Follow along on Josh’s exciting, once-in-a-lifetime archery mountain goat hunt in Utah. Watch as he gets it done on opening day!
Follow along on Josh’s exciting, once-in-a-lifetime archery mountain goat hunt in Utah. Watch as he gets it done on opening day!
I never felt so tired! It was 4:30am on the nineteenth morning of my Utah bow hunt. Whenever I lied down to sleep my mind swirled with strategies to outsmart the giant, velvet-clad buck I called “Big 5.” But he always managed to stay one step ahead of me.
I spotted Big 5 on the fourth day of the deer hunt. He was feeding in a thick, oak brush-covered hillside, and I raced to get ahead of him in the fading evening light. Just as I was closing in, the wind shifted and blew him out of the canyon. I spent the next week searching surrounding canyons and exploring other parts of the unit, but couldn’t turn him up. Although I saw plenty of other bucks, none compared to the amazing Big 5. At that point I decided to devote the rest of the season to hunting this one buck.
Just before dark on the twelfth day, Big 5 reappeared in the canyon where I first saw him. There wasn’t enough light for a stalk, but I returned to camp with newfound hope.
My mind buzzed with excitement as I lied in bed anticipating the morning stalk. But wouldn’t you know it, over night a great herd of elk moved in and pushed all the deer out. I spent the next three days searching for him, but to no avail.
During this time I joined forces with two elk hunters—Brian and Mike—who were hunting in the same general area. We had an agreement: I would keep tabs on any big bulls, and they would keep an eye out for Big 5.
Just when I was beginning to lose hope, Mike spotted Big 5 crossing into the canyon at dark on the fourteenth evening. The next morning I sneaked into the deer’s primary feeding area, but ended up busting him out again while still-hunting through the thick and noisy oak brush. This was the lowest point of my hunt.
Bowhunting is a low-odds venture to begin with; things don’t work out most of the time. As a rule, bowhunting success comes from having multiple opportunities, and the fastest way to limit your success is by hunting for one deer exclusively.
To keep hope alive, I wrote a list of positive affirmations in my hunt journal. Of particular note was a reminder that not only do I have 27 years of bowhunting experience under my belt, but I’ve been down this road before: Hunting for just one deer. Only this time was different. I didn’t have three years to get the job done!
Hope returned on day 16 when I discovered a new buck—a massive, old, wide-racked 4×4 I called the “Tank”—in an adjacent canyon. He wasn’t as impressive as Big 5, but the longer I watched him the more I fell in love. He was a magnificent deer, and if nothing else he served as a good backup. The season was half-way over after all, so I was relieved to have another target on my very short list.
So you can imagine my disappointment when, the very next morning, I found that Tank and Big 5 had joined forces! They were now feeding together—along with a few smaller bucks—in the bottom of the canyon where it all started. And just like that, all my eggs were in one basket: Bust one, bust ‘em all.
Desperate to make a stalk, I threw down my glass, picked up my bow and scrambled to the bottom of the steep, aspen-choked canyon. But just as I was closing in, the wind changed and blew one of the smaller bucks out of his bed. I turned and backed out immediately to avoid further damage.
The next morning, in complete darkness, I snuck to the bottom of the canyon hoping to get in front of the bucks before first light. But once again my plans were foiled when I glassed up the bucks feeding at the top of the canyon! As morning dragged on, the bucks side-hilled out of view and disappeared. Once again they stayed one step ahead of me.
By day nineteen I was at wits end. At some point during the restless night I hatched a plan to get ahead of the bucks. I knew from experience that big bucks get big by being unpredictable. So if they fed at the top of the canyon yesterday, perhaps they’d be at the bottom today. Again, in the cover of darkness I dropped down the canyon. And wouldn’t you know it, the bucks stayed high! This time, however, I wasn’t letting them out of my sight.
