As a bow hunter there are two timeless proverbs that ring true; aim small, miss small and practice makes perfect. These mottos could be applied for shooting any type of weapon; nonetheless it is the bow that is my armament of choice and that which I will be discussing. I have been hunting with a rifle, muzzle loader and shotgun since I was kid, but it is archery that I am obsessed with because of the greater challenges it presents. I shoot my Hoyt year round in my apartment, outside at my local range and in the woods where I actually hunt. I primarily shoot a block target out of convenience and the fact that I can take it literally anywhere I wish to sling arrows. However, there is nothing like practicing with a 3D target year-round to build confidence and improve accuracy. I have found that by duplicating the hunting experience as closely as possible when I shoot raises my self-assurance level dramatically. As a bow hunter I personally need this certainty to ward off negative factors such as doubt, hesitation and fear which can easily creep in when that monster bull gets within range.
To better prepare myself for bow season I regularly shoot at 3D targets in the woods. Depending on the season I use deer, turkey and bear targets which look incredibly realistic. This is a huge advantage in terms of simply getting used to shooting at an animal instead of a block covered with dots or a bull’s eye. Shooting a block or bag is great for repetitions and staying consistent yet this type of practice cannot compare to shooting a target that resembles the animals I hunt. This preparation helps to strengthen the imagination by creating a natural sense of what I will be actually facing when hunting. Getting used to aiming at the animal’s vitals is much harder when there isn’t a specific point to focus on. I think a big mistake a lot of us bow hunters make when practicing is getting too comfortable shooting only at marked dots instead of an area. Those giant ten pointers don’t walk around with bright red dots behind their front shoulders. It is important when shooting to be flexible and willing to adapt considering that anything can happen in real time. For this reason 3D targets are great for training the eye to aim and shoot at a specific area rather than a specific dot.
To become a successful bow hunter doesn’t happen overnight. It takes much more than occasionally pulling out the bow from the closet and flinging a couple rounds of arrows. Shooting regularly builds muscle memory which is so important when it comes to being proficient. Throughout the year I try to shoot as much as possible in the area where I actually hunt to make the situation as authentic as possible. To help create this sense of realism I employ 3D targets in a variety of ways. I use more than one target placed in difficult positions from various angles, distances and elevations. I shoot practice points and broad heads anywhere from 15 to 60 yards out with the highest concentration of shots near the 30 yard mark. Basically, I try to make my preparation as challenging as possible so that whatever scenario I could face in the Spring/Fall is what I want to experience when I shoot in the off-season. There is really no end to how far we can go as hunters to gain the upper hand on the animals we pursue. The more time I spend in the woods shooting 3D targets the better prepared I am once the season begins. With bow hunting preparation, repetition and conviction goes a long way towards filling tags and filling freezers.
When I first started bow hunting many years ago I didn’t shoot nearly enough and I wasn’t as specific with what I was trying to achieve. I was more or less just going through the motions shooting arrow after arrow at the same bull’s eye from the same distance. Over time I have learned that bow hunting is all in the details and once the bow becomes an extension of the hunter the more effective and confident he or she will be. This lesson was unfortunately learned by missing a couple quality bucks years ago. I believe that to be consistently successful means putting in the time and effort year round. Bow hunting for me is a lifestyle rather than a hobby and I owe it to the animals I hunt to be mentally prepared in order to take ethical shots that lead to quick kills. There are far too many animals each year that are not recovered due to poor shot selection because the hunter simply didn’t put in the time practicing beforehand. Once again practice makes perfect and aim small, miss small.