Its first week of hunting season and you have a buck standing broadside at 60 yards. Is this the right time to question if you can make the shot? By the time hunting season approaches you, the archer, should be comfortable and accurate at shooting 10-15 yards past your maximum range. If able, taking the time to be in the tree stand or ground blind and getting distances with a range finder will help prepare for those tough shots come season. Learn more on how to estimate your range and extend your maximum shot.
Working from being effective at 20 yards is just as crucial at becoming effective at 60. You want to ensure you are utilizing your sight accurately in order to be able to take a 20 yard and 40 yard shot with the same efficiency. A great way to do this is with some practice time at the range. A kill shot on a deer is roughly 8”. Mark this on the target, or use a 3D target with vital inset, for the next few steps. Set your pin on 20 yards and shoot at the kill zone on the target. You should be able to hit it dead center but anything inside the circle will drop your animal. Now move a yard closer and shoot again. Repeat until your shot grouping starts to drift upward. This is the minimum yardage you are able to use the 20 yard pin for. Start back at 20 yards and take a yard step back and repeat until your grouping moves down. This is the maximum effective yardage for the 20 yard pin. Repeat for your other pins. This will vary based on your sight: how many pins and what yardage they are set at. These steps will allow you to better understand how to work your sight in the field.
Stretching your limits on maximum yardage will take time and practice. Using a 4” vital target shot for this next exercise will help increase the effectiveness of the practice. Start at 10 yards and shoot 3 arrow groupings. When you get all 3 within the vital target mark then move back 10 yards. Repeat. Once all 3 arrows are in the 4” target circle, move back another 10 yards. Repeat. Continue this process until you are shooting consistently at 10-15 yards over your ideal range. Your max distance will be where your grouping starts to open up. Even with the improvements and advancements in bows there is still a maximum range recommended based on arrow speed and kinetic energy at impact. Keep this in mind to ensure you are effective in your kill shots. Expanding your range will boost your confidence and your success rate in the field can go up.
If you hunt from a tree stand it is best to practice at a downhill range. This can help you retain deadly accuracy from your tree stand come season. If able to practice from your tree stand it can be one of the most valuable archery practices available. Practicing in your gear is great too. It will ensure you know the sounds your jacket will make when you move and how your foot placement on the platform in your hunting boots will affect your posture versus practice with tennis shoes on the hard ground. One important aspect that is different at a down angle is the body movement. In a tree stand it is important to bend at the waist instead of adjusting your upper body form. Draw your bow as though you are making a flat range shot and then rotate your upper body down by bending at the waist. Having consistent anchor points when shooting will also help ensure your body, arms and head are in perfect alignment.
Remember that with tree stands the higher you go the harder the shot. In good wind and adequate coverage a 12 to 20 foot tree stand placement is suitable. Your yardage will shift a little with the increase in altitude but by bending at the waist you will effectively retain the horizontal shooting trajectory as if shooting from the ground. The gravity effect on the arrow will only be over the horizontal distance and the drop will be consistent with what you experience in your flat ground practice. Weird but true fact: if you drop an arrow and fire a perfectly horizontal arrow at the same time they will hit the ground at the exact same time too. This can help you realize that despite being up in a tree and having a harder shot based on deer position, coverage concerns or heavy wind – you don’t need to worry as much about adjusting your shot as long as you are bending at the waist and consistent on your groupings. Practicing on a 3D target from your tree stand is beneficial in order to understand the change in kill zone location on the deer. Instead of looking at it straight on you will find the angles that work best from the height of your stand and the yardage at which the deer is standing. If you are able to practice at a downhill range or from your stand you may want to zero in the pins on your sight from these places. It can increase your accuracy but remember to adjust as needed if you transition to the ground.
Tree stands aren’t the only places we bow hunt from and we aren’t always standing. If you hunt out of a ground blind try shooting from a chair at the range. If you are a mountain elk hunter or enjoy spotting and stalking antelope on the plains you might want to shoot from a kneeling position. Varying your positions to the type of hunt will keep you in the best shape and consistent with your groupings. Bottom line of any archery skills are the 3 P’s: practice, practice, practice.