Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Practice Makes Perfect

It's that time...mid-August and the itch to get out after elk is definitely getting to a feverous pitch. I've been out quite a bit, practicing on the range and I'm feeling good. Practice does a few things outside of groupings like this at 30 yards. It's incredibly important and it's something I don't think a lot of folks take very seriously. I was one of those guys for the past couple decades but I'm getting back into the science and the art of bow-hunting more and more every year.
When I was about 14, I never shot with sights. In fact, we shot recurves and could still group arrows like this at 30 yards. We shot every day, all summer long. We actually would make up games to keep ourselves interested and the pay-off was being crazy accurate. (Most of the time we were shooting at chew tins and couldn't end a session until we fit every arrow inside the tin. Eventually we progressed to trying to shoot each other's arrows until that got too expensive.) It's too bad we sucked at the hunting part. I didn't harvest my first deer with a bow until I was 23.
It's crazy how technology has changed throughout the years. I got my first compound bow in 1985. It was one of the first to tout the teardrop shaped speed cams. It was called a York Tracker. I actually still have it and use it for carp shooting. I didn't have sights on it either though but I could still outshoot just about anybody I shot with within that 30 yard limit.
I was about 23 when I started upgrading my gear and learning about archery and taking it a bit more seriously. I didn't have the time to practice as much so I eventually put sights on my new XI Legend to improve my efficiency in getting back into shooting. At that time, it was one of the fastest bows on the market at around 240 feet per second. I shot my first deer with it and would eventually shoot my first three elk with it as well but it obviously became outdated quickly and within a few years, I saw my gear fall further and further behind the industry standards. I just never really had time to keep up with the technology and quite honestly, I was too busy during the bow season out here in Montana to justify spending money on new gear.
So now I am practicing more and I have upgraded my bow to a Hoyt Alpha Max, which is now also outdated but the thing shoots so well I'm not going to trade it in yet. In fact, what I was doing at 30 yards, I now can do at 40 and 50. It's pretty crazy. At around 315 fps, I can even feel confident in getting the job done at 60 yards and I'm even pushing out to 70. But that all takes practice, which is what I'm going to talk about.
Accuracy is obviously the name of the game but there are a lot of variables that can affect whether a shot hits home outside of just having your bow sighted in. I think that's kind of the misnomer with all this new technology and $220 sights with levels and angle compensation and sight tapes and dial-up range adjusters and bla, bla, bla...you still have to hold the bow on target and you have to take into account variables.
Part of the reason I practice as much as I do now is because I want to build up my shoulders to prevent fatigue. When you're fatigued, your arms will shake and you can't hold tight on a target when you're moving and it doesn't take much to miss a shot when you start getting out to 50 or 60 yards. When you think about it; if you're off a few inches at 20 yards, that gets multiplied for each 10 yards of distance increased so 6 inches at 20 yards could be a foot and a half at 60.
Now, non of us hold exactly still on target. We have what is called drift and the more fatigued we are, the more drift there is. There's like a circle that we drift around and as that circle gets larger and larger, we work harder and harder to pull the bow back to center. As we pull back to center, we swing or drift through the target and have to drift back, exasperating the problem.
Fatigue will also cause your bow arm to collapse in the shot and push the arrow anywhere but on center. There is a great article in Field and Stream about form and how important form is. http://www.fieldandstream.com/node/1005010570 When your arms get tired, your form is off. It's that simple and the only way to build up those muscles is to practice.
I know, when you're hunting you get one shot, right? So how much do have to build up to hold for one shot? Well, a lot of things can happen to sap the strength out of your shot. One thing is just chasing an elk for a mile or so before getting that shot. If you don't think humping around the mountains for a couple hours can't affect how well you hold on a shot, you better think again.
Adrenaline can also have an adverse affect on strength. I know, most of us think adrenaline can make he-men or she-women out of us but I've seen guys not be able to draw their bows back at crunch time because they are so jacked up. It happens.
And lastly, I know we've all had that bull or buck stop just before it cleared a tree or it looks right up at you before you can get a shot and you're full drawn and can't move. How long can you hold that string before you have to let it down? And then once the animal puts its head down, can you hold tight on him after being full drawn for 30 seconds or even a minute?
Last year I wrote a series on the process of shooting my elk and I plan to do it again this year. I have the time right now to practice quite a bit and to do some experimenting with gear and I'm going to share those results. There is a lot more to practicing that I'll touch on as well so I hope you'll all follow along and maybe even get something out of it.
Keep 'em where they live...
BTW, Patrick is getting into the shooting aspect of bow hunting right now as well. I'll be sharing his journey too.

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