With the Utah archery hunt only a few weeks away, it’s time to get serious about pre-hunt preparation. Over the years we’ve discussed several ways to prepare for the hunt; things like exercise, scouting, mediation, and shot execution. But I would argue that nothing gets you ready like hitting the 3D archery range.
What is a 3D range?
A 3D range is simply a series of life-size, foam animal targets set up in a natural environment. The targets are roughly the same size and color as the real animal. Just like regular square targets, 3D targets have a series of concentric circles overlaying the vitals, but are nearly impossible to see at any distance. This aids in proper shot placement, yet allows for scoring your shot.
How is a 3D range beneficial?
How is it NOT!? A good outdoor range is set up in a life-like manner so that some shots are uphill/downhill, often through brush and trees, and at various random yardages. Add to that odd angles, wind, bugs buzzing around your head, uneven terrain, sun in your eyes, back lit targets, and sweltering heat…well it’s a recipe for a real-life hunting experience! And that’s why it’s so crucial to try it at least once before the season starts. Besides, it’s a ton of fun for everyone.
What can I expect to learn at the 3D range?
A lot! Right away you’ll be disappointed at your lack of skills; and that’s the point. Most people start the summer by shooting in their backyard on flat ground, all while shooting square targets with brightly colored bullseyes. That might be great for sighting in your bow, but over time it does more harm than good because you’re training your mind to shoot under very predictable circumstances. The 3D range–on the other hand–mimics the adverse conditions you’ll certainly find in the woods, and really trains the mind to expect the unexpected, a skill that’ll prove invaluable afield.
How can I maximize my 3D experience?
I’m glad you asked. The most effective way to practice is to shoot two arrows per target: the first arrow is shot without using a rangefinder, and the second is shot after ranging the target. This really helps to train your eye to judge distances for situations where there’s no time to range the animal before the shot.
Next, you’ll want to shoot in various body positions: standing, kneeling, or even squatting to keep your arrow from hitting an overhanging branch.
For the best possible experience, hit the range with a buddy or two, and be sure to keep score. After teaching archery for four years, I’ve found the best way to tighten up an arrow grouping is to engage in a little competition. Pride is usually enough, but toss in a few bucks and watch the competition soar.
No matter what state you live in there’s likely a 3D range nearby. (Just google it). If you don’t have a range, you can always purchase 3D targets from any outdoor retailer. Unfortunately 3D targets are quite expensive, but having one or two will prove invaluable if you apply the aforementioned regimen.
I suggest visiting a few different ranges, and then concentrate on the most challenging one. For best results bring some friends and really push yourself. Shooting the 3D range is the most effective way I’ve found to improve your shooting skills before entering the woods. And believe me, golf will never be the same.
While bow hunting last year, it occurred to me that success can be divided into three equally important pillars. To put it in perspective, I created the diagram below:
Think back to your last hunt. Were you successful? If not, which pillar did you fall short on? Since each step is equally important, it should be easy to pinpoint where you need improvement.
Let’s break it down:
The first step, locating a buck, is something you can start doing right now. The best way to locate more bucks is to study their behavior, habitat, and ecology. You can also research harvest data and biologist’s reports on the unit you are planning to hunt. Then later, the scouting begins.
The second step, stalking a buck, is not always intuitive. Getting close to big bucks is the hardest step to master because, unlike shooting, it’s something we rarely get to practice. What it really boils down to patience: knowing when and how fast to move depending on conditions such as wind and cover.
Finally, shot execution. Almost everyone I talk to is pro-class shooter…until their arrow flies wide of an unsuspecting buck. Bowhunters are lucky just to get one or two shot opportunities in a season, so it’s very important to prepare for real-life hunting scenarios in advance. The best way to do this is to practice shooting in different positions, unknown yardages, around objects, and in adverse conditions such as wind.
I’ll certainly keep this “wheel of success” in mind when going into the next hunting season. I call it a ‘wheel’ because it just keeps on turning, year after year. After completing all three steps in a season, it begins again the following year. The goal is to keep the wheel from going in REVERSE, which only happens when you blow a stalk or botch a shot.
Watching my arrow sail harmlessly over a world-class buck at 50 yards wasn’t heartbreaking; it was traumatizing! After replaying the shot over and over for a year, I concluded it was either an error in ranging, or more likely I settled the wrong pin (60-yard?) due to buck fever. Consequently I made some drastic changes to my bow setup last year, starting with my bow sight.
For years I used a standard multi-pin, fiber-optic bow sight. When the single-pin (slider) sight came out, I wrote it off as just another unnecessary gadget which would likely introduce more problems than anything. But after carefully weighing the pros and cons, I decided to try it–and I’ll NEVER go back.
