Shot Tune-Up- Looking to gain an accuracy edge? If so, try these six proven steps.
Posted on December 18, 2012
With deer season around the corner, you should ask yourself, ‘Am I more ready this year this last, in terms of shooting better and feeling more accurate? If the answer is no, then I believe there’s always room for improvement.
In fact, each season you should find yourself growing and striving to shoot and hunt better. After 25-plus years of bowhunting, I’ve found there’s always some small thing you can do to up the accuracy ante or your shooting confidence.
That’s what this article is all about—basic details you can incorporate or address that will make you a better shot. With that in mind, here are some things you should consider.
1. Work on a Surprise Release
When the shot takes you by surprise, you have less of a chance of torquing the release or the bow handle, or messing up your follow-through. You body simply works with the bow instead of against it, allowing it to do its job perfectly.
However, a surprise release doesn’t come without some effort. First off, you need to set your draw length correctly, so you can hold the bow’s weight with proper form. Secondly, you need to draw the bow by activating your scapular or rhomboid muscles (muscle closest to your spine) during the initial pull. And lastly, you need to use a well made release with a crisp trigger, so the shot breaks without you knowing about it.
Proper draw length will help you maintain a high degree of relaxation, with your bow-arm shoulder low and locked into the socket. Your bow arm will also feel more motionless, like it’s a piece of petrified wood. The only sensation you should have is near the base of the thumb, where the pressure of the bow grip belongs. Your draw-arm elbow should be in line or slightly above the arrow’s position, not below it or to one side of it.
Drawing the bow correctly is crucial because this “loads” the back and places much of the pull cycle on these larger muscles, as opposed to those in your arm. This will make holding the bow more natural and effective, specifically when it comes to pulling through the trigger by using nothing more than these large, powerful muscles.
Of course, none of this is possible without a good release aid–one that uses a smooth trigger with zero creep. This is important because once you hit full draw, and get locked in on target and tell yourself to continue pulling by using those rhomboid muscles, the only thing you mind should be focused on is consciously aiming…aiming…and aiming, or aiming subconsciously and telling yourself to keep pulling…keep pulling…keep pulling until the shot breaks. You should never think about what your finger is doing on the trigger—never.
2. Use a Better Follow-Through
Master archery coach Dick Tone told me that when it comes to shooting, it’s best to keep things as natural as possible. When speaking of follow through, he said your two points of contact on the bow (grip and string) should end up where the bow naturally positions them just after the arrow exits the bow.
Upon releasing the arrow, the bow naturally springs back slightly (toward the shooter) and then springs forward an instant later as the bowstring whips into the limbs. So, once the arrow exits the bow and speeds downrange, and your eyes are more or less still focused on the target, your bow hand and the bow should thrust forward and to the left, as a natural response to the bow’s force. If not, then you let muscle resistance get in the way somehow, which degrades accuracy.
You can practice proper follow through by shooting over and over into a close-range bail. Close your eyes, stay as relaxed and possible, and focus on maintaining good back-tension and a surprise release. Let the bow hand and release hand go where they may as a natural response to the bow’s energy. Eventually, you’ll realize that the bow will end up to the left of the target, not in front of it.
The same goes for your release hand. It should spring straight back and not out to the side. Do this and you’ll shoot better than you ever have.
Perhaps the best way to learn proper follow through, as Tone showed me, is shoot with your eyes closed while someone else triggers the release for you. Your bow arm and release hand will end just as they should.
3. Fine-Tune Sighting System
When the moment of truth occurs, the last thing you want is the sight pin to look fuzzy or the peep to feel out of place. Instead, the pin should look bright and distinct and the peep should come to your eye perfectly, with either the orifice centered in the pin or around the sight’s housing.
To test the worth of your sighting system, be sure to practice repeatedly on a 3-D deer target but in lowlight. If things seem hazy, then it would pay to experiment with better fiber-optic pins and perhaps a larger peep or one that is equipped with light-enhancing coating.
A larger-size peep can sometimes degrade your shooting accuracy, which isn’t good. For this reason, try to use the smallest size for the conditions you plan to hunt in.