Immediately I ascended the aspen ridge between us, and then watched as all three deer—Big 5, Tank, and a smaller 3-point—fed along the ridge top and eventually bedded beneath a couple big pine trees. I pulled out my notebook and drew a diagram of the bedding area, noting landmarks that I could use during the stalk. But first I’d have to wait for the thermals to stabilize.
I returned to camp and was just about crawling out of my skin waiting for the south winds to prevail. Finally, at noon I set out on a low-odds stalk towards the bucks, knowing that one false move could blow the bucks out forever. Surely they were growing weary of my chase.
The midday sun beat down on my face as I crested the ridge fifty yards above the bedded bucks, but thick oak brush obscured my view. Must get closer.
Hot, south crosswinds carry away my scent and the sound of my footsteps amongst the loose gravel on the hillside that grows steeper with each step. A frightened chipmunk shrieks and scurries away. I freeze for a minute, then take a range from the lower limbs of one of the trees: 45 yards. I slowly load an arrow and continue forward. Everything must be perfect now.
Each footstep is timed with the occasional gust of wind or the raspy sound of flying grasshoppers. I take another range: 35 yards. I wince as the wind continually dips down, then rises again. My heart-beat quickens; sweat beads up across my face. I take another step and look up again. Fuzzy antlers are suddenly bobbing through the oak brush. Big 5 is up and feeding, but only his head is visible.
I slowly raise my bow and scan ahead for a shot window. The situation unfolds in strange contrast: the natural world flows lazily along, but my mind is frantic as I try to manage a myriad of details in a heightened state of awareness. I’ve been here before; I know the odds. “What happens next? How does this end?”
The buck slowly feeds towards a little, two-foot gap in the oak brush. It’s all a blur as I draw my bow and track the buck with my 30-yard pin. He finally steps through and my arrow is off. There’s an audible “thunk,” and then pandemonium as all three bucks explode down the mountain. Seventy yards out, Tank and the smaller buck regroup and look back, but Big 5 continues out of sight.
Twenty minutes later I begin tracking down the mountainside. There’s blood right away, and for the first time in weeks I feel a sense of relief. A little further down the canyon and there he is. In my haste to shoot, the arrow hit forward in the neck, but did the job.
Like a dream, I reach down and grasp the buck’s sprawling antlers in my hands. I feel strangely numb. Whatever elation I’m supposed to feel has been cancelled out by the rigors of mountain, dampened by loss of sleep, and swamped in disbelief. Sometimes a hunter gets lucky; other times he earns it. In this case, the only luck I had was seeing the buck in the first place. I gave this hunt everything I had; I paid full price for my trophy.
Long ago, in a personal attack fueled by jealousy, an old “friend” once said to me, “I don’t have to shoot the biggest deer on the mountain to prove I’m a man!” I don’t disagree, however it does prove other things: That you have a special skill set; that you are a provider of meat; and above all, you are the top predator you were meant to be. And that, my friends, puts you one step ahead of the rest.
Occasionally I have a beginner student consistently missing wide of the bullseye. At first it appears they’re doing everything correctly, however it quickly becomes apparent that the person is aiming with the wrong eye. Even after pointing this out, he keeps shooting with the wrong eye, or the eye that’s farthest from the arrow.
Knowing which of eye is dominant is imperative to accuracy in archery. If you try aiming with your the wrong eye, the target won’t be in the right place.
When I first hand out bows, I hand them out according to a person’s dominant hand (left or right-handedness). But some people have an opposite eye dominance. They write and throw a ball with their right hand, but they are left-eye dominant. How do you correct for this? Is it better to shoot a left-handed bow?
The answer is NO.
No matter which eye is dominant, you should still shoot with your dominant hand. Your dominant hand is your release hand, or the one that controls the arrow, string, and the final release. This means that you’ll shoot more accurately and naturally using your dominant hand.
Fortunately you can easily train yourself to aim and shoot with your non-dominant eye.
One fix is to simply close your non-shooting eye. This will immediately force you to aim with the correct eye. However, shooting with one eye closed is not recommended. Keeping both eyes open gives you a better sight picture and allows you to see depth and distance more accurately.
