No matter how much you practice, you are not completely ready to head afield until you change from practice mode to hunt mode.
Bowhunters, as a whole, are pretty diligent about practicing with their chosen hunting tool. A good number of them attend either formal or informal 3D shoots each summer in addition to regular backyard practice. However, to be a truly effective stick-and-string hunter, your pre-season game plan needs more than just 3D courses and backyard shooting.
To help hunters make the switch from summer practice to fall success, Game & Fish offers seven excellent ways to be more effective in the field this season.
While any archery practice is good, realistic archery practice is the best.
I prefer three-dimensional targets to target bags or flat foam-core targets. They not only help get me in the mood for hunting but also assist in visualizing arrow placement at the angles necessary to make a clean shot.
These targets are now available in a wide range of animals and styles for a fraction of what they cost only a few years ago. Now it is feasible for single hunters to have an entire mini-3D course in their own backyard.
Full-dress practice includes wearing hunting clothing and all of the accessories you will carry into the field during the season.
Noise is a major issue for bowhunters, and yet relatively few give it the attention it deserves, believing that a deer cannot possibly “jump the string” when an arrow is shot from one of today’s “fast” bows.
Since the speed of sound at 68 degrees F is 1,127 feet per second, an arrow from even the fastest bow takes 3 to 4 times longer to reach the animal than the noise from its departure. Deadening this noise is necessary to successfully and consistently harvest big-game animals, especially such noted “string-jumpers” as whitetails.
To effectively quiet their bow, hunters need to address all of the culprits that make noise. This calls for the employment of string silencers, cable slides, arrow rests and creaky limbs. It is also a great idea to soundproof your bow in case of collision with other objects. The biggest noisemaker in this arena is the arrow-to-riser noise that is so common when nocking arrows and when an arrow falls off the rest. These can be avoided by lining the entire shelf and surrounding areas with moleskin or commercial archery fleece.
FIELD POSITION SHOOTING
All too often bowhunters practice only from a standing, upright position. While there’s something to be said for shooting with a straight back, your head in proper shooting position and slowly squeezing your trigger release in a controlled setting, the real world dictates that you take field conditions into account and practice accordingly.
To be more effective during the hunting season, hunters need to practice every shot that may present itself. This includes sitting, kneeling and crouching as well as shooting from elevated positions (both topographical and unnatural such as tree stands), from gullies, and through small openings in brush. The list goes on. The positions and situations are limited only by your imagination – and situations you’ve already encountered.
One thing is sure: The opportunities to shoot deer from an upright position over a perfectly flat, obstruction-free, manicured lawn are extremely limited!
Many hunters wonder why they flub easy shots at animals when they can stack arrows on top of each other, Robin Hood-style, on the practice course. Most times, the answer is simple: It’s all of that extra gear you carry into the woods that you don’t carry onto the practice course.
If you’re like me, you’ll be decked out in a T-shirt, shorts and a hip quiver when shooting 3D courses or practicing in the backyard. I am not wearing a face mask that obstructs my field of view or interferes with my anchor point. Nor am I wearing a pair of gloves that feel funny on the trigger of my release. And I never have calls, binoculars or rangefinders hanging around my neck, dangling very close to the drawn bowstring.
When you finally get a shot at a buck or a bull – with extra accessories you are not accustomed to carrying while shooting your bow getting in the way – you quickly realize that drawing on an animal feels nothing like summertime practice. The unfamiliarity suddenly kills hard-earned confidence, leaving a feeling of insecurity and despair. There’s only one way to prevent it.
Putting on all of my fall hunting gear in the heat of July is not my idea of a good time, but neither is missing a game animal. The only way to feel confident and comfortable on opening day is to have a dress rehearsal.
I switch from fun backyard practice and 3D competition around mid-July and go into hunting mode. This involves wearing my normal hunting clothes, complete with full gear, every practice session. Now is the time to discover that my bowstring smacks my jacket or that my rangefinder gets in the way – not when I am in the field.
FROM FIELD POINTS TO BROADHEADS
Changing from shooting practice-range field points to using broadheads for actual hunting is usually the only transition hunters make before hunting season. Unfortunately, most don’t do it very well.
When I managed an archery pro shop, it was unbelievable how many people would come in the day before season, buy a set of broadheads, screw them on and go hunting. They were shocked when they realized that their hunting arrows didn’t group well, or on the rare occasion that they did make contact with an animal their strike point was two feet different than the strike point they had set with field points.
The main causes for the difference in flight are the large surface area of broadheads compared to field points (more exaggerated with fixed heads than with mechanicals) and the different balance point of the arrow. Of these factors, broadhead wind resistance is by far the largest cause of inaccurate shots.
Arrows plane often due to the larger head “steering” the smaller fletching. Try using a smaller profile head or a larger profile fletch (feathers add more drag and more stability than vanes and should be considered if you are having stabilization problems), or both to get the desired results. You need to experiment with the size of the broadhead and/or fletching to achieve the right com
Another broadhead accuracy robber is head misalignment with the shaft. If the broadheads are not centered on the shaft, they will plane and be inconsistent, even if there is enough fletch to stabilize the arrow. This is usually caused by a misaligned insert due either to manufacturing error (very rare) or unequal glue application.
