Year Round Practice
by Kevin Reese
The art of year-round practice: a good hunter is a practiced hunter.
If I’ve heard it once, I’ve heard it a thousand times! “The season opens up next weekend. I need to get out and sight-in my bow.” As an ethics-driven hunter, who works diligently to promote and protect our outdoor heritage, few things make my blood boil more than lack of preparedness. I can’t fathom how those who don’t prepare could reason that a lack of practice can still equate to ethical hunting.
The Art of Practice
“The more you sweat in peace, the less you bleed in war.” Sun Tzu’s sage advice was so well stated that it was the cornerstone of my Marine Corps training ideology some 2,500 years after he authored it in The Art of War. It’s a message etched in every Marine I ever served with and certainly, in every Marine following in our footsteps; however, its lessons in practice and ethics have a far greater reach, including our hunting heritage.
Certainly, I don’t suggest hunters need to sling arrows throughout every waking hour; however, you should at least practice often enough that your muscle memory and accuracy are not compromised at any time. For many of us, this concept isn’t necessarily a foreign one since we bowhunt one species or another throughout the year. Here in Texas, I hunt feral hogs year round—a great way to stay at the top of my game while filling the freezer!
Time for Your Gut Check
Do you practice? How often? Can you honestly say that you are at the top of your game? Is that the best you can do? The animals we pursue deserve our best efforts.
While considering your impact on wildlife, also consider your effect on other hunters, especially youth hunting. The young generation will soon be in our shoes, and they need to understand the right path, one that preserves our outdoor heritage. What message are you sending them with your practice habits? What kind of hunters do you want your sons and daughters to become? Remember, they are learning through the example(s) we set.
Becoming a practiced hunter is hard work. Much like the Marine Corps, it takes dedication, discipline and grit; but knowing you left your best in the field means you sleep better at night. More importantly, your efforts will make you a more skilled hunter, a more ethical hunter, and a leader to our youth—that juice is always worth the squeeze.
Never satisfied with offering convicting messages without solutions, here are some proven tips to ensure that no matter what time of year it is, you’re ready to give your best effort(s).
Sighting-In and Reality Based Practice
Focus on one axis at a time. Decide whether you’re going to focus on the “X” axis (horizontal) or “Y” axis (vertical) first. Generally, I begin with the “X” axis to ensure my arrow is actually reaching the range of the target. Once I’m comfortable with reach, I focus on the “Y” axis. I continue to focus solely on the “Y” axis until I group on the vertical line. Once grouping is achieved at the target’s vertical line, I focus again on the “X” axis, until I consistently group on the horizontal line. Once I have sighted-in to each axis individually, I should be grouping in the bullseye. I then shoot at the bullseye, to double-check. Remember, the keys to great shooting are proper form and unwavering consistency. Moreover, the only way to achieve and maintain those fundamentals is through practice.
Once your bow is sighted in and grouping well, shift gears to reality based shooting. If you’re hunting in cold weather, practice in your cold weather gear. If you will be hunting from a tree-stand, shoot from elevated platforms. I hunt at night quite often. As a result, I spend a lot of time shooting at night with a Hawglite Sabre high-intensity red LED lighting system mounted on my bow. I’ve killed many feral hogs here in Texas over the years while night hunting because I practice shooting at night regularly (check your state regulations before hunting during nighttime hours). Following these two tips, practice as much as you possibly can to be prepared for every conceivable shot that you may encounter this fall.