1) It’s far easier to focus a single pin on a small target than to wade through multiple-pins–or worse yet, shooting between the pins–especially under high stress.
2) Multiple pins–whether 5 or 7–take up way too much space in the sight picture. A long row of pins is not only distracting, but blocks too much of the target or animal’s vitals.
3) If you’re shooting heavy arrows and/or pulling a light draw weight, the pins on a multi-pin sight will be spaced widely apart. This adversely affects accuracy. A single-pin sight that can be dialed to the exact yardage has proven to be far more accurate in my experience.
1) The most obvious drawback to a single-pin sight is that every time the animal moves, you have to re-adjust the sight. If the animal moves a lot, or is walking towards you, it can be very frustrating. But after actually using it in the field (and arrowing three animals in 2016), I realized just how rare these scenarios occur. In most cases you’ll have plenty of time to range the animal and move the slider; it only takes a second.
2) Moving a single-pin sight creates extra movement. Again, this proved to be a nonfactor. When hunting thick timber, I leave my pin set at 20 yards and don’t worry about it. If an animal busts out at 25-30 yards, I just have to hold a little higher. When I’m hunting more open terrain I leave the pin at 30 or 40 yards, but it really doesn’t matter because animals that far out are usually calm and won’t notice the slight movement of my hand. After all, just drawing your bow creates far more movement than scrolling a slider wheel.
Just about every archery manufacturer makes a single-pin sight now. My only recommendation is buy a sturdy, all-aluminum model that can stand up to the rigors of hunting.
If you’re not yet ready to commit to a single-pin sight, then you should consider a hybrid sight. In a hybrid sight the top few pins are fixed, but the bottom pin is movable. This solves most issues listed above, but again, you still have multiple pins blocking the target. My advice is to keep it simple: one pin, one man, one giant buck.
The bowhunt is a only a few days away and the anticipation is making me crazy! How bout you?
The question that continually haunts me is how big-a-buck should I pass up? My goal is always a 200-inch buck, but what if a 195″ walks by? What about a great 170″ drop-tine?
Most bowhunters are just happy with any mature buck. Novice hunters might be happy with a spike or forked-horn. Others would be fine just putting meat in the freezer, horns be damned.
In order to make the decision to pass easier, I’ve compiled a short list of things to consider before you loose an arrow:
1. Are you more concerned with meat or horns? Maybe both? After all, meat comes with horns–it’s an added bonus. I don’t believe in killing deer simply for horns. To me, the meat is sacred. That being said, the bigger the buck, the more meat. A big, mature buck can weigh twice as much as a yearling, making trophy hunting a meat-wise prospect.
2. How many days are available for your hunt? If you’re seriously limited–like just the weekend–then any buck is a great buck! But if you really don’t need the meat, then holding out and eating the tag is quite okay. There will be more deer next year.
When I first started bowhunting, I only had four days to get it done. My system was easy: First day 4-point, second day 3 or 4 point, third day 3 point, fourth day anything!
3. Are you hunting a quality area? If so, you can expect multiple opportunities. So it just makes sense to hold out for a quality buck. If your area sucks, then any buck would be great.
4. If the buck in front of you is good, but not great, ask yourself, “Will I be happy with this buck once it’s down? Is this buck worth blowing my entire season on?”
These are important questions, especially for the seasoned hunter. You’re not getting any younger. If the buck doesn’t meet your goals, you may have serious regets for the next 12 months.
Many years ago, I would be tickled pink with any mature buck. For the longest time, I would pull an arrow at the slightest hint of a buck. Now, in order avoid year-long regret, I refuse to pull an arrow until I’ve summed up the buck and am absolutely sure it’s the one I’d be happy with. Once my arrow is nocked I’m in killing mode and it’s a lot harder to let the buck walk.
In the end, the decision to shoot is completely yours and should be based solely on your own personal goals. Pressure to succeed should come from one’s own desire to progress as a hunter, and not from your ego or desire to impress other people.
During last year’s bowhunt I missed a 50-yard shot at a pretty decent buck. Since then, I’ve pondered the miss hundreds of times in effort to pin-point exactly what went wrong.
There were many factors to consider: steepness of angle, a crappy rangefinder, holding the wrong pin, buck fever, etc.
By the time I patterned the buck, the season was over and the buck had disappeared. In order to avoid making the same mistake(s), I’ve addressed every possible variable:
1. I replaced my old rangefinder with one that calculates angles AND can actually see through brush to avoid false readings.
