By Tracy Breen
Most serious treestand hunters practice from their stands before opening day to work out potential problems that could happen at the moment of truth.
-- When four or five friends get together to shoot a few arrows at a target, one of the archers usually shines above the rest of the pack. The archer's groups are smaller, he can shoot at greater distances and always seems to harvest more critters. Is it luck? Not really.
Chances are the archer who shoots the best and regularly puts more meat in the freezer practices and hunts smarter and is typically more serious about the sport of archery and hunting. I've discovered that many professional hunters and shooters have a few traits in common. Many of them practice in similar ways, work on their own equipment and have learned a few things from the school of hard knocks. Below are six archery mistakes most of us have made at one point or another and tips on how to avoid making them.
Mistake Number 1: Practice Doesn't Always Make Perfect.
No doubt that being a good archer and hunter requires practice on a regular basis. However, practicing for hours on end every day isn't always the answer. As I headed out to the back yard to shoot my bow as a kid, my dad told me that the first arrow was the only one that counted. In the woods, we only get one shot and have to make it count!
Now, 20 years later when I practice, I usually shoot a few arrows and then do something else. A few hours later, I shoot a few more arrows. Professional archers often shoot for hours at a time but the pros have perfect form and slowly build up their muscles to the point where they can shoot for hours. For most of us, shooting for hours at a time can cause problems. I tend to make poor shots and have bad form when I practice too much. Making bad shots destroys confidence, which can creep into your mind while hunting.
Many bowhunters practice for hours because they only shoot once in awhile so when they shoot, it makes sense to shoot a lot. However, shooting a few arrows each day keeps archers fresh and accurate. Life is busy for many of us, and we don't practice as often as we should but most of us can find enough time to shoot six or eight arrows a day.
Daily practice keeps muscles fit, which leads to good form. I know one bowhunter who always shoots at least one arrow a day - even in the dead of winter. According to him, shooting an arrow every day year round has made him a better shot when he's at a tournament or in the field.
Mistake Number 2: Failing to Maintain Your Bow
Bowhunters enjoy spending money on their bows. Many bow companies report that the average bowhunter purchases a new bow every two years. However, many bowhunters fail to have their bow looked at or maintained after the initial setup is complete.
Many bowhunters do not wax their bow strings. A high-quality bow string can cost up to $100 when you add up the cost of the product and professional installation. Sometimes it's a little less if hunters have the equipment to put it on. Regardless, it makes sense to keep the string performing well as long as it can.
A tube of bow wax costs a few dollars and applying it to a string every week or so can help a bow string last several years. Failing to wax a string causes it to fray and break. The moment a string or cable breaks, the party is over. Whether hunters are practicing in the back yard or are miles off the road on a dream hunt, keeping strings and cables waxed is a big benefit.
Maintaining the rest of a bow also is the smart thing to do. Sights, rests, and other things can wiggle loose after months of shooting. Tightening bolts down with a wrench a few times each year is a great way to ensure the sight and rest do not fall off while hunting. Bushings and other things can also wear out on a bow. The timing can get out of whack and string loops can break. Regularly checking these items and having a bow tuned up every year is cheap insurance.
Testing out a few different broadhead types can also increase your overall accuracy.
Mistake Number 3: Pulling Too Much Draw Weight
Guys in particular like pulling lots of draw weight. It makes us feel strong. However, it can be bad news. Maybe you can pull back 100 pounds one time if you grit your teeth, swear a few times and hold your breath. Trying to pull back 100 pounds when it is 30 degrees outside and a 150-inch buck is standing broadside at 15 yards is another story altogether. Pulling lots of draw weight can cause physical problems such as a torn rotator cuff.
Today's fast bows pump out enough speed and kinetic energy that 55 pounds is enough weight to take down deer. Less draw weight is easier to hold for longer periods of time and easier to keep steady when aiming.
The rule of thumb is if you can't pull your bow straight back while sitting down, you are pulling too much weight. If you have to raise the bow or wiggle around to reach the let off point, it is time to decrease the draw weight a few pounds. Many of the top archers in the country and best-known hunting celebrities (even the young ones) are typically shooting 60 pounds or less because it makes their shots more accurate.
If you have the need for speed and power, slowly increase the draw weight by a pound or two every few weeks. Increasing it five or 10 pounds at once will cause your body and accuracy to suffer.
Mistake Number 4: Using the Same Old Broadhead
Broadheads have changed dramatically over the last several years. As bow speeds have increased, broadheads have gotten smaller. Large broadheads catch more wind and are more likely to fly all over the place. Smaller broadheads and expandable broadheads fly more accurately.
Just because that big ol' broadhead your grandpa used in 1950 worked back then doesn't mean it isn't time to try something new. Every year I try a few different broadheads. Each brand flies differently. Sometimes two broadheads that look similar in size fly dramatically different. Experiment with a few broadheads to find the one that is most accurate for your bow.
By putting your bow in a vice and checking out the string, cables and other accessories, you help reduce the possibility of something breaking in the woods.
Mistake Number 5: Keep Your Equipment Quiet
Even though bows are quieter now than ever before, they still create a certain amount of noise. Under the right circumstances, a deer will spook as a bow goes off or even before. Many companies make devices that help eliminate bow noise. For years, string leaches and cat whiskers were the norm. Bow companies now make devices that reduce string noise after the shot.
For instance, the Buckmasters Bow comes with string cushions. If your bow doesn't have a string cushion of some type, Norway Industries offers the String Tamer. It screws onto the bow and stops string noise and vibration. Don't forget about using a stabilizer. Some folks don't think they are needed anymore because bows are so quiet. Bow noise machines show that attaching a quality stabilizer to a bow lessons the noise from even the quietest bow. A stabilizer reduces hand shock and increases accuracy. Companies like Doinker, Fuse and Carbon Impact make great stabilizers.
Attaching moleskin on your rest and regularly checking your vanes and feathers to make sure they are glued on tightly also reduces noise. Have you ever shot an arrow with a vane that has a dab of glue missing or a loose vane? They sometimes sound like a lawn mower engine when they fly through the air. Paying attention to all of these little things can make a big difference.
String cushions or a String Tamer greatly reduce noise.
Mistake Number 6: Failing to Practice in Real Hunting Conditions
While so many deer hunters hunt from treestands, the majority do not practice shooting from an elevated position. Doing so can greatly increase the chances of taking a deer and can help you figure out exact yardages to shooting lanes.
Without getting into the math (although it's not all that complicated), the distance from your elevated stand to a deer on the ground is not necessarily the yardage figure you would use for sight pin selection. To put it one way, the extra distance your elevated position adds to a yardage reading or measurement should not be factored into your pin selection because gravity affects an arrow only the distance from the base of your tree to the deer (ground level distance).
The steeper the angle, the more this rule comes into play. Many of today's top-end rangefinders have angle compensation that calculates the virtual distance from you to the intended target, showing a reading based on the shot angle instead of line of sight. Nikon and Bushnell offer angle-compensation rangefinders.
It's also important to practice bending your knees while shooting from a treestand. If you prefer to shoot sitting down, practice that way as well. Putting all of your hunting gear on and shooting from your stand may help you discover that your arm brushes up against your stand and it creates a noise or affects your shooting. Learning these little things before the season starts can make a big difference when game day arrives.
Over the years, I've had people laugh at me because I am particular about my gear and how I prepare for hunting season. However, doing this before the season starts reduces the chances of making a terrible mistake that could have been avoided.
There have been times when those mistakes have cost me a nice buck or bull, which in turn has resulted in sleepless nights contemplating all of the what-if scenarios. By avoiding these six common archery mistakes, you can increase your chances of success this fall.