By Tracy Breen
Photo: During the winter, indoor archery leagues are very popular.
-- Archery season has come to an end and bowhunters everywhere find themselves wondering what to do now. Most of us shot our bows daily for weeks before the season opened to get ready for our fall hunts. We fine-tuned our equipment and tweaked every little thing so when the moment of truth arrived, we knew exactly where to aim, how to release properly, and hopefully found ourselves smiling over a critter or two.
Most of you have hundreds of dollars wrapped up in archery gear and are now wondering what to do until season opens again. If you dread the thought of not shooting an arrow until the summer months, you need to realize that you have plenty of options and good reasons to shoot your bow all year around.
One of the main advantages of shooting a bow all year long is it keeps you and your gear in peak condition. I am sure over the years you have encountered situations where your bow was sitting in storage for a long period of time, and when you finally decided to dust it off and start shooting again, you could hardly get it to full draw when a few months earlier you were drawing it with ease. It doesn't take long for muscles to get out of shape. Shooting on a regular basis keeps your body in tune.
Joining an archery league is a good option for staying active in the off season. Most archery pro shops offer all sorts of leagues for bowhunters. They offer inexpensive leagues where you show up every week and shoot at paper targets. Often, you become part of a team, and at the end of the season, the team with the highest score goes home with a trophy.
Techno hunt leagues are also available. A techno hunt is a big video screen that is usually set up in an enclosed room similar to a movie theater. The screen is a 20-yard shot. Videos of live animals in real hunting situations are played on the screen. You simply aim and shoot at the animal on the screen. The score depends on how close to the vitals the shot was. This type of league is a team sport. The only thing missing is popcorn and soda!
3D leagues are another option. Of all the leagues out there, this one can truly hone your archery skills because it requires judging distance. In these, the 3D animals are set up at different distances on a course. Archers have to make an educated guess at how far the animal is and shoot. Just like in a real hunting situation, if your guess is correct, you will hit the critter in the vitals. Since shooting 3D targets is so popular, some archery shops even have indoor 3D ranges.
Shoot at Home
Another option is shooting in a basement or garage. During the winter, I shoot in my basement if there is a lot of snow on the ground. I only have a 15-yard shot but it helps keep me in tune. I use this time to experiment with new products and archery gear I haven't used before. Some may say that shooting at 15 yards isn't really worth it, but it is better than not shooting at all.
If you decide to shoot in an archery league, you will find advantages that shooting on your own doesn't offer. A little competition forces you to try and bring your archery skills to the next level because you don't want to look like a fool in front of your buddies.
Photo: Shooting small game in the off season keeps your shooting skills sharp
The added pressure helps simulate a real hunting situation. For me, hitting the 10-ring in my back yard is never a problem. However, when I am in front of a group of guys or in front of an animal, it is a different story. After you shoot in front of people for a while, you get accustomed to the pressure. Professional archers shoot in front of thousands of people and still hit the 10-ring at 50 yards plus. Those archers rarely miss a deer because they are used to shooting under intense pressure.
Nothing fine tunes shooting skills like live targets! Hunting small game, turkeys and pigs is one way to ensure you are accurate on opening day. It can be lots of fun as well. I love chasing turkeys with a stick and string. Small game provides an extremely challenging target. After recently tagging a moose in Alaska, I spent a few days stalking hares and grouse. I only hit one out of 10 but it helped hone my archery skills and my stalking ability.
Another great off-season hunting activity is bowfishing. If you haven't picked up a bow and a bowfishing kit that includes a bowfishing arrow and tip along with a reel, try it! It's a lot of fun and it helps keep your archery skills sharp and your muscles strong. Nobody knows that better than David White from Cajun Archery.
Photo: Flinging arrows at fast moving carp is another fun sport that bowhunters can participate in during the summer.
"Bowfishing can be non-stop excitement because there is no shortage of fish like carp," White said. "Bowfishing provides a challenge; learning how to aim properly can take some time. It may take a few tries before hunters start hitting a lot of fish, but once they start bowfishing, they will be hooked on the sport. It will also help them become better archers."
The best thing about bowfishing is hunters can do it quite inexpensively. Some bowhunters purchase a kit and use their regular hunting bow. Many hunters pick up a bow from a garage sale and start shooting. Either way, bowfishing is a great off-season archery activity.
Exercise Your Muscles
You can also keep your muscles in shape during the off season by purchasing a BOWFIT Archery Exerciser. It is a tool that can be used to keep the muscles that you use to draw a bow healthy and strong. Many of the muscles involved in drawing a bow aren't used in our daily routines. Using a BOWFIT in the off season helps keep your muscles strong so when you do pick up your bow again, it is like you never took any time off.
With the cost of setting up a new bow being an expensive endeavor, it is a shame to use it for a few months and put it in the closet during the rest of the year. You should think about joining an archery league or shooting in the basement the same way you would think about golfing or going to a driving range. The more you practice, the better shot you will be. Instead of hanging the bow up 10 months a year, keep it out and have a little fun. Your muscles will stay strong and next fall you might be a better shot than you ever thought possible.
Photo: Practicing during the off season can help bowhunters hit what they are aiming at during the season, which should be enough incentive to shoot regularly.
-- Tracy Breen
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