A fat corn fed whitetail doe stepped into an opening behind my tree stand with a purpose in her quick gait and scampered down the creek draw away from me. A big Iowa buck followed seconds later. He was through the shooting lane much too fast for a shot as he intently dogged his chosen love interest. In desperation, I grunted loudly three short times then blew one long draw out bawl from my ever-present grunt tube. I thought it was hopeless, certain no buck would choose to leave a hot doe just to pick a fight with me. Three minutes later, like magic, his rack appeared traveling up the creek bottom looking for the grunting adversary. I came to full draw and waited for his final step in my shooting lane. He stopped and trashed a tree with his impressive rack, offering me no shot. The sight of those impressive antlers raking up and down that tree is a memory I’ll never forget, I can only guess he was warming up for the big brawl. My muscles reached the point of no return and I had to let my bow down. The adrenalin was really starting to kick in, both mine and his! In a flash he bounded up the steep draw and was directly under my stand with fire in his eyes. Months of practice paid off as my bow came to my anchor point followed by a smooth release without me really having to think. I guess you could say I was on “autopilot.” My Matthews performed flawlessly and silently. My arrow disappeared behind the massive buck’s shoulder. I watched him sprint across the field and heard him go down just out of sight.
In the heat if the moment all your actions have to be ingrained into your memory. You could be on an expensive out of state hunt or have the buck of a lifetime walk under your favorite home stand. However you get to the shot, even the very best hunter in the top locals will get only limited opportunities at “THE” buck, bull, boar, ram, or whatever you desire. You have to make the most of that and only a consistent off (and during) season regiment will insure success.
Practice is what makes perfect. Know what the top golfer’s do after a tournament? They head straight to the practice range. Practice builds muscle memory, and this is what you need for thoughtless performance when your mind is addled by the giant buck that just walked into sight. Practice proper form. Concentrate on each arrow. I generally leave my bow by my back sliding glass door. Whenever I walk by I pick it up and shoot one arrow at my full sized buck target standing out in the backyard. I may do this a dozen times a day, but only one arrow. I also have marathon sessions with my friends shooting out to 70 yards, this builds muscle and confidence. I have never shot at a deer at 70 yards, but 30 yards seem awful close after steady shooting at twice that distance. I once watched my friend Mike smoke a pronghorn at 75yards in South Dakota. We had been daily shooting out to 80 yards in preparation for that hunt. We had never seen an antelope prior to that hunt. We went completely on our own, on public land, and killed 2 bucks spot and stalk. We never could have done that without steady practice and being in top shape. We met at least 20 other bow hunters during that hunt who were yearly regulars. Only one other person we met had success besides us.
Bow proficiency, muscle strength, and accuracy are only part of the picture. Many people fail to see the importance of physical training. On that antelope hunt we covered dozens of miles under a blazing sun, scurrying down washes in a full run while maintaining a crouch position. Let’s see someone do that when they are out of shape, then try to make a shot that you are going to have make in seconds when you pop your head up over the dip in that cactus covered moonscape that you had been hiding behind. I maintain a year round cardio and weight training program. You don’t have to be a marathon runner or Mr. Universe, but being in shape will get you more game, period. Stamina is important; I hunt dark to dark often, and have shot as many bucks at last light as I have at dawn. Tired and fatigued hunters can’t expect to be as proficient as someone who is still fresh hours into the hunt. We would not have had the success we had in South Dakota if we spent mid-day resting in an air-conditioned motel room. My hunting here in New York is all done with climbing stands. I pack my stand and bow sometimes a mile uphill, then climb a tree and sit for hours at a time. Again; a tough feat if you are out of shape; not to mention getting my deer out of the woods when successful.
Work hard in the off season and you will have a better chance of being lucky when the opportunity presents itself. Many hunters neglect their shooting once the season starts, this is a big mistake. The colder the weather gets, the harder it is for your muscles to work. So continue to shoot all through the season. I hunt 2 ½ months solid; think how out of tune my muscles would get by the time December rolls around if I stopped shooting my bow. It’s not too late to start for this season. By a wide margin, more giant bucks have been shot on November 7th than any other day of the year. You could be in great shape by then if you start today!!