A better method is to wear an eye patch (temporarily) over your non-shooting eye. Yes, you will look like an archery pirate for a while, but in a short amount of time you’ll train yourself to shoot with the eye that matches your shooting hand.
Your dominant eye is the one that sends the most information to your brain. It tends to be the eye that gets the most use. Some people have one eye that is much more dominant than the other, while others have an eye that is only slightly more dominant. You can find out which of your eyes is the dominant one using a simple at-home test.
The Miles Test, described below, is considered to be a good indicator of eye dominance:
Although it is possible for a right-handed person to learn how to shoot a left-handed bow, it is much more natural (and more accurate) to learn to shoot with your non-dominant eye. If you are wondering where to get an eye patch, just look to your local pharmacy.
Let’s say you’ve mastered the fundamentals of archery, but you’re stuck with an effective shooting range of 50 yards. Any farther and you begin to miss the 9-inch bullseye. At this point, how do you extend your range?
Extending your effective range starts with shooting a flatter arrow trajectory (reducing the arc of the arrow). There are only three ways to do this.
First, you need to transfer more energy to your arrow by increasing your bow’s draw weight. Assuming your bow isn’t maxed out already, you can increase draw weight by simply tightening down the limb bolts. Depending on your bow, this will increase draw weight by 3-4 pounds per full turn. Just be sure to tighten both limb bolts equally or it will mess up your tuning.
The second way to flatten arrow trajectory is by reduce your arrow weight. This should only be considered if your arrows are already overweight for the game you’re hunting. For example, you wouldn’t want to go below 400 grains (total arrow weight) for deer, or 450 grains for elk. If you’re strictly a target shooter, then you can go as light as you want. However, going too light can be hard on your bow because not enough energy is transferred to the arrow.
Now, the only way to reduce arrow weight is by using lighter points, lighter fletchings, and/or shortening your arrows. In most cases it would be best to start with a brand new set arrows from your preferred manufacturer. Look for an arrow with a low GPI (grains per inch). Lighter arrows are generally rated around 8.0 GPI or less.
The third way to flatten arrow trajectory is by super-tuning your bow. Tuning improves arrow flight by removing slight deviations in your setup, resulting in more efficient arrow flight. The longer it takes for an arrow to straighten out in flight, the more energy is lost due to air friction. Too much wobble also decreases arrow penetration.
Super-tuning starts with a good paper tuning. This involves adjustments to your arrow rest and/or nocking point. Throughout this process you may need to adjust your bow’s cam timing or cam lean. These adjustments require the use of a bow press, so unless you have the one it would be best left to a professional.
Aside from flattening your arrow trajectory, there are a few other ways to increase accuracy. They include:
There you have it, everything you need to expand your effective range. With today’s fast-shooting, dual-cam bows you don’t have to sacrifice speed or energy to get a flat-shooting arrow. Just make sure your bow is finely tuned.
When it comes to hunting, shot placement is more critical than speed or kinetic energy. Shot placement means putting the arrow in the precise kill zone for maximum damage.
Above all, make each arrow count during your practice sessions. Always shoot for quality over quantity.
If you are in the market for a new compound bow, one of the first things to consider is carbon or aluminum. There’s a pretty even split between hunting camps about which is better. In this article we’ll contrast the pros and cons of each bow type.
Let’s first take a look at carbon.
Carbon fiber bows aren’t really all carbon; just the main handle section, or riser, is carbon. The limbs are made of a variety of high-tech materials not relevant to this topic. Carbon fiber is very strong, stable, and lightweight which makes a perfect platform for anything from bikes to bows.
The greatest advantage to carbon is that it’s lightweight, yet very strong. On average, a carbon bow weighs about a pound less than an aluminum bow. Aluminum is relatively dense and heavy. The only way to make aluminum lighter is by making it thinner, but that also makes it weaker. Aluminum bows aren’t really weak; they’re just not as tough as carbon.
