As I lifted an eyeball over the edge of the precipice, the relaxed buck below me stood feeding on a delicious shrub. One click from my rangefinder read “46” yards; simple enough. However, the twist was the fact that I could have almost jumped straight down onto the deer’s back, had I wanted to. I was on top off a cliff face that was well over 120 feet high above the deer. The buck’s position had led to a “piece of cake” stalk, where I was able to remain concealed until the moment of glory. The shot itself was anything but a piece of cake, but I felt prepared as my sight pin found the vitals.
Western bowhunting can offer challenges like nowhere else. The diverse habitat creates an ever-changing test. The steep and broken terrain that encompasses much of the Western countryside will place the hunter in tricky shot scenarios more often than not. Precise practice in unlevel terrain is a must for making confident shots, and confidence breeds success.
A Big Practice Range
My backyard practice range stretches from 0- to 90 yards and lies on almost dead level ground. (Note: I do not take, or advocate, 90-yard shots at animals. Long-range practice makes closer shots easier.) I use it daily and practice my shooting form, gap shooting, exercising my bow muscles and keeping my bow in tune. It keeps me sharp and confident in my equipment. The other half of my practice regimen requires a short drive to the steep peaks surrounding my home. I throw a bow target in the back of the truck and seek out some extreme country.
Steep and up and down shooting requires an aiming adjustment. Gravity only affects arrow flight on the true horizontal distance to the target. Here’s an example: A buck is standing broadside in the bottom of a very steep drainage right next to a tall pine tree. The archer is standing on top of the ridge above the deer. His rangefinder reads “50” yards to the buck’s ribcage. The hunter then ranges the upper portion of the pine tree, directly out and level from his elevated position on the ridge. The laser reads “42” yards. This latter reading of “42” is the true horizontal distance to the deer and is the distance the archer must aim for. If he holds for “50” yards, his arrow will fly harmlessly over the buck’s back. The same law holds true for steep, uphill shooting. The true horizontal distance must be determined and accounted for in order to hit what you want to hit.
Practice Difficult Shots
Once on the mountainside, I will place my target on some of the most extreme slopes I can find. I will trudge around to various distances and practice near impossible shots. I attempt to prepare myself for anything that I might encounter in the field, short of needing climbing gear and a helmet.
I shoot uphill and down, from all distances that I do on my practice range at home. Another thing I do is almost always shoot odd yardages. They might be 56, 63, or 77 yards, selected at random. Seldom will an animal present a shot at exactly 30, 40, or 50 yards … etc., so I seldom practice that way. Knowing your gaps between sight pins is a must. I will practice in this manner on several different grades of slope, from slight to almost straight down, all through the year. When fall rolls around, my confidence is at a climax and the critters better watch out.
There is a tool made available in recent years that will take all the work out of determining the true horizontal distance on steep bowhunting adventures. It is a rangefinder with a built in angle compensator. One push of the button and it instantly gives the true horizontal distance to the target. It does so by calculating the angle and line-of-sight distance to the target, and then giving the adjusted distance that the archer must aim for. Bushnell, Leupold, and Nikon are all selling a rangefinder with this feature. In my opinion, this is money well spent, as it goes leaps and bounds toward making you a more precise shot. Buy it and practice with it.
Practice In Harsh Conditions
When was the last time you shot your bow in the wind? How about the rain? These are real world bowhunting conditions that are commonly encountered and should be practiced for. Knowing how much different wind speeds affect arrow flight can be the difference in a quick kill, a gut shot, or a miss. Many different areas across the West are windy almost constantly, and if you are not prepared for it, you will not be very effective when you arrive.
Sustained wind can be accounted for while shooting; however, gusty winds are a nightmare, and shots should not be attempted unless you can get a lapse between gusts.
Also, knowing your shot is still accurate, and how your bow will perform, in a downpour and with your rain gear on, gives peace of mind.
Im addition, don’t forget practicing in your cold weather gear, with gloves on and other garb that you may wear.
You can never be too prepared for a bowhunt. These extreme practice techniques are just a few things you can do to become a better predator afield.
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