Practical Bowhunting
with Dr. Mark Timney


"I'm a bowhunter not a tournament archer. "

How many times have you heard that line? And I'd bet you usually hear it after someone launches one off the target face. Right?

Unfortunately, some bowhunters believe target shooting is in no way related to hunting. I disagree. While tournament-type archery and bowhunting are two different sports, they both still involve being able to hit what you're aiming at.

Granted, it's not always necessary for a bowhunter to shoot with the same precision as a tournament archer. But would it hurt? I believe anyone serious about bowhunting should be a decent target archer too. That's not to say bowhunters should be required to become tournament shooters. I'm just suggesting that bowhunters should explore the various forms of tournament archery as a means of improving their shooting.

The Games Bowhunters Should Play

3-D archery can be exceptionally beneficial to bowhunters. If nothing else, 3-D helps you learn to shoot under pressure. Having all your buddies watching you draw down on a hen turkey target at 32-yards can be nerve racking. That 10-ring is tiny! If you can deal with that pressure then you'll probably do a better job of handling the pressure of having a good buck in close when Fall rolls around.

3-D is also great because it improves your range estimation abilities. Being able to quickly determine whether an animal is 26 or 33 yards away can be critical while bowhunting. 3-D can teach you that. But 3-D isn't the only type of target shooting bowhunters should try.

While 3-D will give you an idea of how well you can shoot, it doesn't always demand as much from your shooting as other types of tournament archery do. Goof a shot a little on the 3-D range and you can get an 8... which for most people is still an okay score... and possibly still a killing shot in the field. Goof a shot to the same extent while shooting spots and you've just annihilated your final score.

But why strive for such precision? Because spot-shooting tells no lies. You know the exact distance to target, so it's all form. And if your form is poor, it will show.

Shooting spots helps you develop consistency in ways that 3-D doesn't. And once you develop consistency you can develop extreme accuracy. Accomplish that and you're much more likely to make that first shot count while on stand.

Field archery is very similar to spot shooting in that it also requires extreme precision. It also places considerable demand upon your equipment skills. It's impossible to shoot tight groups at 80 yards if your bow isn't perfectly set up.

While no ethical bowhunter would shoot at an animal that far away, what you learn about tuning your bow for this type of shooting can be very helpful when you're trying to get your broadheads to fly well. Click on the NFAA logo for more information on field archery.

A Tournament That Anyone Can Win

There's one other type of target archery that you should look into. It's called S.T.A.R.S., which stands for A Society for Team Archery Ranked Shooters. It was developed by PSE's Pete Shepley. His goal was to develop a game in which every archer had an equal chance to win without creating a luck of the draw winner.

S.T.A.R.S. events are team competitions, and there are different shooting formats that you can enter. I would suggest getting involved in the indoor/outdoor target and 3-D versions. These will expose you to high-level shooters from whom you can learn. It will also help you deal with shooting under pressure, and you can even win a good chunk of cash along the way.

The details of the S.T.A.R.S. program are too extensive to cover here, but you can get more information from the PSE website.

It's Not the Bow

One thing I hear all the time from bowhunter-not-a-tournament-archer types is that they can't score well on the range because they're just shooting their hunting bow. What an excuse! That's not to say that it isn't harder to shoot a typical hunting set-up for spots or 3-D than gear specifically designed for the task, but the equipment really isn't the primary limiting factor. The shooter is.

Most clubs have a bowhunter class. Shoot that class so you're closer to the target or handicapped to make up for your equipment. And this way if you feel you must compare your score to other shooters then at least they'll be shooting similar equipment. In reality, you don't have to compete with anyone at these shoots, just yourself. The idea is to shoot your hunting bow to become intimately familiar with all its aspects.

If you find you enjoy target shooting then you might want to purchase a target bow and step up to the next level. Pushing your shooting ability to the limit, regardless of the equipment, can only help you in the long run.

The goal here, and the point of this column, is for you to become a more proficient archer. Getting involved in tournament-type shooting can help you become a better shot, or, at the very least, help you learn your shooting limitations.

Go to your local club's 3-D shoots. Join a spot-league. Try field archery. It's lots of fun, and these are all practical ways to become a better bowhunter.