Part 1 of a 4 part series on life, hunting, and overcoming adversity.
Adverse Conditions = Success
In teaching advanced archery, one of my lessons revolves around “adverse conditions.” What I mean by adverse conditions is that when you’re shooting arrows in your backyard, you are generally shooting at a large target, on a flat surface, at a known yardage, and in fair weather.
Practice for Adverse Conditions
Big bucks are tough and can take an arrow when hit poorly. Believe me, there’s nothing worse than injuring or losing buck following a bad hit. If it hasn’t happened to you yet, it will. It’s been said that there are two kinds of motorcycle riders: those who’ve gone down and those who will. The same thing applies to bowhunters. Every situation is different and nothing is ever perfect. Success often depends on how fast you can load, draw, and shoot under tremendous pressure inside a buck’s 60-yard security bubble.
Fortunately we can put off the inevitable doing what I call “adverse conditions” practice. Adverse conditions practice means shooting from random distances, from various body positions, around objects, and in less-than-ideal conditions like wind or low light.
To optimize each shooting session—and to add some fun—try the following routine when shooting with a partner. Have him or her pick a random spot to shoot from. Shoot one arrow each without ranging. Then range the distance and shoot a second arrow. Take turns selecting different spots to shoot from while making each shot as difficult as possible by placing mental and physical obstacles between you and the target. Shoot from behind objects like trees, or through light brush or grass.
In the woods you will deal with all kinds of physical distractions, like shaking from the cold or buck fever, or maybe sweat dripping in your eyes and flies landing on your face. You can prepare for these situations by having your shooting partner yell or poke you right before the shot. Don’t let your partner shoot until after you yell, “There’s a deer! He’s coming right for us!” You can further add intensity to these sessions by keeping score, or better yet, putting money on each shot. In the old days we would pin a dollar bills to the target, and whoever hit a bill got to keep it.
In real life hunting scenarios, animals move around a lot. Yet archers rarely practice shooting at moving targets. Instead we get accustom to settling the pin on stationary block targets. Shooting at running animals isn’t really practical or ethical. Even when an animal is walking slowly it’s a good idea to try and stop it. That being said, animals are unpredictable. Sometimes they take a step during a shot. Other times you won’t be able to stop them no matter what you do. Consequently, a hunter who only shoots at stationary targets will likely hit the animal too far back. Fortunately you can prepare for these situations by shooting moving targets.
Shooting at slow-moving targets will mimic real-life hunting situations. Your best bet is to find (or build) a round target and roll it down a gently-sloping hill. If you don’t have a rolling target you can always put a square target in a wagon and have someone pull it with a rope. Another option is to dangle a small balloon from a string in front of a large target or backstop. You might be surprised at how difficult it is to hit a balloon dancing in the wind.
Practicing for real-life hunting scenarios also means shooting form different body positions. Shooting from a standing position might be fine for sighting in your bow, but pretty soon you’d better get on your knees. Not only are deer more likely to identify you as a person when you are standing, but most stalks and shots take place on your knees. Most of my bucks were taken from a kneeling position. They were also taken while wearing a backpack, a ball cap, and a camouflage glove on my bow hand. So that’s how I practice. During every practice sessions, purposely contort, twist, or lean your body like you would in a real-life hunting situation. It’s also a good idea to practice shooting steep up and down angles.
Bowhunters are lucky to get one or two shots at deer each season, so it’s imperative that we practice for real-life hunting scenarios. Rarely will you find a buck standing perfectly broadside on flat ground at a known distance. Unless the buck is bedded, he will likely be moving, and possibly in heavy cover. Anything you can do to make archery practice more challenging will translate into better success in the field.
Remember, overcoming adversity is how we grow stronger in life and bowhunting. Anticipate it–even welcome it–and you’ll be better for it.