Archery: skills vs. nerves

If you've ever spent time talking to a hunter, odds are good you had to hear about "the one that got away."  It happens all the time and it happens to very skilled marksmen.  As a hunter, the thrill of the sport hangs on thrill of a trophy white tail appearing from the distance.  But, what happens when he does and you're overwhelmed by how big he is, or you get busy counting points and forget to shoot.  "Buck fever" is a powerful influence, there are ways to condition yourself to overcome the nerves make sure you know them.

The first thing that happens when a big buck steps into range for most hunters is their heart jumps into their throat, heart is racing, it feels hard to breath.  As an archer this is a particularly difficult condition to overcome, but there are many ways to train for it.  During practice, elevate your pulse rate.  This could mean running laps around the range or just a few jumping jacks depending on the archer.  Make sure however that even if you are gasping for air that you pick up your bow draw and fire before you have had time to regain your composure.  The first few times you try to shoot like this it will feel awkward and ridiculous, make no mistake however you are developing a skill.  Just as you learned to shoot you are now training your mind to compensate for the conditions your body is dealing with.

While on the hunt it's impossible to predict when and where the deer will present you with a shot.  Imagine jumping a great looking deer on your way to your stand or blind, the deer presents a shot, but you are on a steep hill.  Have you practiced shooting with your feet on uneven ground?  Not to mention the adrenaline that will be pumping through your veins after the sound of that deer crashing through the woods within bow range from you.  Are you ready?  It is not advisable to carry your bow with an arrow nocked.  How are you carrying your gear to the field? Can you shoot with a pack on your back? 

Once you have earned proficiency practicing on level ground in good weather, it's time to practice for what you cannot plan.  Practice shooting with one foot on a block or on the steps coming off your deck at home.  When you have these things down it's time to imagine what else could be an issue in the woods.  If you plan to hunt from a stand, you need to practice from a stand.  Perhaps not all the time, but you need to know how much the angle of your shot will affect the trajectory of your arrow.  Try to hang your stand at a height you would actually hunt from as well.  When you are in the woods about to make a shot it's great to know you've made similar shots in practice.  Use a safety harness in practice and on the hunt.  Make this little safety tip as second nature as a smooth release, and you'll be climbing tree stands for years to come.

Perhaps the hardest trick to learn is shooting while your still seated.  A big buck has just walked in to your stand from behind you and you never saw him coming.  He's gazing on acorns 12 yards from the base of the stand and you're still seated.  The only thing on your mind is how much the stand squeaked as you climbed up earlier this frosty morning.  On the practice range go back to the ground and learn this skill first from a chair, once you have mastered it move up to the stand. 

Ever the fatal flaw of many trophy hunters; counting points.  At times a big buck will wander in with seemingly no agenda what so ever, but most of the time you get one shot and one second to make it.  If you are hunting in an area that has antler restrictions then know what they are and know the field guide recommendations for establishing whether it is a legal buck or not.  Next, look for this and only this at your first glimpse of the deer.  For example, if you're hunting under the restriction of a minimum inside spread of 13.5 inches it can be hard to judge in the field.  The field guide for this restriction is that the inside of the antlers must extend outside the outside of the ears while the deer is in the alert position.  So when you first see the deer look only to see how wide he is at the center of the rack.  There are many restrictions out there with various tricks to quickly determine if a buck is legal.  Take the time to know them, if you're in doubt in the woods don't take the shot.

To help you out on the practice range get a 3D target or a cardboard cut out.  It may seem ridiculous, and perhaps it is a far cry from the experience putting your sights on a real deer however, practice is about developing skill.  In this case you are training your eye to focus on a particular part of the target.  It's hard to develop this skill shooting at only square or circular targets.  Bow Hunting is a sport that demands outside the box thinking.  The more conditions you have trained for, the less those conditions will affect you in the field.