Carbon bows are ideal for backcountry bowhunters who count every ounce. Lugging a heavy aluminum bow laden with arrows into extreme country can be a hindrance. And since carbon bows are stronger, they can stand up to more abuse in the backcountry. Another nice thing about carbon is that you can easily add more stabilizer weight to make it heavier, if you so choose.
Another advantage carbon has over aluminum is that carbon stays warm to the touch. The handle of an aluminum bow can become unbearably cold in freezing conditions. It’s not a big deal if you shoot with gloves on, but wearing thick gloves can be problematic and cause side-to-side torque issues.
First off, if you’re on a budget, aluminum might be your only option. Carbon bows run about 30-40 percent more expensive than aluminum bows. This averages around $500 difference. Higher end aluminum models list around $1200 whereas carbon bows hover around $1700. Currently, the most expensive hunting bow costs around $1800, and is made by Hoyt.
There are also more aluminum bows on the market than carbon bows. The whole carbon fiber manufacturing process is very expensive. Some bow manufactures don’t even make carbon bows simply because there’s a high enough demand for their aluminum offerings, and so they don’t need to invest in the expensive carbon technology.
Because aluminum is denser than carbon, aluminum bows tend to have less vibration or “hand shock.” Fortunately excess vibration has been reduced in newer model carbon bows. Still, some hunters prefer a heavier bow. Simply put, a heavier bow is a steadier bow. Heavier bows are also less affected by crosswinds.
If you like aluminum bows but hate the weight, you can always replace the standard accessories (stabilizer, sight, quiver, and arrow rest) with carbon or composite materials. However, you’ll still be limited on how much you can ultimately reduce overall weight.
There is no right or wrong bow; both carbon and aluminum bows have their pros and cons. What it really boils down to personal preference.
If you prefer a lighter bow, carbon would be a better choice. If you’re on a tight budget, aluminum might be your only option. Maybe you just like the look and style of one bow over another. If you still can’t decide, just head to your local archery shop and see which one shoots and feels best in your hand.
A long, cold winter can be a dreary time for a committed bowhunter. But it needs not be. Lurking around the cactus and brush of the American Southwest desert is a fascinating creature that many people have never seen before. This coarse-haired, pig-like creature is the collared peccary, more commonly known as a javelina.
He stands about two feet tall and three feet long, and weighs between 30 and 60 pounds. He’s a clever, secretive creature that offers a fun and exciting challenge to any bowhunter.
The javelina is common enough in places like Arizona to procure a tag at least every other year. Best of all, most javelina hunts occur in the dead of winter, making it an ideal wintertime activity.
Javelina are found sparsely over desert landscapes varying from 2000 to 5000 feet in elevation. It can take a while to locate them these small animals in the vast desert, so be sure you allow enough time to get the job done. I wouldn’t consider a hunt less than five days long.
For the novice javelina hunter, the near-sighted, unassuming javelina can be deceptively difficult to hunt. Like other “big” game animals, javelina are highly skilled at evading predators. Bowhunting success hovers around 25%, so it’s crucial to learn all you can before heading to the desert.
Javelina rely on their noses, ears and eyes to detect danger. Although javelina have relatively poor eyesight, they are still adept at picking up movement, especially within bow range. Their sense of hearing is very good, but their sense of smell is excellent, so always approach from downwind.
Javelina are territorial animals with home ranges averaging one square mile, but this can vary widely from place to place. Javelina travel in herds commonly between 8 and 10, but sometimes more.
Rarely will you find a lone pig. If you do, be on the lookout for others that could ruin your stalk. Occasionally you’ll find small bachelor groups of two or three animals traveling apart from the main group.
Like many other prey species, javelina are most active in the morning and evening. In winter when days are cold and short, javelina spend more time up and feeding. It’s not uncommon to find javelina feeding or traveling as late as 11 a.m. In the evening they tend to unbed an hour or two before dark, so morning is your best bet.