Again, practice in low light, so you can represent the worst possible lighting conditions. Some western hunters prefer an extra-small peep in order to gain consistency. However, too small is not good for those shots at the edge of ethical shooting light, which can occur when hunting all types of western big game. My advice is to err on the side of worst case lighting rather than maximum consistency in bright daylight situations. I’ve found 1/8-inch size peeps to be ideal for consistent shooting in a wide variety of lowlight conditions.
4.Try a Different Broadhead
Sometimes switching to a different broadhead is all it takes to gain that accuracy edge you’re looking for. You may have an ol’ standby head that you just can’t seem to part from, but it could be holding you back a little accuracy wise.
I’m a firm believer in a true-flying fixed-blade head, but sometimes a lot of fine-tuning must go into getting one to fly dead straight. For this reason, I encourage you to sample a well-designed mechanical head, which eliminate a lot of blade surface and enhance aerodynamics. This eliminates much of the hassles of fine-tuning. There are many great designs on the market, with one being the new Ulmer Edge.
Also, I highly encourage shooting a little more front of center weight, which seems to add shooting forgiveness. An easy way to do this is switch from 100-grain broadheads to 125.
5. Get Sighted In
Sometimes, the bow’s tune or equipment has nothing to do with blowing the shot. Many times, it’s how the bow was sighted-in to begin with.
Most archers shoot a lot during the warm summer months, often in their backyards or at local ranges. They tweak on their sights while conducting this training, until they feel everything is set perfect. Then they feel like they’re ready to deliver at the moment of truth.
Of course, this is the assumption. Then reality comes and they begin missing easy shots from treestands and while shooting from their knees. They soon realize their bow shoots different from such positions, either because of different form or from what they’re now wearing while shooting (big jacket, gloves, backpack, etc.).
To save yourself the aggravation, be sure to sight-in your bow (with broadheads) periodically, using actual hunting clothes, gloves, facemask and the jacket you intend to hunt with. Try to shoot early in the morning when it’s colder and while your muscles aren’t warmed up. This will mimic hunting conditions. You’d be surprised how much difference this makes in how your bow shoots.
Perhaps, most importantly, when sighting in, be sure to note exactly where your first shot arrow of the day impacts the target. Chances are it will impact a little differently than the other arrows you’ll shoot for the day. Even an inch or two off mark can make a big difference on an animal shot. So sight in precisely, which means for the first arrow of the day and not the 20th.
6. Learn to Aim Smaller
We’ve all heard the term, “pick a spot.” It’s good advice, but I prefer the phrase, “pick a very small spot.”
Many successful bowhunters prefer to aim at a certain crease or patch of hair on a deer’s chest. This promotes precision. Derek Phillips, pro shooter and pro staff coordinator for Mathews Archery, prefers a different approach. He likes to create an imaginary image on the animal. This allows him to aim with a purpose and get on the “animal” quickly, as hunting situations often dictate fast action.
“I like to visualize a golf ball, yellow or white in color, and put this golf ball exactly where I want my arrow to strike, based on body angle and vital position,” said Phillips.
“Also, when I shoot at targets or game, I aim the bow right at the spot, then draw to anchor. I don’t come up, down or in from the side—the pin is already on the spot, more or less, when I hit full draw,” said Phillips. “I think shot anticipation (target panic or buck fever) can creep in when you dawdle a lot with the sight pin, swinging it in slowly toward the spot. I like to be more aggressive with getting on target.”
Performing well at the moment of truth is what every serious bowhunter strives for. This is where well executed shooting practice, a refined shooting rig, and following a few basic accuracy tips can reward you when it matters most. By following the advice in this article, I believe you can do just that.
Use a Mental Checklist
When the moment of truth comes and your mind is racing and adrenaline is flowing, the best thing you can do is focus on something simple, such as each step needed to make a good shot. Have a basic mental checklist to go through, so you can keep your mind preoccupied on the shooting process and not the outcome of notching your tag.
Keep your focus by concentrating on the shot distance, when to draw, “feeling your anchor” and centering the peep, making sure your bow hand is relaxed, and making sure you keep pulling until the shot just breaks. This will keep buck fever at bay, at least long enough to pull off a lethal shot. –J.B.
By Joe Bell