I saw my partner's arrow fall off the string while coming to full draw on a 350-class bull elk. I watched another friend's arrow sail harmlessly into the ground in front of a nice blacktail buck because the string hit his large jacket. From Africa to Alaska, bowhunters seem to be fraught with similar problems.
It is not because they don't practice. As a group, bowhunters probably practice more than all other hunters combined. It's not because they don't have good equipment -they often have the best available. It simply boils down to the fact that they don't properly prepare for real life hunting situations. To avoid some of the more common maladies, read on and learn from your fellow hunter's mistakes.
The first step to proper preparation for a bowhunter is to get ready early. Far too many people leave the job half done, until it's too late. Target practice is only one ingredient to a successful season. Silencing your bow, realistic hunting practice, broadhead flight and confidence make up the rest. If the first three issues are addressed early, the last will naturally follow. If they are put off, you can be sure that you will be running around at the last minute trying to get everything together and second-guessing yourself when the big moment finally comes.
Silencing Your Bow
This is a major issue that not enough bowhunters address. Since the speed of sound is 1,127 feet per second (at 68 degrees F), an arrow from even the fastest bow on the market will still take roughly four times as long to reach the animal as the noise from its departure. Deadening this noise to an absolute minimum is necessary to successfully harvest big game animals (especially on such noted "string jumpers" as whitetails). Most hunters put on a set of string silencers and call it good -never realizing what can be accomplished with some small, low cost add-ons.
I began using Sim's Vibration Laboratories Limb Savers a few years back, and was extremely impressed with their performance. Since that time they have developed many products, all devoted to eliminating vibrations and subsequently, noise.
Last year, well before hunting season, I put the complete line of Sim's products on my bow. The results were amazing. I started with the standard Limb Savers, which I already knew worked great and added the String Leech string silencers, Teflon cable slide, and the Enhancer 2000 stabilizer. With everything complete, I took some practice shots at night in my back yard. I have found shooting a bow at night, when every distracting background noise is silent, is the best way to judge a bow's quietness. The entire line (there are even more accessories now available) turned my already quiet bow into an absolutely silent hunting machine.
Realistic Hunting Practice
So, you shoot 3D courses in the summer and maybe even do a bit of bowfishing at live targets. This is a great start and absolutely necessary for a successful season, but something is still missing. It is hard to put your finger on it, but the first time you draw back on a bugling bull or whitetail under your stand, you will instantly realize that it is all the accessories that make the difference.
When I'm shooting 3D courses or bowfishing, I don a T-shirt, shorts and wear a hip quiver full of arrows. There is no facemask to obstruct my field of view or interfere with my anchor point. There is no glove that feels funny on the trigger of my release or a GORE-TEX® fleece jacket hindering my movement. Never mind the calls, binos and rangefinders hanging around my neck (dangling very close to my drawn bowstring). I am so stressed about the shot by this time, I don't even notice them. The point is, drawing on an animal feels nothing like the thousands of shots I have fired all summer, and this unfamiliarity strips away hard earned confidence, leaving a feeling of insecurity and despair. The only way to combat this is through realistic practice.
I'm not into pain and I don't like to be hot, so putting on all my gear in the heat of July is not my idea of a good time. But, I also don't like missing big game animals -because of a stupid mistake even less- so I do what I have to do to prevent it. I switch from fun backyard practice and 3D competition around mid-July and go into a hunting mode. This involves, full dress rehearsal for every practice session, shooting from awkward positions (kneeling, sitting and elevated stands) with my bow set up for hunting -not the target range. Now is the time to discover that the string smacks my jacket or that my rangefinder gets in the way -not when I am in the field.
From Fieldpoints to Broadheads
This is usually the only transition most hunters make before hunting season, but unfortunately most don't do it very well. When I used to manage an archery pro shop, it was unbelievable how many people would come in the day before season, buy a set of broadheads, screw them on and think they were ready to hunt. They were shocked when they realized that their hunting arrows didn't group well or on the rare occasion that they did, hit two feet from their field point's path. It is easy to explain and relatively easy to fix, if the proper steps are followed.
The main cause for the difference in flight is the large surface area of broadheads compared to field points (this is more exaggerated with fixed heads than with expandables), and the different overall arrow balance point. Of these two factors, broadhead planing is by far the largest cause of poor accuracy.
It works in several ways. First is the simple equation of surface area. If there is more front (broadhead) surface area than rear (fletching) surface area, the result will be poor flight characteristics. The size of heads and/or fletching will have to be experimented with to achieve the right combination. If the broadheads are not centered on the shaft, they will plane and be inconsistent, even if there is enough fletch to stabilize the arrow. This is usually caused by misaligned inserts, which will vary from arrow to arrow. The only way to effectively test this is to spin each arrow on a spin tester or a flat surface to see if the head wobbles. If so, it is a matter of heating up the insert, rotating it inside the shaft (to even out the hot glue) and retesting it. This process usually fixes the problem. If it does not, you may have to replace the insert, and sometimes the arrowhead or shaft must also be replaced.
Broadheads also bring out the worst in poorly tuned bows. Field points have minimal surface area to "catch" the wind, and a poorly tuned bow appears to shoot perfectly. But put on a broadhead and watch the arrow careen if it leaves the bow less than perfectly. The last factor to broadhead planing is pure speed and instability. You can only push an arrow so fast before the head starts to steer the arrow from the front, which results in erratic flight and poor accuracy. The magic number is around 280fps (feet per second). Arrows can be pushed a lot faster with field points, but with traditional broadheads, accurate results are hard to come by at these higher velocities.
I know July is meant for bass fishing and family cookouts, but if you want to be successful this fall, now is the time to hit the woods. Don the gear, grab the bow and start shooting. September is right around the corner. It seems like a long way off now, but if you don't start preparing in July you will be with the unwashed masses the day before season, rattled, insecure and hoping your bow shoots where you point it. Worse still, come December, you may be in the large group of guys telling stories about the monster you missed because you were not adequately prepared.
To purchase LimbSaver Dampener or silencer, click here
To purchase a Sims Labratory stabilizer, click here