Javelina bed down together in large, dug-out beds beneath mesquite trees or rock outcroppings. Beds usually have piles of scat scattered around the outside. The freshness of the scat will tell you whether you’ve found an active bed or not.
Javelina droppings are easy to identify, like that of a large dog. Interestingly, javelina have the runs much of the time, so keep an eye out for that too.
Although javelina are classified as omnivores, they’re mostly herbivores, and their favorite food is cactus. Although they eat a variety of cactus species, their favorite is the prickly pear cactus.
Begin by locating areas with high concentrations of prickly pear. Look for cactus that has been torn apart, scattered around, and chewed up. From there, continue your search into brushy draws, washes, and river bottoms.
Despite the arid environment in which they live, javelina don’t visit water regularly. Instead, they get most of their moisture from cactus and other plants they eat.
Before heading to the desert for the first time, make sure you do a little research. Start by contacting the biologist over the unit to get some good starting points.
Next, check the state’s fish and game website for more information. Arizona’s hunting website has a “Where to Hunt” page with a helpful overview of each unit, including access points and biologist notes (www.azgfd.com/hunting/units/). When hunting a new location, try to arrive a day or two early for scouting and glassing.
Glassing south and southeast facing slopes early in the morning is the best strategy for locating javelina. Because they don’t have under-fur, javelina use the sun to warm up after a cold night. As the day begins to warm, glassing becomes less effective as the pigs head for cover and shade.
Javelina are small animals that blend well with their habitat. A high-powered spotting scope on a tripod is far better than handheld binoculars. Always start your glassing from the highest vantage possible. Begin by glassing areas with plenty of cactus, and look for open hillsides above brushy draws or river bottoms. Javelina are mostly lowlanders and don’t spend a lot of time in steep country.
Once you’ve located a herd, plan your stalk based on two things: wind direction and the general direction the herd is headed. If it’s still early, the javelina will likely stay put, so you can take it slow and quiet. Later in the morning the herd is more likely to move during your stalk, so pick up the pace.
The next step is to locate tracks, trails, beds and droppings. Javelina are creatures of habit and use traditional routes throughout their range. Locating trails is key to finding them. Trails rarely lead through the wide open, so begin your search in the brushy bottoms. On one occasion I unknowingly set my camp right next to a trail. Twice my wife watched javelina walk right through camp while I was out looking for them.
Tracking is a great way to learn about javelina, like what they eat and where they sleep. Boars have larger, rounder tracks while juveniles and females have smaller, pointier tracks. If all the tracks you find are medium-sized with tiny tracks mixed in, then it’s likely a female and baby group.
Tracking is difficult in sandy or gravelly soil because it doesn’t hold detail well. But you can still determine the direction of travel by following the deeper, toe-end of the track which points forward.
When the track eventually runs into mud or hard dirt, you can make more determinations about the animals you’re following. Fortunately javelina travel in groups which makes tracking easier.
If you bust a group of javelina out of an area, there’s a good chance they’ll return after a day or two. In the meantime, keep moving. Javelina leave sign wherever they go. Watch for torn up cactus, beds and fresh scat piles. If the torn-up cactus is still bright green and wet, the javelina should be nearby. They also do a lot of rooting and digging, so keep an eye out for torn up ground.
During the day javelina can be found by still-hunting near bedding areas, especially around larger mesquite trees. Javelina have scent glands on their rumps which they rub on trees and rocks to mark their territory. When still-hunting it’s not uncommon to pick up their musky odor long before you see them. Just another reason to hunt with the wind in your face.
In areas with moderate to high hunting pressure, glassing can become futile. Once the animals are driven into heavy cover, you may never see them again. In the unit where I hunt, I’ve actually never seen a javelina while glassing. The animals always stay in thick cover and brushy bottoms, which makes still-hunting the best method for finding them. You just have to cover a lot of ground and follow tracks.
Ambushing heavily used trails, pinch-points, and active bedding sites is viable option. I’ve had best luck ambushing routes between 10 and 11 a.m. when javelina are moving to bed. The javelina’s poor eyesight allows you to set up closer than you might for deer or elk.