2. I switched to a single pin sight in order to eliminate wrong pin selection and pin-gapping issues under pressure.
3. I dialed up my bow poundage in order to get a flatter arrow trajectory.
4. I began shooting steeper angles.
My summer schedule is a consummate nightmare, so rarely can I go to the mountains and shoot angles. So I found the highest point in my yard (my rooftop) and began shooting from there.
There’s an old saying: “What a fool does in the end, the wise man does in the beginning.” At this point, I implore you to anticipate the worst possible shot scenario and practice for it. Do whatever it takes, because big bucks rarely give you a second chance.
Hello Zenbowhunter blog readers. Today marks my 100th blog post. After a year and a half in the making, my little archery/hunting blog is still going strong thanks to you, my loyal readers. My sincere hope is that everyone has enjoyed at least some of my articles and posts. I truly believe there’s something here for everyone, not just hunters.
One of my greatest passions in life is seeking self-improvement through archery. Archery is an individual sport, which means each person learns and grows at his own pace. There is no competition or pressure to succeed, except from yourself. Most people find archery (and bowhunting) to be a wonderful, meditative way to achieve clarity and peace and even Zen. After all, Zen-through-archery has been taught in Japan for a thousand years. My goal in this blog is to help you succeed in both Zen-archery and in life. Once a person achieves ‘Zen’, he realizes he can do anything he puts his mind to.
On a personal hunting note, we are now entering the peak of the mule deer rut in Utah. This means the biggest bucks will be climbing out of the high mountains to participate in the annual mating ritual. For those of you that still have an unused archery tag, it’s going to be an exciting (and COLD) month. Maybe I’ll see you in the hills.
Best of luck in your own endeavors, and may the Zen-force be with you!
Now that spring is here, you’ve probably taken your bow out, dusted it off, and sent some arrows downrange. Maybe some were bullseyes while some were errant, but it’s early yet and there’s always room for improvement.
In the last ten years I’ve worked tirelessly at becoming a better hunter. But at the same time, I’ve also developed some bad habits. These habits are common to most archers and include punching the release and lack of follow-through. What you do at the end of your release has the greatest effect on accuracy. So in today’s lesson we’re going to relearn how to shoot.
Bad shooting habits develop because we’re too focused on hitting the bullseye. Everyone knows that humans can only focus on one thing at a time. Ironically, if we focus too hard on the bullseye, we’ll actually miss it!
Here’s the fix:
RELAX!: A famous target archer once said, “A relaxed mind cannot exist in a tense body, and a tense mind cannot exist in a relaxed body.” More than anything else, the bow and arrow fights relaxation. First, there’s the mental stress of hitting the bullseye, especially in a hunting or competition. Second, when you draw your bow, your whole body becomes physically tense as it struggles to crank back and hold all that weight. So, now your mind and body are under duress. Your fight and flight response takes over and all that matters in the world is getting rid of that arrow. Now STOP! Tell yourself you will not release until you calm down. Breathe in and out a couple times. Put your sight pin on the bullseye, then take it off, and put it back on again. Who cares if you miss? Refuse to shoot until you are completely calm. Eventually this will become habit and will have the greatest effect on your accuracy.
The Open Grip: By now you probably know how to grip your bow, but it’s worth another look. First, your bow’s grip should begin at U-shape between your thumb and index finger. Second, your grip should contact your hand along your life line (the line that separates the fleshy part of your thumb and middle of your palm. Third, the grip should end at the center of your palm where your wrist begins. If you do this correctly, the middle knuckles of your bow hand will form a 45-degree angle slanted away from your grip. NOW, this is only the beginning. When you draw your bow, your fingers should be relaxed and open away from the bow’s grip. Your fingers should remain relaxed throughout the entire shot. The best way to do this is to make an “okay” sign with your index finger and thumb lightly touching. Your hand must remain like this throughout the entire shot.
Follow-Through: Seems simple, right?! It’s not. Again, you can only focus on one thing, so if you’re still aiming at this point, then you’re not following through. Aiming should go as far as letting the pin float tiny circles around the bullseye. At that point, your only focus should be on pushing the bow forward with your bow arm, and steadily pulling the string back with your release hand. The pin floats almost subconsciously while your focus floats freely and relaxingly between back tension, breathing, and oblivion. Oblivion is where you are free of all anticipation, free of all tension, and free of all distraction. All the technicalities of archery have become one simple action (form) and relegated to your subconscious mind. With nothing left to distract you, you are free; you are in the moment, perfectly centered between the future and the past.
