Advanced Archery Practice to Prep for Opening Day

By Darron McDougalJuly 11, 20191 Comment

There is a substantial difference between baseball-sized 20-yard groups and paper-plate sized 80-yard groups. Likewise, there’s a huge difference between shooting your backyard bag target and taking aim at a mature buck or bull, especially when you’ve worked incredibly hard for the opportunity in front of you. Backyard practice is great, and everyone should do it all summer long — all year, if possible. But, do you ever stop and wonder if your backyard slinging is actually preparing you for hunting? I’ve concluded that, for me, it only keeps my form sharp and confidence high. However, I don’t feel deadly until I stack challenges against myself and continue placing arrows in kill zones. There are numerous ways to take your bowhunting practice to the next level. In this article, I’ll discuss several advanced archery practice regimens that you can do before the fall seasons begin opening. Let’s review.

Archery practice

Backyard bow practice is beneficial to good shooting form and muscle memory, but it hardly replicates the realities and challenges you’ll face in the wild. (Photo by Becca McDougal)

Add Pressure

Shooting alone in your backyard or with a close family member is mini golf. There’s no pressure to produce, because you have nothing to prove. Now, get a group of several folks together and shoot a 3-D course at the local archery club. With the extra sets of eyes comes pressure to prove yourself, and that somewhat replicates how you feel during a hunting situation.

You can turn the pressure up a notch by shooting competitive archery. During a visit with decorated archer and bowhunter Randy Ulmer, he said that competitive archery closely resembles a bowhunting shot opportunity.

“Having experienced both, the rush of shooting competitively is so similar to shooting at a trophy animal,” Ulmer conveyed. “The only real differences are that, with an animal, you must determine if you have an ethical shot, and you must study the animal’s demeanor to determine when to shoot.

“Most bowhunters have a meltdown when they’re about to shoot at an animal,” Ulmer continued. “I hate to admit it, but it happens to me, too. Some folks suggest ignoring these emotions, but you can’t lie to yourself. I admit, yes, I’m scared to death, and, yes, my bow will shake. So, I resolve to make the very best shot possible under those circumstances.”

Bozeman 2nd-17 (Large)

Shooting a 3-D course in difficult terrain with the added pressure of bystanders will prepare you for a difficult bowhunting shot opportunity. (Photo by Becca McDougal)

Ulmer’s strategy matches my article’s objective — make your practice as similar to hunting as possible by adding pressure.

Add Adrenaline

This step is similar to the previous one, but let’s think of it as physical pressure. Get your ticker going by elevating your heart rate. I do this by sprinting 80-100 yards, picking up my bow and making a good shot despite my spiked physical condition.

Learn to control your breathing, which will somewhat steady your erratically bouncing sight pins. Practice good shot execution and all of the same shooting techniques you use in your backyard. You’ll find it difficult to do, but reaching the point where you make perfect shots with induced adrenaline will prepare you for hunting.

Add Terrain

Residing in the Midwest, I’d never taken my bowhunting practice to mountain elevations until last year when my wife and I joined some other industry folks to tour the Mystery Ranch Backpacks facility in Bozeman, Montana. Following the tour, we traveled south to Big Sky, Montana, where we all shot the Total Archery Challenge. It tested all of the categories I’m covering in this article. I highly suggest attending one if you haven’t previously. It’s the best hunting practice I’ve ever done.

So much changes when you get into the type of terrain you’ll be hunting. Big Sky terrain is quite similar to where I hunt elk, and targets were positioned for hunting-realistic shots, including steep inclines and declines. Not only were the shots difficult, but hoofing it between targets was similar to chasing elk. It simulated a typical mountain hunt very well and tested my skills to the maximum level. Best of all, I left the course feeling deadly and ready for my 2018 elk hunt because I shot quite well.

If the Total Archery Challenge doesn’t visit your city, do your best to challenge yourself by taking your backyard deer target to a terrain-rich environment and testing your skills against inclined and declined shots. You’ll learn very quickly if you’re truly ready for fall.

shooter hiking

If you want to truly become fall-ready, take your practice beyond the backyard into hunting-like environments. (Photo by Becca McDougal)

Add Consequences

Little can go wrong in the backyard on a 20-yard deer target. Put yourself in situations where missing will cost you something. Maybe it’s failure in front of bystanders like I mentioned in the first step. Or, maybe it’s sending an expensive arrow out into a pond or into a tree beyond the target. I’m not into gambling, but friendly bets at the range are harmless and involve a potential consequence, too. Overcoming the anxiety involved with possible consequences is great bowhunting practice.


Adding consequences to your shot placement will sharpen you up before fall. Place the target so that a miss will result in a broken or lost arrow. (Photo by Becca McDougal)

Advanced Archery Practice – Conclusion

Bowhunting is so much more challenging than backyard practice. That’s why it’s so important to weave the challenges I’ve presented here into your pre-season regimen. When you continually make great shots with challenges stacked up against you, then you know you’re ready for a moment-of-truth opportunity this fall.


Darron McDougal
Darron McDougal is a full-time freelance outdoor writer/editor who lives in Antigo, WI with his bride, Becca. He's hunted in 12 states and successfully taken elk, bear, hogs, turkeys, pronghorn, whitetails, and mule deer, most with archery equipment on DIY hunts. The McDougals enjoy all things hunting and shooting. They believe in God and love to travel.
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