Sitting in a ground blind near a water hole can also be effective, but only on dry years. Although they get most of their water from plants, javelina will still visit water, especially if it’s unseasonably hot and dry.
Although there are some javelina calls on the market, I’ve found them to be marginally effective. I read once that javelina will come to a dying rabbit call, but in practice the javelina just got nervous and moved off.
It really depends on how much hunting pressure they’ve had. Javelina are curious by nature, but when pressured they tend to shy away from foreign sounds.
Otherwise, javelina are quite vocal. When traveling or feeding in heavy brush, javelina make continuous “woof” sound to keep tabs on each other. In the thick stuff you’re more likely to hear them before you see them.
If you spook a javelina but he doesn’t run, “woofing” may calm him down long enough for a shot. In some cases you can even use woofing to get them to step out from behind cover.
Once bedded, javelina are mostly silent. Occasionally herd members will get into fights and make loud snarls and clacking sounds with their teeth, so keep your ears open.
The bow and arrow set up you use for deer should work fine for javelina, just be sure to know your effective range beforehand. Javelina have a small kill zone of about 6 inches diameter.
Shooting distances will vary widely depending on terrain. Javelina can disappear quickly behind brush, even at close range. I’ve found most shots to be between 20 and 40 yards.
Javelina are tough animals. A poorly hit javelina can run away at breakneck speed and be hard to track down, especially in thick or rocky terrain.
That being said, I’ve seen gut shot javelina go down pretty quickly, usually within 100 yards. The tall hair on their backs can trick you into holding too high, so always aim tight behind the shoulder and just below the centerline of the animal.
Javelina tend to stop abruptly when alerted. Unless you frighten him at close range, he’s likely to freeze up for a few seconds and give you time to settle your pin. If he busts out, however, he’ll likely sprint away without giving you a second chance.
Over-pressured javelina learn fast how to avoid people. Once you bust a group several times—and maybe even shot at them—they can disappear completely for several days. At that point it’s best to find fresh critters. Continually chasing the same group will result in diminishing returns.
To avoid the curse of disappearing animals, I recommend hunting the opener when the pigs are still in their relaxed routine. If possible avoid hunting on weekends or near busy roads. Head to the backcountry whenever possible, and always have a couple backup areas in case your first area goes bust.
Despite what you may have heard, javelina provide excellent table fare. The meat is similar to pork, albeit a bit wilder, and lends itself well to southwestern cuisine like tacos and enchiladas.
To avoid funky meat you need to use caution when skinning your animal. Their pungeant scent gland is easily identified on their lower back. Avoid touching it with your hands or knife. Once skinned, wash the carcass with cold water and hang it in the shade to cool
Bowhunting javelina is a fun and exciting way to hone one’s skills during the dark and cold months of winter. They are fascinating creatures that offer a unique challenge in a unique environment. I can’t recommend it enough.
Like many archers, I’ve struggled with occasional bouts of target panic over the years. After trying just about everything to cure target panic, I’ve found that some techniques work better than others. In this article we’ll focus on the five best cures for target panic.
What’s so scary about targets that we might panic? Target panic is a breakdown of the natural shot process caused by bad shooting habits. Simply put, it’s a fight or flight response to the pressure of hitting the bullseye. When a victim of target panic tries to acquire the bullseye, he either rushes the shot or fails to settle the pin without panicking.
The worst contributor to TP is punching the trigger on a release aid. Shooting a heavy bow beyond fatigue can also lead to TP. A third contributor is mental stress from shooting competitive archery.
When an archer develops bad shooting habits (like punching the trigger), he begins to miss the bullseye. The more he misses, the more he tries to control the shot. Pretty soon this stress turns into a full-on panic. Just holding the pin on the bullseye becomes a physically impossibility. In extreme cases the archer is physically incapable of even raising his sight pin to the bullseye no matter how hard he tries.
