Bow-hunting is one of the most challenging and visceral experiences I have ever enjoyed.  I started shooting a bow at a very young age.

My first experiences were watching my father firing arrows at a paper plate attached to bales of hay in the back yard.  I was instantly fascinated by the quiet and the suspense of the process.  As I got older I started practicing with my own bow and began competing in tournaments.  Often I spent rainy days fletching arrows at my scout masters home.  After a while, I felt that I was ready to go hunting with my bow.

However, I quickly realized that there are some new challenges when you take a good bow out into the woods.  The logistics of the process are quite different from target shooting.  It can be awkward, tiring, clumsy, and frustrating.  It can also be exhilarating and life changing.  The fact is that you must make some adjustments when you move the bow from the range to the tree stand.  In this article, I will cover some adjustments that you can make for better form when bow-hunting.

Practice in Hunting Positions

Practicing from your treestand in the off-season is a great idea to help perfect your shooting form.
Practicing from your treestand in the off-season is a great idea to help perfect your shooting form.

Most archers know that the ideal position for firing a bow is to have your feet in line with your target, shoulder width apart, and knees slightly bent.  However, the chances of finding exactly this same stance when hunting are not great.  Most deer hunters spend their time high up in a tree stand.  Most commercial tree stands have limited foot room.  In addition, your angle of fire could vary greatly depending on the location of the deer.  You have to fire from the position that you are given, and do so in a way that does not cause you to lose your balance.  You may even have to fire from a seated position.

In addition, firing from the ground is not much easier.  When hunting from the ground, you will often be slightly surprised by your prey.  This means that you must remain very still as you carefully draw back your bow.  You may have to fire from an uncomfortable angle, or you may even have to drop to a knee.  These changes in stance can greatly affect your accuracy.

So what is the solution?  Practice firing from hunting positions.  If you are going to be hunting from the ground, try out uncomfortable angles and stances at the range.  Try firing from one knee, or spinning and shooting as you hear prey behind you.  If you plan to hunt from a tree, take a target out to your stand before the season opens.  Set it up in different locations and try out different angles.  This type of practice is the best way to ensure that you have the versatility needed to be effective when meat is on the line.

Hold on Target

When I first started bow-hunting, one of the biggest surprises was how long I found myself holding back my draw as an animal came closer.  With bow-hunting, proximity is everything.  The closer your prey gets to your location, the better your odds are of getting a kill shot.  You may notice a deer come into sight at fifty yards away.  At that point you could possibly hit the shot, so you stand and draw your bow.  Then the deer slowly starts to walk towards you.  It comes in to 40 yards, and then sniffs his way along to 30 yards. It seems like you are holding your draw for an eternity.  By the time you have the perfect shot, your shoulders are so tired that you cannot hold your pin steady.

Some of you may have experienced something similar.  There is only one way to improve your stability on these long draws.  You have to practice the long draw.  Set up at a reasonable firing distance from your target.  Then draw your arrow and hold.  I would say an ideal draw time before fire is eight to ten seconds.  For this exercise, start at 20 seconds.  Practice until you are fairly accurate, and then move to 25 seconds.  Keep going with this exercise until you are holding as long as you could possibly have to hold in the wild.

Factor in Angles

When you shoot at the range, there is typically only one angle you consider. That is the perpendicular

When shooting from a treestand you must take into consideration the height and angle
When shooting from a treestand you must take into consideration the height and angle

angle of your arrow hitting a flat target.  However, hunting is full of other angles.  First, you must consider the angle from your height.  You may be firing from a tree or may be firing at a hilltop from the bottom of a holler.  When you are higher or lower than your target, it affects both the distance of the shot and how gravity affects the shot.  An upward shot will arch more than a downward shot.

In addition, you must consider the angle of your prey.  The animal is not a two dimensional target.  It is a three dimensional body with a three dimensional vital zone.  There are bones and muscles that you will be trying to avoid.  A broadside shot is pretty simple, but what do you do if the animal is quartering towards you or quartering away from you?  It changes the point of impact for the arrow.  On longer distances, you have to factor the arch of the arrow as it will penetrate the animal at a downward angle.

To get better with these angles, simply practice them.  Fire uphill and downhill to get more comfortable.  Fire at long distances to see what the final angle of penetration looks like.  In my opinion, the best move you can make for angles is to use a three dimensional target.  You can buy inexpensive ones that have replaceable vital sections.

Learn to Shoot on the Fly

Whether you are firing at a walking deer or at a pheasant on the wing, moving targets are a whole new world of shooting. Most target practice never even considers moving targets.  Your best bet is to get some practice in advance.  You will probably try to use your sights at first, but will likely find that you fire well behind your target.

Firing at moving targets with a bow is similar to firing at moving targets with a shotgun.  You have sights for a general point of reference, but you do not have the time to focus in a conventional manner.  Moving shots typically work better with both eyes open.  You will want to lead your target a bit and use instinct instead of trying to put a pin on the animal.  It takes some serious practice, but this is very attainable.  Start by throwing inflated balloons in the air and then move on to targets that move a bit faster.

Control the Nerves

Target practice is serene and controlled.  It is just you and the target.  That is one of the things that first drew me to archery.  It was relaxing and allowed me a new level of focus.  However, hunting can be a completely different story.  How is it going to affect you when that huge buck is in your sights?

Even with a summer's worth of archery practice; controlling your nerves will be hard when a Trophy Whitetail Buck is staring you down.
Even with a summer’s worth of archery practice; controlling your nerves will be hard when a Trophy Whitetail Buck is staring you down.

I like to remind people that bow-hunting is very different than gun hunting.  You are not looking at an animal through a scope from 150 yards away.  This animal is in your space.  You can see its breath.  You can hear every grunt and snort.  Sometimes you can even smell the beast.  It is a very personal experience.  That is part of the reason why I love it.

However, you are not human if it does not get your heart racing. Your adrenaline will start pumping and it affects your vision and stability.  This makes taking an accurate shot very difficult. You must find ways to control your nerves.  Breathing is a big key to this.  Take long, deep breaths.  Try repeating a phrase in your mind as you aim and release. Most importantly, never hold your breath.

In Conclusion

The first step in improving your bow-hunting form is acknowledging that hunting is different from target practice.  From there, just take one step at a time.  Work on one aspect of your hunting form until you are happy, and then move on to the next. Any focus on these improvements will make you a better bow-hunter in the end.

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