up to the deck behind the house. “It’s really too late to shoot,” I thought as I grabbed my Creed XS bow and a handful of arrows. Low light, difficulty in picking a spot on the target and struggling to see through my peep would be just a few of the obstacles to overcome in this practice session. This would honestly be some of the most realistic practice for actual hunting situations I’ll encounter this fall.
As hunting season draws near it is important to put ourselves into realistic practice scenarios. We do ourselves an injustice by only practicing under perfect conditions. Think about what hunting season brings our way each year. Rain, snow, wind, slick treestands, dark ground blinds, first light, last light, sun in our face, sweat in our eyes, heart beating out of our chest…just another day in the life of a bowhunter, right? So why don’t we try to simulate these situations in our practice routine? I’ll admit, I love nice, pretty days to shoot my bow in the back yard. It’s therapeutic, no doubt. But with hunting season on the way it is now time to move our mindset from punching foam to drawing blood as we prepare for opening day.
Practice for First & Last Light
My last-light practice regimen last night was a great preparation for helping acclimate my mind and gear for that last opportunity at a buck before legal shooting light is gone. Most of us have been there before and if you haven’t trust me, you will. About the time you’re ready to call it quits and climb down from your stand you hear the sounds of leaves crunching as a deer makes its way to your stand. Big bucks seem to be the biggest culprits of this. When legal light and ethical shot opportunities are in play, you need to be ready to capitalize on the situation.
Practice shooting in these low-light situations to know if and how well you can see through your peep sight. Regardless of low light you still must pick a spot. Can you get it done? If not you may want to look into a larger peep sight, say ¼” version that is favored by many bow hunters.
Plenty of trophy bucks have escaped hunters unscathed thanks to low light conditions. Know the limitations of your gear and your ability in order to capitalize on these situations when they arise.
This is also the ideal time to test the brightness of your fiber optic sight pins. Low light practice routines will help you determine whether you’ve got a good quality bow sight, or whether you’re ready for an upgrade. Most modern sights, such as those from HHA Sports, feature several feet of fiber optics to ensure optimal brightness. And if that’s not enough, many sights feature rheostat lights to provide the ultimate in pin visibility. Just be sure to consult your local game regulations as sight lights aren’t legal in all areas.
Wind & Rain
Nobody really wants to practice in the rain. Nor is it wise to try and dial in your sight pins when the wind is wild. However it is imperative to know how you’ll handle these situations on the hunt. How does your bow, arrow rest, sight, and arrow perform when drenched? Rain or shine, you want to have confidence that your bow gear will perform flawlessly. The next rainy day pick up year gear and head out to the range and see how well you perform.
The wind is another big factor for many hunters depending on what part of the country you’ll be hunting. Antelope season cranks up next month across the West. Gusty winds are common place across the open prairies that antelope call home. Knowing how to make the shot in a stiff wind can mean the difference in success and an unpunched tag.
Western bowhunting can present you with some long range shots from awkward positions. If you hope to come home with an additional taxidermy bill then practicing for these situations is a must.
Sitting, Sweating, & Heart Pounding
Be sure to take the time to practice the different scenarios that’ll you’ll encounter throughout the season. The windows in my Double Bull ground blinds have been sliced by broadheads more time than I can count. I once filmed a buddy of mine empty his quiver on a longbeard just 15 yards from the blind. After a few shots he finally realized his arrows were hitting the fabric at the bottom of the ground blind window. It’s a classic mistake when hunting in the ground blind for the first time. Be sure to practice shooting from the blind before your hunt. Practice taking shots from a kneeling position as well as from a ground blind chair or stool.
Shooting from inside a dark ground blind from a chair or stool can be a tough task for any archer. If you plan on taking to the tent this fall make sure you practice first.
I also like to shoot a few arrows immediately following a cardio workout to simulate a heart pounding buck fever experience. Go for a run, bike ride, or climb up and down a set of stairs. Get your heart rate up and then see how you do trying to hold your pins steady on the target. You may find it harder than you think to shoot accurately when you have sweat stinging your eyes, your heart is racing, and you can hardly breathe.
Hosting a friendly competition with some of your buddies can help get your heart pumping and the adrenaline flowing. Try shooting on one leg as an additional measure of difficulty and see how well you perform under pressure.
When you think about how we practice in the pre-season compared to the hunting situations we’ll encounter in the fall you quickly realize we often fail to keep it real. Practicing from a standing position while shooting at a ground-level target under perfect weather conditions will not sufficiently prepare you for the moment of truth in the hunting scenario. Be sure to take the time to prepare for your upcoming bow hunts with a more realistic practice routine in the days leading up to the opener.