Anyone who shoots regularly can develop target panic. Target panic is a maddening condition that wrecks ones confidence and can last for years if left untreated.
The goal of these exercises is retrain your brain not to react to a shot. This article focuses on compound shooters, but applies to traditional shooters as well.
The goal of these exercises is to relearn how draw to a relaxed state of mind and body. There are three ways to help you do this. First, don’t hold your breath. Archers oftentimes hold their breath when they draw, but that just adds more stress to the shot. Second acquire the bullseye quickly. Moving your pin slowly to the bullseye creates anticipation. And third, tell yourself it’s okay to miss. Miss on purpose if you have to, but teach your brain that it’s okay to miss occasionally.
If you’ve implemented these five steps then congratulations, you’re cured! If not, start over. Most archers will struggle with bouts of target panic now and then, but don’t panic, it’s easily cured.
You can avoid future bouts by practicing proper shooting techniques. Always strive to use your back muscles and have a surprise release with every shot. Avoid shooting a heavy bow beyond the point of fatigue. Instead use a light-draw bow with a long stabilizer during the off-season. A heavy bow turns archery a high stress activity when it should be fun and relaxing.
I hope this helps. Let me know if you have any questions and happy shooting.
You’ve probably noticed by now that shooting a high-poundage hunting bow is a very strenuous physical activity. When you’re young, shooting a seventy pound bow is no problem. But like any physical sport, it will catch up to you someday.
I’ve met a lot of older hunters who were forced to give up archery due to shoulder injuries, or just a worn out shoulder. This usually occurs in one’s late 40s or 50s. Personally, I can’t think of anything worse than putting the bow down forever! In this article we’re going to explore ways to bowhunt into old age.
After fifteen years of continuous shooting, I began noticing some stiffness and soreness in my right (draw) shoulder. Fearing the worst, I went to a shoulder specialist and was diagnosed with a “shoulder impingement.” An impingement—sometimes referred to as swimmer’s shoulder—is a condition that causes pain due to a tendon rubbing against the shoulder blade.
Similar to tendonitis, shoulder impingements are caused by excessive strain on tendons over time. The pain is consistent and generally gets worse when a person reaches upwards or moves their arms above their head. Over time the shoulder becomes too painful and/or weak to do even modest work, like pulling a bow back.
Fortunately I didn’t have any tears (or worse) that would require surgery, just a persistent discomfort that worsened with physical strain, particularly after shooting my bow. To sum it up, I was put through several weeks of physical therapy and gradually noticed some improvement.
Ten years later I’m still living with intermittent soreness, but now I’m shooting for longevity. I plan to bowhunt well into my seventies, God willing. I’ve taken several steps to reduce further damage while still shooting on a semi-regular basis. Here’s how.
Reducing your draw weight is the first step to saving your shoulder. Unless you’ve already suffered a serious shoulder injury, I don’t recommend going overboard. Reducing draw weight will also affect arrow speed, pin spacing and penetration. I would start with 5-10 pounds.
I reduced my bow’s draw weight from seventy to sixty pounds. This was the lowest I dared go and still retain good accuracy and arrow energy. What I’ve learned since then is that shot placement is far more important than kinetic energy and penetration.
Serious archers shoot year-round in order to maintain good form and fundamentals. If this is you, then consider buying a low-poundage bow. Go as light as you want since you’re only using this bow in practice. You’ll also need some lighter arrows to go with it, especially if you’re shooting in competitions.
For off-season practice I switch to a 45-pound bow that’s set up very similar to my hunting bow. This allows me to shoot year-round without wrecking my shoulder. Serious archers shoot hundreds of shots in practice, but only a couple during the actual hunt. So a low-poundage practice bow is a great way to save your shoulder.
Here’s a simple fix: Shoot less. Now that I’m shooting for longevity, I’ve reduced my practice sessions to an hour or less. During these brief sessions I make every arrow count. It’s a simple concept: quality over quantity.
