By Bob Humphrey
As they reached their destination, novice bowhunter Van Holmes turned to his outfitter, Scott Sanderford of Croton Creek, and asked if he had any last minute advice. Sanderford turned to Holmes and succinctly replied, “Don’t miss.” It sounds simple enough, in theory, but sometimes falls short in practice.
And practice is the key component to reducing the chances of a miss. Bowhunting requires far more practice than gun hunting. The shooter is part of the equipment. You’ve got to become first familiar, then proficient with your bow and arrow combination.
Start close, at 15 or 20 yards. Adjust your sight pins, then keep shooting until you can consistently place your arrows in a tight group -- four inches or less. Then move back in 10 yard increments, setting successive pins and achieving consistent groups. When you get to the point where you can no longer consistently group arrows, you’ve reached your maximum effective distance -- on the range. Hunting conditions vary, so you should scale it back a bit under field conditions.
You should also practice under field conditions. Standing on flat ground in an open field won’t fully prepare you for hunting. If you’re going to hunt from an elevated platform, practice from one. The higher you sit, the less the effect of gravity will be on your arrow, which could result in you hitting higher than your practiced point of aim. If you’ll be hunting from a ground blind, practice from one, sitting in a chair, as any change in position can affect shooting form, and accuracy.
It’s also a good idea to practice on 3-D targets. Deer, and other game, aren’t square, and don’t have perfectly placed dots where you’re supposed to aim. Practicing on a 3-D target gets you more accustomed to picking a spot where there isn’t one, and will help immensely when you have to do it on the real thing.
Lots of folks travel away from home to hunt. If you do, make sure you practice after you arrive at your destination, and before you hunt. There are several good reasons for this. One is that your sights could have changed, particularly if you flew. The rigors of air travel can wreak havoc on delicate equipment.
Another reason is different conditions. Changes in elevation, climate and temperature can sometimes have subtle effects on your sights, possibly requiring minor but important adjustments.
Different environments can also affect the shooter. Easterners used to hunting in thick woods often have a much more difficult time judging distance in more open terrain of the west. Practice not only shooting, but judging distances. A range finder can be a real asset both for practice and hunting.
Practice gets you more familiar, comfortable and proficient with your equipment. More importantly, it builds muscle memory. The ultimate objective is to reach a point where you are practiced enough so you no longer have to think about the process when the moment of truth arrives. It becomes automatic, making you less prone to error.