One of the questions that I am often asked by women who are interested in bow hunting for the first time is, “How do you keep your cool when making the shot?” They often say “I just don’t think I would be able to shoot a deer with a bow”, or “It just seems so hard, I don’t think I would be able to pull it off”. While I love encouraging other women to get involved in hunting, I will be honest when I say that yes, bow hunting is very hard. If it was easy everyone would be doing it! While a successful bow hunt is difficult to pull off, it is definitely very attainable with some hard work, determination and practice. Lots and lots of practice!
Thinking back to my very first bow season, I began by shooting my bow every day from about May to opening day in September. When you start shooting your bow pay extra attention to getting down proper form and finding your anchor point. After a while this becomes second nature and you won’t even have to think about it, you just do it every time. I believe in quality over quantity when it comes to target practice. Shooting a few arrows each night, focusing on proper form, is far better than shooting multiple arrows and letting yourself get tired and your form sloppy.
Practice with the equipment you know you will be hunting with. My bow is sighted in using 100 grain broad heads, all the same brand. All of my arrows are the same brand, weight & straightness, and the fletchings are the same on each arrow. I want to know that no matter what arrow I use in my quiver, each one is going to shoot the same way. Bow hunting is a huge challenge and making yourself familiar and comfortable with your weapon is half the battle.
Take into consideration the gear you will be hunting in and practice shooting in it. When you are shooting in your back yard you are probably shooting in jeans and a t-shirt. But when you are hunting you usually have on multiple layers, making it a little more difficult to pull your bow back and find your anchor point. This past season I was full draw on a great buck and had a clothing mishap that forced me to pass on the shot. If I had practiced in that particular clothing item I would have known that it was something I preferred not to bow hunt in and would have filled my deer tag a LOT earlier in the season!
Another pre-season shooting tip is to practice shooting from a tree stand or ground blind, whichever you are going to be hunting out of. If you’ll be hunting from a tree stand practice shooting from one and get used to shooting at an angle. If you’ll be hunting out of a ground blind, practice while sitting down or from your knees. If you are able to, get in the blind and practice shooting out of it. With ground blinds you have a smaller window to shoot out of and it takes some getting used to.
Practicing the above tips should help ease some of your bow hunting jitters and make you more prepared for an actual hunt. When a deer steps out and you are ready to shoot, hopefully all of this will come back to you automatically so you can focus on making a good shot. To me, shot placement and remembering your anchor point when shooting at an animal are THE most important things to focus on. When I shot my first deer with a bow, I had mosquitoes swarming around my head and biting my face as I was preparing to make the shot, but thanks to all my practice I was able to stay focused and make a clean shot.
My friend Allison O’Nan shared some of her tips with me that help her stay calm when bow hunting:
· Participating in 3D archery tournaments or league where you are feeling under pressure will help you to work through the jitters when it comes time to shooting game.
· Visualize making the shot when you are at full draw. Confidence is the key! But don't get over confident and cause yourself to extend pass your own shooting limits.
· Practice breathing techniques every time you shoot, even in your own back yard. Breathing through my shots keeps my mind clear and hand steady. As I inhale/exhale I pass over my target three times before I settle in and release my arrow.
· Chewing gum is a great way to release nervous energy. However, for bow hunting, maybe try a brand such as Gum-O-Flage.
I’ve had a lot of successful hunts, but have found that most of my unsuccessful ones were due to lack of focus. For me, the excitement/nervousness that I feel right before I shoot a deer is always there. It was there on my very first bow hunt, my last hunt and will be on my next. But the above tips have really helped me control my excitement and keep my cool in the heat of the moment when a shot presents itself.