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John Dudley | 8.24.2021

Stay Dialed During Archery Season

One very important lesson I learned as a professional 3D archer was the importance of one arrow. The 3D game was all about one arrow and one target, which is very relative in the bowhunting world. When you are shooting a single shot, and then scoring that single arrow, you quickly learn to seize the moment of one shot. If you shoot multiple arrows in your target, it’s easy to focus on all the good shots versus the one or two that missed. However, if those wayward arrows were your first shots, it could very easily result in missed opportunities in the hunting woods.

A great practice drill that I like to run is to shoot one arrow each at multiple random distances. If you have a 4-arrow quiver, for example, shoot an arrow at 20, then 30, 40 and 50. For the next round, do the same thing but in reverse order starting with the longest shot and working back to the shortest. Keep in mind, you don’t necessarily have to have a 3D target to do this drill, any target will do. The key factor is to focus intently on making the one-shot count. No mulligans. You want to avoid thinking of this as a repetition practice. This is a drill totally focused on becoming a one-shot wonder.

One of my favorite times of year to bowhunt is late August through early September. I love this time of the season because it’s when I’m out chasing mule deer, elk or pronghorn. Most of this hunting is on foot and I have learned time and time again that there is a need for speed in order to increase your chances to notch tags. When I say “speed”, I am in no way referring to rushing the shot. This is really about learning to hurry up to get into position, then recovering quickly so you can make an effective kill shot before you miss your opportunity. When bowhunting, there are many times you have to hustle hard to get to a certain spot. Then, at any moment when that buck or bull appears within range, you have to be ready to act quickly and make a good shot. If you aren’t prepared, you will most likely fail to make the shot, or worse yet, make a poor shot.

For years, I’ve worked on drills that have helped me condition myself to lower my heart rate faster which has an immediate effect on accuracy. One drill I like to do is to pick up the pace when retrieving arrows and returning to the shooting line. Often times I will jog to and from targets. (Always carry your arrows carefully). The key is to operate at a pace that gets your heart rate up, recreating a hunting scenario. Once you return to the shooting line, focus on deep, slow breaths to help bring your heart rate down while making shots with intent on control and execution. This is a great drill to combine with the one arrow drill. Your goal is to get faster to and from the target while also shortening the amount of recovery time in order to make good shots.

One very neglected area of practice for bowhunters is learning to fill your sight pin gaps. Most bowhunters simply practice at even distances such as 20, 30, 40 and 50 yards. Rarely, when bowhunting, do we get a shot at a perfect 10-yard increment distance. One tip I always share with bowhunters is to learn how to hold your pins when shooting odd distances such as 36, 47 or 53 yards for example? Success as a bowhunter comes from really knowing your gear and regardless of whether you are shooting a single pin moveable sight, or a multiple fixed pin sight, you need to know this. As a baseball player, I was constantly drilled on hitting in the gaps. It was essential to not just have one fixed range. My diversity as a batter greatly improved when I could hit the gaps. As a bowhunter and pro archer, I have learned more about how my bow shoots by shooting at distances that aren’t perfect numbers. You will learn a lot about ballistics, arrow drop, and rise, etc. by shooting at the gap distances. Honestly, I rarely have an animal stand perfectly at a specific distance long enough to perfectly range it and perfectly set my sight. I’ve had success because I know where to hold my pins on the fly, so that my arrow will hit the mark.

As bowhunters, encounters with animals can happen very quickly. Learning to estimate yardage is an absolute necessity for bowhunters because we may not always have time to pull out the rangefinder. When you hone in your ranging skills, and combine it with your ability to fill the pin gaps, you become a true bowhunting ninja. I have tried countless ways of practicing range estimation and the method that I have found to work the best is the “confirmation” method. By this I mean you always have a rangefinder with you to confirm the true distance immediately after you take your best guess at it.

Learning to judge yardage works differently for many people. Some are just really good at knowing depth, guessing the total distance to the target. Some people are better at finding a 20-yard reference and then guessing past that. Others like to find a halfway point between them and the target and guess the distance to that. Personally, I have always done best guessing in 10-yard increments to get me close, and then judging the last few yards after my last 10-yard increment to the target. Perhaps it is because I looked at 1st and 10 so many times on a football field before I started shooting 3D archery and it has just stuck with me. Find what works for you and take your best guess, then confirm the distance with your rangefinder. If you make a serious mistake on the estimation, use your rangefinder to find the spot where you were fooled. Ultimately, like most things, it comes down to discipline and repetition in your practice sessions. Becoming proficient in judging yardage will undoubtedly pay off big as a bowhunter.