The only way to effectively test this is to spin each arrow on a spin tester or a flat surface such as a table to see if the head wobbles. If it does, it is a matter of heating the insert, rotating it inside the shaft (to evenly distribute the hot glue) and retesting it. This usually fixes the problem. If it does not, it could be a case of bad manufacturing, and you may have to replace the insert, arrowhead or shaft.
Field points have minimal surface area to “catch” the wind, and even a poorly tuned bow can appear to shoot well with them, making most people assume their bow is tuned. However, broadheads bring out the worst in out-of-tune bows. Make sure your bow is punching perfect holes through paper before you try to track down poor arrow flight problems. Paper often tells a lot, essentially creating a snapshot of the arrow in flight.
The last factor to broadhead planing is pure speed and instability. You can only push an arrow so fast before the head starts to steer the arrow, which results in erratic flight and poor accuracy. The magic number is around 280 fps (feet per second) with broadheads. Anything over that and flight can become erratic. Even worse, speeds over 280 fps often generate excessive noise! The best bet is to keep the speed down to a manageable level to avoid many of the problems associated with broadheads in the first place.
Several types of tree stands are available these days, and because all of them are different, it’s important to select a model that matches your style and hunting needs.
Tree stands designed for archery hunters have an open front and are generally shooter-friendly platforms with minimal accessories to get in the way. Carefully consider whether a shooting rail, safety bar or rain hood will help or hinder your shooting.
It will serve you well to practice shooting from your tree stand before the season. You need to know where your arrows will hit when shot from such an elevated perch. While you’re up there, determine whether the stand has any difficult-to-shoot-from spots.
Above all, remember that most hunting accidents each year involve tree stands. It’s important that hunters use proper safety equipment and follow the manufacturer’s instructions.
So you’ve practiced with all of your gear on in numerous different shooting positions, and you know your bow is shooting well. Now how do you defeat your own body’s production of adrenaline?
We’ve all felt it, that fast-pulsed rush and shortness of breath we call “buck fever.” If you’re like most of us, you too have a hard time controlling your excitement as you draw on a buck or bull. While the rush is never something you can completely get over (and I personally wouldn’t want to), there are ways of keeping it at a manageable level so that you can make an accurate shot.
I try to get out several times during winter to hunt predators, varmints and small game with a bow, not because it is an effective way to hunt, but because it helps to simulate big-game hunting situations. This type of practice is as real world as it gets.
In the summer, I likewise try and get out in the field a bit, but this time it is after carp with a bow and arrow. While carp don’t quite get the heart pumping as much as a Pope and Young bull, they will make you concentrate, pick a spot and get a clean release in a short time span (before the fish swims off). These are all desirable skills to hone before the big-game season rolls around.
Another great technique is running a 3D course. This can be done if you live in a rural area and set a course up on your own property, or during off-hours at a local club.
I like to put on my pack and my jogging shoes, carry my bow (arrows secured in the quiver, of course) and take off at a medium pace, jogging through the 3D course. It is important to do this either on your own private range or when no one is using the public range, as it can interfere with other shooters.
When you reach a shooting station, allow yourself 5 to 10 seconds to catch your breath, nock an arrow and get off a good shot. Retrieve your arrow and set off for the next target.
The combination of physical exertion and time constraints helps simulate actual hunting, especially elk hunting, and will not only get you in shape but will make you a much better shot under pressure.
Really, removing human scent from your clothing and equipment should go without saying, but many bowhunters are either not aware of their own human scent or choose not to believe it matters.
Believe it: Scent control matters.
Deer, elk and bears have first-rate noses. That fact simply cannot be debated, and their sense of smell is many multiples better than any human’s nose is capable of detecting. If hunters fail to do everything possible to prevent detection by smell, their hunt is most likely to turn into yet another A.C.T. tale (Almost Came Together) and little else.
There are two main ways to de-scent. The first involves washes, and the second utilizes activated carbon clothing. Between the two I prefer the latter, for its performance and simplicity, but either gets the job done.
Concerning washes, it is my opinion that an entire gamut of products needs to be used to be effective, including those to use on your body and working outward.
I start with scent-eliminator shampoo and body soap before I hunt. I wash my clothes in scent-eliminating clothes wash and liberally use scent killer spray while afield. Watching many keen-nosed bears around my stand over the years attests to the effectiveness of this three-part system.
The second method is quite a bit simpler and equally effective. I start with the shampoo/body wash and then wear a full set (top, bottom and hood) of Robinson Labs Scent Blocker activated carbo
n clothing. The nice thing about activated carbon clothing is it is easy to maintain – simply throw it in the dryer for a half- hour and it is ready to start absorbing odors again. This procedure needs only to be done every couple of weeks.
Regardless of what type of scent elimination strategy you employ, I believe one of the biggest keys is keeping your clothes scent-free. Even if you have de-scented or are wearing carbon, your hunting clothes should not be worn until you are afield. If you wear your clothes on the way to the field, you are more than likely going to pick up a lot of unnatural odors along the way. Gas, exhaust, greasy food odors from a truck stop – all kinds of smelly things surround hunters on the way to the field.
The best method is to treat your clothes (either with wash or in the dryer in the case or carbon), and place them immediately into a scent-proof plastic bag, and only put them on when you have reached your destination and are outside the vehicle.
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