Archery Drills to Help You Stay on Target
Unless you bow hunt for turkeys this spring or even bow fish over the summer, your archery form is sure to get a little sloppy between deer seasons. It’s actually good to take a break after the season ends to let your body recover. But you don’t want to let it slip too long or your shooting accuracy will suffer. Whether you have access to an indoor range or shoot your bow in the privacy of your backyard, you need to get out now and get back into the game. These unique archery drills can help you become a more consistent and accurate archer. When you’re looking past the pins at a wide-framed eight pointer next season, you’ll be thankful you did.
The first step in this archery drill progression includes blind shooting. No, we don’t mean putting on a blindfold and flinging arrows to the wind. Blind shooting is a technique to let your mind shut down so you can focus only on how a shot “feels” for lack of a better description. Here’s how it works:
Stand roughly 2-3 yards away from a large target. You want to be close enough and the target to be large enough so that you will not miss it! Take a good shoulder-width stance. Close your eyes and smoothly draw your bow, feeling for the same anchor point on each shot. Focus on the sensations and really slowly squeeze the release. The simple act of closing your eyes will break down your temptation to punch the release. Typically, archers do this when they see the pin settle on the sweet spot. Instead, you should allow your sights to circle around the sweet spot and slowly squeeze the release. It will result in a much more consistent grouping.
All too often, archers fall into the trap of practicing the same shot over and over. They quickly pull out the target, shoot a couple arrows on their flat lawn, and call it practice. You’re shooting your bow, but you’re not doing much to prepare yourself for field conditions. An often over-looked archery drill is simply to get up into a tree stand (or even the top of your garage, shed, etc.) and practice different shot angles that way.
Replicating these field situations forces your body to get used to bending at the hips instead of just aiming the bow lower. Each time you practice, move the target nearer, further away, and side to side, which will constantly challenge you to adapt to a slightly different shot. One final tip with this approach is to practice on an actual 3-D deer target instead of just a bale or block. This helps you to get used to shooting at a deer form and lets you clearly see which shot angle would penetrate the vitals.
This one might seem obvious, but every bow hunter is guilty of practicing on a target from the same known distances. Perhaps we just get into a routine and stick with it since we’re creatures of habit. However, you’re not always going to know the exact shot yardage in a real hunting situation. A deer likely won’t step out at exactly 20 or 30 yards either. Sure, the amazing technology in rangefinders these days helps take the guesswork out. But sometimes you won’t have the luxury of time to use one, and need to be able to make a shot quickly using only your ability to judge distances.
You can and should use this archery drill in tandem with the shot angles approach above. While in your tree stand, use your rangefinder to pinpoint key trees along shooting lanes. Then estimate how far your target is between those objects. You’ll get better and more accurate the more you switch things up. Using this technique, if a deer steps out between tree B and C, you know it’s between 20 and 30 yards and can adjust your shot accordingly.
Additionally, don’t be afraid to take some long distance shots in practice. You probably won’t feel comfortable taking an ethical shot at a deer from 50-60 yards, but practicing for it will force you to fix small form errors. This technique will translate to closer groupings at shorter distances and make you a more confident archer.
After spending time practicing the other archery drills above, you can be pretty confident you’ll have developed some muscle memory. Now it’s time for you to move on to a more advanced technique. You can now shoot comfortably from different positions and distances, but how can you replicate the nerves and thumping heartbeat you get when looking at a nice buck during a hunt?
Enter this archery drill. Put your release on your wrist, knock an arrow, and then set the bow down at a distance from the target. Now sprint 50 yards off to the side and back to your bow. Immediately hoist and draw your bow and shoot as soon as you’re able. The goal of this drill is to get you used to target acquisition when your heart is racing and it’s difficult to aim. It also teaches you how to effectively use and control your breathing. You can also do jumping jacks, burpees, whatever it takes to get your heart pumping. For this technique, limit yourself to only one arrow. It may sound ridiculous to get everything set up for one arrow, but it forces you to really make that one shot count. That’s usually all you’re going to get in the woods, and perfect practice makes perfect.
Speaking about exercise, one of the most important archery drills you can do throughout the year to keep you shooting well next season is not really an archery-related task at all. Simply staying in good physical condition will eliminate a potential issue from affecting your shooting form. Keep in shape by walking/jogging and lifting weights a couple times a week. Focus on back, shoulder, and chest-related lifts, including pull-ups, pushups, rows, and shoulder raises (front and side). These lifts will translate best to keep your muscles primed for pulling your bow back.
Wrapping It Up
Take time this spring to make archery practice a habit. By the time fall comes, it will be so deeply engrained that you can focus solely on the moment. No calculating shot angles or worrying about punching the release. Without the clutter and distractions in your head, you’ll have a much better chance at shooting consistently when it counts.