The goal of archery is to relax: relax your grip, relax your body, and relax your mind. At this point, the bow is loosed on its own terms. The bow-and-arrow is accurate every time, subject only to the laws of nature which are fixed. The only variable is the shooter. The greatest obstacle YOU and how you influence the shot. When can master yourself, you will experience perfect archery with every shot.
Note: I posted a video in my next blog that demonstrates the 3 steps to better archery. Here is the Video Link.
Advanced shooters make archery look effortless, but it’s only because they’ve put in countless hours mastering the basics. Over time, the many components of form become one single subconscious step that simply happens in the background of the mind. Here are some key tips for improving your shot.
#1: Keep both eyes open
Keeping both eyes open gives you a better sight picture. This is especially important for traditional bows. Because there aren’t any sights on a traditional bow, your focus should be on the target. To acquire a more accurate target, try keeping both eyes open. I still do this on the compound bow, especially if I’m unsure of the exact distance. Keeping both eyes open gives me more dimensionality to the target. Everything you do all day requires you to keep both eyes open, so why would you close one eye when shooting?
If you close one eye, you are viewing the world in 2D, not 3D. This is not something your brain is used to doing. Because I don’t view the world in two dimensions, I don’t aim at the target in two dimensions either.
#2: Don’t Aim
Proper archery form begins with feet placement, gripping the bow, and drawing the string to your anchor point. It ends with aiming, releasing, and following through. Of all these fundamentals, aiming is the easiest and least important.
In traditional archery, aiming is accomplished by simply pointing the tip of the arrow at a spot on the target. In the time it takes to master the other fundamentals of form, aiming will have become “instinctive.” Therefore, your main focus should really be on consistent form and follow through. If your form is correct, the arrow will eventually find the bull’s-eye.
Note: Correct aiming happens by aligning the string with your right eye (if you’re right-handed). This can only be done by touching the string to the side or tip of your nose. I won’t even loose an arrow unless I feel the string on the side of my nose. And no, it doesn’t hurt at all.
#3: Touch your ear
What am I talking about, ‘touching your ear?’ After each shot your release hand should brush past your face and end up touching your ear. If you make this a habit on every shot, I guarantee your accuracy will improve immediately. That’s because your release hand needs to continue in a straight line backwards from the string. If you allow your release hand to move outwards, upwards, or downwards, then the string will be pulled, or plucked, out of alignment. This will cause the arrow to wobble or deflect side to side.
#4: Don’t flinch
Where the bow goes, the arrow goes. Flinching is a major no-no in proper follow through. Flinching will cause the arrow to miss high or low. The two biggest indicators of flinching are a) you dropping or raising your bow arm at the shot, or b) lifting your head to see where the arrow hits.
Neither your head nor your bow arm should move up or down until the arrow hits the target. It’s normal for the bow to rock forward or back upon release, but your arm should still hold perfectly straight and pointed at the target until the arrow hits. Your head—which is slightly cocked to the side—should remain solid as well.
The best way to avoid flinching is to have a surprise release. A common mistake is anticipating the shot by concentrating on the release hand instead of follow through. All your focus should be on form! As you reach your anchor point, the arrow and string will simply pull free as you relax your release hand. If you concentrate on your release hand, the string will jerk out of your hand and the arrow will miss the target.
#5: Use your back muscles
All the power used to draw the bow comes from your back, not your arms. I often refer to the arms as “deadposts” because they serve one function: holding the bow. The real power comes from your back muscles. This power is simply transferred to the bow and arrow through your arms. Think of you arms as electric power lines which hang loosely in the air. The lines don’t create the tremendous power that surges through them, the power plant does.
The best way to transfer power from your back is to stand as erect as possible and concentrate on squeeze your shoulder blades together. Upon release, your shoulder blades will continue pulling together—almost touching—while your arms pull away from each other in opposite directions. This is the only way to load the bow with the necessary power for proper shot execution.
#6: Don’t pinch the string (Doesn’t apply to compound bows.)
In beginning archery the most common problem is simply keeping the arrow from falling off the shelf/arrow rest. At least 50% of my students have a hard time getting the arrow to stay on the bow long enough to shoot.
This is caused by over-gripping or pinching the string. The string is gripped with three fingers: index, middle, and ring. As you draw the bow, the fingers pinch tighter together. If they pinch too much, it puts pressure on the nock and causes the arrow to pull off the shelf. To keep this from happening, simply leave a slight, eighth-inch gap between your fingers as you draw the bow. This problem will fix itself rather quickly with a little practice. As frustrating as it might be at first, your hand will eventually figure out how to keep the arrow on the shelf.
