Off-season preparation is essential to developing your confidence and composure for the moment of truth.
I did not start shooting a bow with intent of shooting tournaments. I was simply flinging arrows in the backyard when I was still in the single digits. That eventually led to my first harvest with a bow at age 10 and I have been able to harvest a deer with the bow every year since. In my early teenage years I began to shoot local tournaments and transition into the sport of tournament archery. Now, I shoot professionally and still take to the woods every fall and stoke the same fire I had at 10 years old.
The archery world is vast and can be intimidating to the guy who has only known bowhunting. For me, the knowledge and effort I have put into become a better competitive archer has only made me a more confident and proficient hunter. Every bowhunter should not drop what they are doing and start shooting tournaments, but a few simple steps in the off season can do wonders when it comes down to the moment of truth in the fall.
1. Be accountable with your bow
Archery is not a high intensity sport. There is no running, jumping, hitting or need to be in NCAA shape to shoot a bow. But, that doesn’t mean the more you practice, the better you will shoot. Accessibility to space or range on a regular basis can be an issue for some, but everyone can find a bag target and enough room to shoot arrows at 5 yards. Finding time throughout the week to shoot a handful of arrows in the garage, basement or even bedroom allows you to build confidence in your shot and focus on the process of shooting.
2. Practice like you play
I can not stress enough how important it is to “practice like you play”. I have heard countless stories of hunters wondering why they missed or hit far back; when digging deeper they have never shot out of a stand that high or with that many clothes on. Adding gloves, face masks and puffy coat arms can cause clearance and torque issues that can cause the bow to hit differently. Taking the time to put all hunting clothes on, shoot a few arrows and understand if you need to make minor adjustments to your gear saves the heartache of a misplaced arrow.
Every year, I will put in effort to put full hunting clothes on and shoot out of a stand at multiple distances. This not only allows you to adjust your gear if necessary, but it gives you remarkable confidence that you can hit your mark in a hunting situation.
3. Join a league
Joining a weekly league at a pro shop or shooting center not only gives you a reason to shoot your bow, but shooting around people on a regular basis can make you a better archer in itself. You will learn from others, see different shooting styles in person and allow you to try different things. Many leagues also have some sort of scoring that gives you an easy way to track your performance and growth throughout the off seasons.
4. Stretch the distance
If you have seen my videos, you probably have seen my extreme distance shooting. It’s fun to shoot far, but it also amplifies all of your mistakes. When I step back farther then my usual practice distances, groups get bigger and it allows me to work on my form and tighten my groups. Then, when I move to 20 yards and repeat the same form, groups can (will) be much tighter. This ‘long’ distance can vary for everyone. For someone who has never shot past 30 yards, bumping back to 40 yards can do the same thing.
5. Become educated
Confidence is key. For me, being educated on how your equipment works and put together allows me to be confident in my shooting. This could be as simple as watching intently and asking questions as your bow is assembled at the pro shop. Also, reading articles and digesting YouTube videos can be great to understand form techniques and equipment tuning. For being a hard core bowhunter or archer that will go to extremes for success, knowing your bow incase of a breakdown in the back country or tournament can determine success or failure.
6. Try target archery
The only other feeling I’ve experienced relatable to being full draw on a shooter buck, 20 yards, broadside is during high pressured situations at tournaments. Archery is a mental sport – arguably more so than a physical sport. If you shoot one ten, once, then you should be able to do it a million times in a row, right? But, the one thing stopping most is the thing between your ears. The best way to master that is to expose yourself with more situations so you can learn how to deal with “buck fever” or “nerves”. Local tournaments, smack-downs, small side bets on league night add pressure to your shooting and helps you learn to master that feeling.
For those of you already mastering your local leagues, test your skills at the next level of competition and shoot in an amateur class at an ASA or IBO Pro/Am tournament. These mimic hunting scenarios by using 3D wild game targets at various marked and unmarked distances and can yield big payouts. See details on Mathews’ contingency program here, grab yourself a shooter jersey and hit the range.