Before hunting season, I’ll take my hunting bow out for fine tuning. Since I’m limited on shooting time, the tuning process can take a couple days, but at least I’ll still be able to hunt ten years from now.
One last tip for saving your shoulder. Never draw with your draw elbow pointing down. Instead, draw with your elbow pointing out level to the ground or just higher than that.
You should always draw the bow with your back, not your arms. Drawing with a low elbow engages more of your arms which puts more strain on your shoulder. A high-elbow engages more of your back muscles like it should.
If you’re already suffering from shoulder impingements or other discomfort, you might consider some at-home physical therapy.
There are multiple targeted exercises for shoulder injuries like impingements. These exercises are commonly known as “Jobe’s Shoulder Exercises” and can be found with a quick internet search.
These exercises work by strengthening the multitude of muscles and tendons that support the shoulder. This takes the strain off the affected tendon area. Depending on your level of impingement, these exercises should be repeated 2-3 times per week.
For many of us, bowhunting isn’t just a fun hobby, but a way of life. Simply dropping archery because of a shoulder injury is not an option. So it just makes sense to adopt some level of protection before it’s too late.
Quality over quantity is the name of the game here: make every arrow count. Your long term goal should be to shoot less and shoot lighter. Shot placement is far more important than kinetic energy, so going lighter won’t be a problem as long as you can shoot accurately.
In 2016 I switched from a fixed pin sight to a one pin “slider” sight. That year I harvested a bear, deer, and an elk. I was sold on a one-pin sight, and for good reason. (Here’s the link to that article).
Then, in 2017, halfway through the deer hunt, my slider broke. The gears simply stripped out. Thankfully I had my backup bow in camp and was able to swap back to my old multi-pin sight.
When I got home I bought a slider sight and used it for a while, but it didn’t stick. Eventually I went back to my fixed pin sight and never looked back. In this article we’ll look at the pros and cons of using a fixed-pin (multi-pin) bow sight.
Now for the cons.
There are pros and cons to using single- or multi-pin bow sights. The decision should be based on the type of hunting you do, your personal bow setup, and most importantly the sight you’re most comfortable using in real hunting situations.
In tournament or target shooting, I prefer a slider. In open country where long shots are the norm, I would definitely go with a slider. But in heavy cover or backcountry use, I’m more comfortable with a multi-pin sight.
Six years ago I swore I’d never go back to a fixed pin sight, yet here I am. What’s the lesson here? Never say NEVER.
A laser rangefinder is an absolute necessity for compound bow shooters. Whenever possible I implore you to range the distance of any animal. This is especially important over flat ground and long distances.
That being said, all bowhunters must learn to judge distance without the aid of a rangefinder. When hunting in heavy timber, bucks can appear and disappear quickly, so you need to be ready for fast action. The majority of my trophies were taken on the fly with no time to range. Learning to judge distance without a rangefinder is something that can be easily practiced at home. Here are some techniques.
Set your target in the weeds at an unknown distance, and then shoot from random yardages without ranging. After your first shot, verify the distance with your rangefinder. Do this exercise at every practice session and your distance-judging abilities will increase rapidly.
When you’re hunting in the woods you can take advantage of the vast amount of downtime by guessing random yardages of distant trees or rocks, and then verifying the distance with your rangefinder. This is both a fun and productive way to kill time afield.
Another exercise is to figure out the farthest distance you can throw a fist-size rock (it’s usually 40-50 yards). In the field, ask yourself if you could hit a certain object with a rock. Your brain already knows, through muscle memory, how far you can throw a rock, so you can pretty much gauge whether or not you could hit something with a rock by just looking at it. Then use that estimation as a reference. This method is surprisingly accurate.
Judging distance can be especially difficult over longer distances and flat ground. In these situations try using the twenty-yard addition method. You already know what 20 yards looks like, so you can figure out longer distances by finding a spot 20 yards away, and then another spot 20 yards beyond that until you reach your target. Keep adding 20-yards until you reach the target. It works!