Growing up in Alaska, I was surrounded by rifle and shotgun hunters. We lived an almost completely subsistence lifestyle, fishing the rivers and ocean, and harvesting big game every season. My passion for big game hunting started to become more of an obsession in my teen years, but it wasn’t until my mid-20’s that I borrowed an old Martin Phantom compound from a good friend and began to practice. I started out shooting in my backyard, losing a few arrows in the process (they are definitely be in someone else’s backyard!) with a goal of harvesting a Northern California Columbia Blacktail with a bow. Four years later, I now shoot a 2014 Hoyt Faktor Turbo and would confidently shoot just about any big game I can get in range of with my bow, rather than a rifle! I wanted to take a moment to share a few tips I’ve learned or discovered that have helped me to hone my craft and skills along the way. I hope these benefit you, and please feel free to reach out to me on any @CaseyWildAdventures social media with any questions you might have!
- Practice MORE than you think you need to!
I have friends or acquaintances who may or may not even shoot one arrow before heading out during hunting season. Some get away with it. Most don’t! If you want to be successful, confident, know your limits, know what you can hit, and what you can’t….you must practice. As a riflehunter, I took a lot of big game animals without too much practice and with single-shot kills. I knew I could shoot and I knew my gun, so I’d check that it was sighted-in, and then go hunting. Bowhunting is different. Every factor that goes into a clean and ethical harvest or successful shot on the range is amplified by at least 10 when you pick up a bow. It is because of this amplification that I encourage you to practice more than you think you need to, and personally, I honestly find it to be such an enjoyable recreation and decompressor! “Practice” makes it sound like a chore, but really it’s such an enjoyable pasttime, and will really prepare you for that big moment!
- Practice at varying angles and shooting positions!
I always find it shocking how much can change out on the 3D range when shooting 40 yards downhill as apposed to horizontal. You’re standing with your feet planted firmly about shoulder width apart, stance slightly open. Your dream trophy elk is paused just off your front shoulder – perfect. You bring your bow to face the target, not “drawing up or down” and settle your pin…. You and I both know that there is about a 1 percent chance that you’ll get a shot like that in the field! This is bowhunting, NOT target archery! Like most backcountry bowhunters, I like to practice with the target at varying inclines and declines, at uneven yardages, and from a kneeling, sitting, or other position. A great 3D range with a course that enables this kind of shooting is a great place to become a member. I’ll also add here that I like to consistently push myself to be accurate and consistent at farther distances, so that 40 or 50 yards feels like a breeze.
- Get a release with an adjustable trigger.
Just like a rifle or handgun, the last thing you need is a sticky trigger. This will dramatically affect your accuracy, especially at farther distances. You should be able to find your aiming sequence, find your target, and squeeze off that almost imperceptible “applied pressure” rather than “pulling” the trigger. Go to a bow shop with your bow and try multiple releases to find this. Personally, I like an “open jaw” hook and light, adjustable trigger with zero travel, and have landed for now on the Spot-Hogg Wiseguy.
- Go to a bow pro shop (like The Bow Rack or other) and get a 30 minute lesson or two.
The best way to break bad shooting habits or form is never to have them in the first place! It’s way easier to learn good form before you trying to figure it out on your own. A good instructor will move your body around, make adjustments to your form, and build your draw/release cycle. Your body and muscles will feel all of the right form and motions, and you’ll develop from there. I’ll also say here that a great way to work on form is to take photos and videos of yourself as you shoot to review later. I like to watch shooters who are at the best in the business, and then compare and make adjustments to my own form. You can’t do this if you can’t watch yourself. I like video because you can actually watch your pre-draw setup, your draw cycle, your release, and your drop-away. These are all crucial parts to consistent shooting and success at the moment of truth on that $5,000.00 hunt!
- I’m going to combine two tips here on the last one, just to keep it at five 🙂
Number one: Every once in awhile, go to the sight-in range where there’s a big target and backdrop. Close your eyes and come to full draw, settling in as if you’re going to release. Now open your eyes and check your form. Most importantly, are you lined up with your peep and sight? This is a huge indicator if something is off and you just always adjust to it because your eyes are open! Did you find your anchor point? You can actually practice releasing a few arrows with your eyes closed, and I recommend it! Just PLEASE be sure you’re in a completely safe environment, at 10-20 yards from a large target with an even larger backdrop!
Number two: I discovered that the biggest thing I really needed to work on as I developed with my bow was eliminating hand torque. Hand torque comes from an improper hand positioning or grip and results in two things: the string being off the centerline of the cam and the sight being “off-center”. The result is erratic and inconsistent patterns. You need to be sure your hand is relaxed on the grip and that your hand is positioned so as not to torque your bow one direction or the other. The easiest place to start with this is to “make a stop sign” with your hand.
Picture a police officer directing traffic putting his hand out to say “Stop!” Do this with your hand! Your thumb should be at 1 or 2 o’clock and your fingers should be between 10 and 11 o’clock. I used to do this all the time as my muscles and brain developed ‘memory’. I still occasionally throw my hand out in a stop sign, or picture it in my head as I set up to draw. This is a great place to start with proper bow-hand form.
Secondly, I occasionally glance up at my upper cam to see if my string is tracking on center, or leaning to either side. If you are torqueing your bow to either side, your string will be off-center. This is a great way to do a check while you’re at full draw. If you look closely, you can see in the photo below that my eyes are glancing up at my upper cam 🙂
Even though only a small number of the many factors in successful backcountry bowhunting, I hope you’ve enjoyed these few tips! As I mentioned before, you’re welcome to hit me with any questions regarding gear or shooting on Facebook or Instagram – @CaseyWildAdventures.
Here is a short youtube video to get you pumped: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=H1lbkXc4Vh0&feature=youtu.be
#PracticeWithPurpose – Stephen