One of the most critical lessons I’ve learned as a bowhunter and an archer came from my football-playing days as a teenager. My coach boldly told me, “practice doesn’t make perfect, only perfect practice makes you perfect, so stop going through the motions and start practicing with perfect intent.” That statement on the football field that day sank deep into my mind, and over time, has grown into a major contributing factor to my success with a bow and arrow.
For the first few years as a bowhunter, and especially as an up-and-coming pro archer, I was constantly learning from my mistakes. There were countless times when I was so close to perfection yet one small thing lacked causing misses, and unfortunately, losses. However, as I made those mistakes, I would also make specific training enhancements so that I could learn from them. Over time, I’ve boiled down these common mistakes into a simple yet effective way to practice perfectly during the training season, which for me now, is whenever I’m preparing for a new hunting season.
For decades I’ve said that I’m a target archer to be a better bowhunter, and I’m a better bowhunter because I’m a target archer. For those of you out there who want to follow this same philosophy, I’m going to give you a simple, yet effective acronym to apply every time you’re stepping to a target stake, or preparing to take a shot on an animal as a bowhunter. This term is something that over the years I have used to eliminate the things that have not only cost me points in tournaments, but have also cost me filling a hard-earned bowhunting tag. If you want to train with perfect intent remember the words ARC FLAWS, which breaks down into 8 things critical to perfection with a bow: Assess, Range, Calibrate, Footing, Lean, Arc, Wind and Sight Setting.
First, ASSESS, means exactly that, assess the target and the shot situation. For this you need to do an overall evaluation and try to identify those things that could be problematic for each particular shot. For example, if you step to a target and it’s a long shot with a noticeable crosswind, then assessing that heavy wind is key. Or, maybe there’s a buck standing in a food plot being extremely cautious and on edge. In that assessment, the critical takeaway is waiting for him to calm down or waiting for him to present a closer shot. In any case, recognizing red flags is critical so you can be sure to make the proper adjustments. When assessing the target, think quickly about the 8 steps of ARC FLAWS and when red flags are raised in your assessment for certain aspects of your shot, be sure to spend more time on them so you can make the best shot possible.
RANGE is up next in the equation, which arguably is the most critical component to archery since an arrow doesn’t shoot as flat as a bullet. A proper range is everything, and if you don’t get the right range, you are going to have problems. A scenario that stands out in my mind is spot and stalk hunting where you are trying to shoot a buck in tall grass or bedded in a canola field. Getting the right range on the animal and not the debris in front of him is absolutely critical. For this you may need multiple ranges and yardage confirmations until you are perfectly sure of the distance. This may require you to range his rack or even stay low until he stands and you are able to get a solid range on his body. On a target course, this could mean a lot of things depending on whether or not you're allowed a rangefinder. I never take a distance for granted and I treat it as if I have a serious case of A.D.D. I range, and range, and range again, until I know I have the perfect yardage. In fact, even on ranges with marked distances, I will always get my own yardage with my own rangefinder so I am certain it’s perfect.
In conjunction with ranging, you also need to CALIBRATE yardage cuts when shooting any sort of angles in order to achieve the most accurate shooting distances. The angle of your shot, and the need to cut yardage based on that shot angle, is critical to factor. There’s a big difference between line of sight to the target (the distance to a target as a straight line) compared to what you should shoot the target for based on the angle of the shot and how gravity affects the arrow in a linear plane. Some of the newer rangefinders on the market do this for you with their angle compensation modes. Because there’s limited space in this blog, I won’t go in-depth on how to calibrate the shot and the compensation you need on different angles, but I do encourage you to do more research on the subject if you aren’t familiar with it. Otherwise, you are destined to miss your mark without even knowing it.
Next is FOOTING, and it is the foundation to the steadiness of your bow. If your footing is unstable, you will also see an unsteady sway in your front sight, which will lead to trigger anticipation. Always be sure to secure your footing prior to your shot. In a tree stand, this may mean that you need to rotate your feet so that you can shoot a buck behind you rather than twisting around half backwards and try to shoot across your body. This mistake can cause your string to slap your arm creating a sure miss. Whether in a tournament or on the hunt, always find your best footing where your feet create a solid foundation. There may be times that you need to use your boots to dig out a flat spot in order to achieve that solid footing that gives you that rock-solid foundation to execute your best shot.
LEAN, also known as “canting”, is something that causes a lot of misses with archers and bowhunters. The general rule is that your bow always needs to be level, otherwise the arrow will follow whichever way your bow is leaning. If your bow is leaning right, your arrow will hit right. During your ARC FLAWS evaluation, you need to recognize when you’re shooting a notable sidehill shot. In this case, your bow will naturally want to lean downhill because of gravity and in doing so, the arrow will follow the same path. Instead, recognize the angle of the hill and be aware of your sight bubble in order to keep your bow perfectly level during the shot. To help keep your bow level on sidehill shots, lean your bow into the sidehill when drawing your bow and let gravity help pull your bubble back to center before firing your shot.
ARC is the next step in the equation. If you don’t pay attention to the cast, or “arc” of the arrow, it can easily hit an overhanging limb or other obstructions on its way to the target. Sometimes you may decide to move slightly left or right so that you have better clearance for the arc of your arrow during the shot. There may be times you will need to crouch down or shoot off your knees in order to maintain clearance for the arc of the arrow. Don’t get stuck in the trap of getting fixated on your target without also evaluating the intended arc path of your arrow to the target.
One of the big accuracy killers with a bow and arrow is WIND and you must always know what the wind is doing. The wind plays more and more of a factor depending on the ballistics of your arrow and the length of your shot. Shooting in the wind is an art form in itself and practicing perfectly in the wind is the best way to learn how to best compensate for wind. When I shot professional tournaments, I would spend days learning how my arrows flew in the wind. I would use a weather app to know the approximate wind speed and then use fresh paper to document the drift at different distances. With practice and understanding wind, you can get really good at knowing where to hold based on wind speeds in order to hit the center of your target.
Last, and certainly not least, is setting your SIGHT one last time. The sight setting is a make or break, and just like the ranging phase, I always check my sight settings one last time before going into my shot routine and letting that arrow loose. When I shoot fixed pins, this may just be a mental cue of “42 yards, 3rd green pin, 3 inches over center”. Or, for a single pin set up, it may be simply saying to myself “42 yards, yes the needle is on the 40 line, second hash”. Either way, I repeat the distance in my head and be sure to set the sight again and rehearse what pin to use for the distance I’m shooting. I must admit, this last “S” in the equation wasn’t always there for me and it was applied later in my life after failing to double-check my sight setting before rushing into a shot. I’ve missed a lot because of it, and I’ve seen many pros do the same, so I can’t reinforce enough how important the final sight check is before each and every shot.
"Being purposeful as an archer and bowhunter is critical to success. Start practicing your archery and bowhunting with perfect intent, as you do so, pay attention to your ARC FLAWS. it really is what separates the good from the great."