Your agony will be immeasurable.
Imagine if, six or eight or 10 weeks from now, you’re up in a treestand or down in a ground blind or even just leaning against a tree when a white-tailed buck walks up. A big one. We’re talkin’ huge here.
He’s got a rack so tall and wide, with beams and tines so long and thick, that it appears he’s carrying the ribcage of a brontosaurus between his ears.
Miraculously, he’s unaware of your presence, despite you shaking knees, ragged breath and racing pulse. He even presents himself for a shot.
You draw back your bow, settle in, take aim … and miss.
You won’t snap your arrows and smash your bow on a tree. Or fall to your knees like an Old Testament sinner, ripping and tearing your clothes in repentance until they’re mere scentless camo rags. You won’t sob weeping, whiny, moany sobs that scare the nearby squirrels. Nor will you grab a green, whippy switch with which to flog yourself.
No, no, you’ll feel worse than that.
Especially if you know, deep in your heart, that you didn’t practice your shooting so as to be able to take advantage of such an opportunity.
Things need not be that way, though.
While no amount of practice guarantees every shot will fly true, any archer can hone their skill.
As for how to do it?
We asked three experts for some advice.
There’s a lot to be said for repetition, said Rick Maxson, manager of Bucks and Bows Archery in Gibsonia. Shooters should get their bows tuned each year, then get busy, he said.
“I tell customers to shoot as much as they can, even if it’s only 10 arrows a day,” Maxson said.
Bobby Vargas, marketing director for PSE Archery, agreed. There’s nothing people do in ordinary, every-day life that mimics shooting a bow, so actual practice is the only way to tone those muscles, he said.
But, he added, it’s just as important that shooters use good form.
“Perfect practice is better than just a lot of practice,” Vargas said. “Shooting is 5 percent aim and 95 percent execution. If you execute your shots perfectly the arrows will impact where you need them to.”
Most shots taken by archers in Eastern woods will be relatively short. But that doesn’t mean practice shots should be.
“If, when hunting, you think you might be taking shots at deer that are 35 yards away, you should be practicing out to 60 or 70 yards,” said Steve MacBride, owner of The Archer’s Edge in Oakdale.
“Shooting longer distances really helps. When the time comes to shooting closer, your groups will get noticeably tighter.”
Maxson also advocates practicing at longer ranges. “Pushing your limits,” he said – something that’s easier than ever given modern equipment – breeds confidence.
“If you are proficient and comfortable shooting a target to 60 yards then a hunting shot at 40 yards should be no problem,” Maxson said.
It makes sense to stand upright, feet shoulder width apart, square to a stationary target, to sight a bow in.
But is that the position you’ll be in when hunting?
“If you’re hunting from a ground blind, you don’t stand up and shoot,” MacBride said. “You don’t have room to stand up. You shoot from a chair.
“So, however you’re going to be shooting when in the woods, that’s how you should be practicing.”
Treestand hunters can practice either from an actual stand or, in the case of some local 3D courses, from elevated decks, hillsides and other positions, he noted.
“With any angled shot, you must focus on bending at the waist to keep perfect form,” Vargas added. “It is easy for us to forget about that at the moment of truth, but if you practice it, it will be second nature.”
Shoot fast and slow
Back yard targets are wonderfully predictable. They stand still, always broadside, and wait to be pierced.
Actual animals are less cooperative.
Practice for when things get tricky, MacBride said.
“Draw your bow back for 30 seconds or 60 seconds and just hold it. Then reacquire your right and shoot,” he said.
“Because there will be times when you have to do that. Especially during the rut, when that buck you’re watching keeps moving because of some does in the area, you have to be prepared for that.”
By the same token, there may be times when you have only seconds to make a shot, Vargas said. It pays then to have practiced drawing back, taking aim and shooting quickly.
Finally, be sure to practice with broadheads as well as field points.
MacBride shoots field points throughout summer. But each year about this time, he switches to broadheads so as to be sure where his arrows are hitting using the equipment he’ll be taking into the woods.
Vargas advocates for practicing with broadheads, too.
Most broadhead manufacturers advertise their blades as offering “field point accuracy,” he said. Some, though, deliver better than others.
“I have personally experienced field point accuracy with some broadheads, and have also had some not even come close. Leave nothing to chance and have confidence in your equipment,” he said.
Following all of that advice may not save you from a miss and an accompanying meltdown, of course.
But it will put the odds a bit more in your favor.
Oh, mercy indeed.
After the shot
OK, so you’re going to be ready to shoot a deer with your bow if the opportunity presents itself.
If you’re hoping to make venison sausage, you’ll need a meat grinder. Rick Fetrow of Carlisle has some advice there. A retired butcher, he processed more than 2,100 deer and made more than 100,000 pounds of sausage, bologna and jerky in his final year in business.
So yeah, the man knows his meat.
When it comes to grinders, he warns not to go cheap.
“People always ask me, what kind of grinder should I buy?” Fetrow said. “My answer to that is, buy the best grinder you can afford, that works in your budget.”
A cheap grinder will have plastic gears and a small motor. It won’t hold up for long, especially if you’re doing multiple deer, he said.
Buying a commercial grinder “is going to hurt a little nit” with a price tag $500 to $600, Fetrow said.
But if all the hunters in a family or camp go in on one together, and then share it, that can soften the blow, he said.
Think, too, about how many deer you expect to do.
A model 12 grinder is about the smallest Fetrow would advise. A model 22 grinder is the next biggest, followed by a 32, 42 and 52.
The bigger they get, the more expensive they get, Fetrow said. But bigger models can handle more deer, too.
A model 12, for example, can do a couple of deer a year, he said. A model 22 can handle 10 to 15.