Archery Talk: Pre-Season Preparation

Summer is in full-swing and archery hunting season will soon be upon us. Are you ready?

It was late April as we stepped on to the 3-D range. I hate to admit it but my muscles and joints complained as I drew back my bow. Carefully aiming at the weathered black bear, my bow arm shook after only 10 seconds. If you’re grinning as you read this, chances are you’ve been there!

“Pathetic,” I thought to myself, “I’ve got some work to do!”

To be a skilled archer requires practice. Plain and simple, if we don’t throw plenty of arrows, it is impossible to shoot consistently or accurately.

“Hogwash,” you say? You picked up your bow for the first time in six months and shot perfectly?

I’ll concede, it’s not impossible, but it is highly unlikely. Allow me to step up on my soapbox and suggest that pre-season preparation demands a detailed and disciplined regime that focuses on two things, namely tuning equipment and preparing both physically and mentally — and this can only be accomplished by shooting a lot.

Equipment Overhaul

It might be more politically correct to smudge the truth and say that I practice seven days a week year round, but that’s not how I roll. You and I both know that would not only be impractical but nearly impossible when you live in a snow-covered winter wonderland for five months of the year, as I do. Winter tends to grind our shooting to a standstill, or at very least slows us down. Even the most committed hang up equipment in December and, at best, shoot every couple weeks throughout the winter. When we finally pick up our bow, we usually find things have changed and the bow needs a little TLC.

No, you’re not alone. A lot of folks find it confusing that bows go out of tune when they sit for a few months, but they often do. While most of the higher-end custom strings stretch very little if at all, it’s good practice to inspect your bow regularly to ensure that yours hasn’t stretched or become frayed, that it’s waxed, and that your nock height is still set perfectly. You can do this and take other tuning steps yourself, or visit a qualified technician to have it done for you. Likewise, using a bow wrench, check all of the screws to ensure they are hand tight. Take care not to over-tighten.

Inspect all of the working parts on your bow and accessories. Go over your arrow rest, string silencers, peep, stabilizer, cams, and sight pins. Today’s fiber optic pins often become brittle over time; these may require extra attention. New, they are usually flexible. Over time they become rigid and can break easily. As with any part that’s in disrepair or loose, be sure to replace, tighten, or fix as necessary. Nothing messes up your shooting faster, or even creates an unnecessary safety risk, than equipment that’s not working properly. I’ve had many fiber optic sights break due to aging or over-tightening, and I’ll bet you probably have as well.

With the bow up to snuff, it’s time to hit the range. I’m always a bit cautious when I shoot my bow for the first time following an extended break. Go to full draw, check everything over and then proceed. If you find its not shooting consistent groups, consider shooting through paper. A skilled technician will recognize if centre-shot is off. Paper shooting will invariably reveal what’s needed. Your goal is to get your equipment sending arrows downrange with pinpoint accuracy; close isn’t good enough. In most instances, after extended breaks, and even from time to time as we shoot on a regular basis, micro adjustments to sight pins are required to fine tune accuracy. Over the years I’ve used many different sights, but my all-time favourite is a Spot Hogg SDP sight (www.spot-hogg.com). With seven pins, the first is good to 30 yards, so that means I’ve got the capability of shooting out to 90 yards. Believe me, checking and re-checking each of these pins is a major undertaking when it comes my own pre-season preparation. My point, invest the time in fine-tuning and your confidence on the range and while you hunt will increase exponentially. Regardless of the number of pins you have on your sight, once they are zeroed, then it’s time to getting yourself in shape.

Preparing Body and Mind

Unfortunately the pre-season often finds us unprepared. By definition, my own early season begins as soon as the snow disappears in early April. For the next five-to-six months, every time I shoot, I’m consciously preparing to hunt in the fall.

Keeping it real, many of us dust off the ‘ol bow for the first time in the spring, fling a few arrows and suddenly realize we’ve got some work to do! Don’t worry, you’re not alone. I know a lot of folks pick up their bow only a couple weeks before the start of hunting season and hit the woods in search of game! Unfortunately this can have catastrophic effects when a shot opportunity is presented.

I’ve got butts and 3-D targets set at variable distances out to 60 yards in my backyard, so flinging a few arrows every day or two isn’t an issue as the temperatures rise and the snow melts. That said I’m human and, like a lot of us, I shoot far less during the frigid winter months.

The truth is, just like every other sport, hours of repetitive shooting practice help to improve our technique. So many factors come into play when we draw our bow, anchor, aim and release an arrow that only through repetitive practice can we achieve consistency and downrange precision. If shooting at home isn’t an option, there are simple steps you can take to get muscles and joints back in shape. Every hunting situation is different. Sometimes we can draw and shoot quickly. Other times we have to hold at full draw for a minute or more. One of the best steps we can take is conditioning muscles to cope with drawing in different positions (e.g., sitting, standing, kneeling) and then holding at full draw for variable periods of time. Much like doing weightlifting reps, consider 10 repetitions of 20 seconds, then another 10 at 10 seconds. Over time muscle strength will improve. As you grow stronger, increase those repetitions to hold at full-draw for longer periods of time. If you can hold for a minute or more without shaking, you’re off to the races.

As you prepare physically both physically and mentally in the pre-season, be cognizant of the distinct difference between target shooting and aiming at a live game animal. As hunters, our goal is to deliver a clean double lung, or even better a heart shot resulting in immediate retrieval of downed game. The best, and most affordable, practice involves a 3-D target. One of my own favorites is the Rinehart anatomy deer. This 3-D deer shows the true-to-life positioning of the vitals, colour and all, so that archers can see precisely where their arrow penetrates. This is indeed one of the best tools any bow hunter can use as he or she prepares in the pre-season.

Practice Extremes

As you prepare for any upcoming hunt, consider practicing beyond what you deem to be realistic shot opportunities. Prepare for possible extremes. For instance, on the 3D course, I like to take shots out to 80-yards. As I grow accustomed to these long-range shots, the shorter 40-yard targets feel like chip shots. Do I recommend taking 80-yard shots at live game? No. Realistically, most skilled bow hunters can comfortably shoot to 30 or 40 yards with accuracy. Pre-season preparation allows us to develop an understanding of our shooting competency and our limits. If your equipment, body and mind are in tune, you’ll quickly become familiar with those limitations.

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