If you’re serious about becoming a better bowhunter, winter is a great time to hone your archery skills. To become a better archer, contrary to flashy social media trends, you don’t need to test out your bottom pin and send arrows into the next county. The fact is, you can become a better archer right from the comfort of your basement. All you need is your top pin and a 10-yard range. To become a better archer, rather than blind repetition, you’ll need a plan. Here’s your blueprint for becoming a better archer this off-season.
Try as you might, without a well-tuned bow, your archery game will continually suffer. While I’m a big advocate for supporting your local archery shop, it’s far too easy to push off that pro shop tune-up and gain a false sense of confidence that your bow is tuned well enough. To ensure your bow remains in tune and shooting to its best capability, knowing how to tune your bow yourself is a skill set you’ll never regret learning.
While you could write a book on the different methods to tune a compound bow, learning to paper-tune is a good place to start. Start off with setting your arrow rest and nocking point in accordance with the manufacturer’s center shot specs. With a few shots through paper, you might only need to bump your arrow rest a few clicks in either direction to get your arrow flying true. However, sometimes it’s not that easy with all the factors at play. For errant arrow flight, hop online and find a comprehensive guide to paper tuning. Even if you need to invest several hours into your tune, you’ll find new confidence in your bow and ensure good arrow flight when you screw on your broadheads next fall.
An accurate and repeatable archery shot has many components, each requiring attention. A good shot begins with a proper stance that gets your body lined up to the target anatomically. Next, you’ll want to study your grip and find the hand position that’s most repeatable with minimal muscle manipulation and torque. From there, you’ll focus on repeatable anchor points and peep-to-sight housing alignment. Last but not least, you’ll want to learn how to master your release aid to execute a clean release and follow through.
Rather than trying to focus on each of these factors at the same time, it’s easier to focus on each aspect independently. For example, when studying your grip, give your grip 100% of your focus and temporarily turn a blind eye to the rest of your shot execution. After mastering each piece of your form independently, you’ll eventually be able to put all of the pieces together and execute a shot that feels as clean as any shot you’ve ever released before. A great resource for learning more about proper shot execution is John Dudley’s YouTube series that he calls “School of Nock.” If you’re serious about improving your form, Dudley’s course walks you through each aspect of the shot sequence and offers vetted advice on how to better each piece of your archery form.
After breaking down your form, piece by piece, blank bale shooting can be a great way to reinforce your newly perfected form. The idea is to feel each shot, focusing only on your form, and eliminating the pressure that aiming at a bullseye introduces to your shot sequence. For anyone going through target panic, blank baling can be your best friend.
For those of you not familiar with blank bale shooting, the concept is simple. It’s called blank bale shooting because you’ll be shooting at a blank target, no five-spot target, and no bullseye. Stand just a few yards from your archery target and draw your bow as you normally would. After settling into your anchor point and roughly centering your pin on the target, close your eyes. By closing your eyes, you turn your focus from centering up your pin on the target to focusing exclusively on your form.
Execute your shot with your eyes closed. If you punched your release, if you torqued your grip, or if your bow arm got the yips, you will feel the results, and it will profoundly stand out. The beauty of blank baling is that you don’t care where your arrow ends up; instead, you’re exclusively focusing on how well your form was executed.
Like anything, getting good at something takes repetition, targeted repetition. Even if it’s only a few arrows a day, developing a shooting routine will help rewire your brain and will ensure that your newly improved archery form becomes muscle memory. Muscle memory is your friend when that buck of a lifetime is coming through your shooting lane, and adrenaline causes the wheels to come off the bus.
If confined to your basement throughout the winter, or even out of convenience for the remainder of the year, keep your basement archery range up and running. Consider implementing blank bale practice into your daily shooting routine. Some of the best target shooters in the world begin and end each archery session with a round of blank baling.
To keep things interesting, consider purchasing scaled-down paper targets, whether it be a five-spot NFAA style target, a three-spot Vegas target, or even big game animal targets. These scaled-down targets feature shrunken scoring rings to make a 10-yard shot more difficult and comparable to a standard-sized target at 20 yards. Anything you can do to keep things interesting and stick with your archery routine will make you a better archer in the long run.