#7: Missing left and right
Missing left or right is caused by torquing, or over-gripping, the bow with your bow arm. I call it the “death grip.” People death-grip the bow because they feel like they need to control the tremendous energy they’ve loaded into the bow at full draw. Heavy bows have so much power that we think they might fly back into our face if we don’t grasp them tightly. But if you grip the bow too tightly, you’ll force the bow left or right, and where the bow goes, the arrow goes.
In reality, all that force you’re holding simply leaves with the arrow and the bow falls limply into your hand. To avoid torquing the bow, you must let the bow sit loosely in your palm while resting your fingertips lightly on the front of the grip. This will allow the bow to settle into its natural alignment.
Over time, anyone can master the art of archery. Remember, hitting the bulls-eye is a long-term goal. The short-term goal should be flawless execution. I promise you, hitting the bullseye will come with time. My best students—the ones I call Naturals—are the ones that implement the basics quickly and move on to the easiest step: aiming.
Archery is a valuable and rewarding skill. Most importantly, it’s a ton of fun! Don’t get discouraged. If you have any questions at all, please leave a comment and I will respond quickly.
In this lesson you will learn how to properly release an arrow.
Nocking an Arrow
The end of the arrow has a notch in it called a nock. The nock attaches to the string just below a “nocking point.” The nocking point is a fixed point on the string that aligns the arrow with the bow for every shot. On most bows, the nocking point is a small brass bead clamped onto the string. The arrow nocks–or locks–onto the string right below the nocking point.
With traditional archery (longbows and recurves), the arrow has three feathers, and one of the feathers is a different color. This is called the cock feather. When you nock an arrow, be sure the cock feather always points out. This keeps the arrow from deflecting off the bow.
With compound bows, the orientation of the cock “vane” (compound bows have plastic vanes, not feathers) depends on your arrow rest. The most common arrow rest for compound bows is the drop-away rest. With drop-away rests, the cock vane isn’t important as there is no contact with the bow. With other types of rests like the one I use, called the Whisker Biscuit (see photo below), the cock vane must point up. The Whisker Biscuit has stiff bristles on the bottom side which help support the arrow, and the vanes must clear these.
The last step is to acquire an anchor point. The anchor point is two or more spots on your face where some part of your release hand, arrow, string, or release aid contacts your face. Anchor points are vitally important to consistent shooting and accuracy. Therefore you must establish consistent anchor points from the get-go.
Anchor points are different for everyone, but the most common are:
string on the tip of your nose
a finger touching the corner of your mouth
side of thumb touching your jaw bone
arrow fletching touching the face
When shooting any bow, I make sure the string touches the tip of my nose and the side of my thumb touches the back of my jaw.
Note: In beginning archery, many of my students are afraid to have string contact with their face. This is totally unwarranted. Remember, when you release the arrow, all that energy leaves your face unscathed.
Finally, we’re ready to shoot an arrow!
Here are my quick steps to releasing an arrow:
Nock an arrow on the string below the nocking point. You should hear a soft “click” as it locks onto the string.
Grasp the string with three fingers. Your three fingers will hook onto the string somewhere between your first and second finger joints. If you are shooting a compound, ignore this step and simply attach your release aid to the D-loop.
Pull the string across your chest, not towards it, and align the string with your eye. In essence, you should split the target with the string and look down the arrow to aim, but keeping your focus on the target, not the arrow.
Back tension release: As you draw the bow, your back muscles are doing all the work. Squeeze your shoulder blades together as you bring the string to your face.
Establish your anchor points.
Release the arrow. Release happens as you simply open your hand. With a compound bow, you simply touch the trigger.
Aim with the point of your arrow while looking through the string. With a compound bow, place the appropriate sight pin on the target.
Follow through. Without proper follow-through, you’re dead in the water. Follow through means that both arms (bow arm and release arm) continue in opposite directions at the shot. This is called “finishing the shot.” Your release hand should continue backwards (not up or out) towards your ear. The last thing you should feel is your release hand brushing past your face and touching your ear. This will reduce oscillation and increase accuracy.
Archery is a complex skill that cannot be mastered in a day, any more than other muscle-memory skills such as golf or skiing. In the movies they make it look easy, and many of my students have the misconception that they can pick up a bow and start shooting simply by mimicking what they’ve observed. But without spending a lot of time on the basics, you’ll immediately develop bad habits which take a long time to break.
Accuracy comes from focusing on each step, one at a time. After many hours–maybe even months–these steps will gradually become one subconscious step called FORM. Once proper form is established, your only focus will be on aiming. This is should be your goal.