How much archery should you really practice?

Rocky Kline, a master bow technician who has been shooting archery for 50 years, believes bowhunters should shoot a manageable number of arrows during practice sessions. Photos by John Martino

Until recently most vertical hunting bows were just sitting around collecting dust. Now, most have been broken out, visually checked and strings waxed. By the way, when referring to “vertical” I am talking about traditional bows and not crossbows with limbs sitting horizontal.

Over the past several weeks conversations have centered on the upcoming early archery deer hunting season, which makes its grand opening October 1. Many of these discussions, which get extremely lively at times, debate the correct number of arrows to shoot during practice sessions. It’s interesting how individual routines vary in degree and intensity.

Across all sports and from people of all skill levels the same question is asked. How much should I practice? Does doing too much hurt rather than help?

For some reason we think the amount of time spent doing something is the answer to achievement or attaining a desired level of expertise or knowledge. I tried that during my college days. I figured time spent in the library, whether studying (or visiting) was a better value than sitting in a college bar, although I did gain valuable knowledge at both.

Some bowhunters think the same. They figure their skill is dependent on the number of arrows they shoot each week. So is there a magic number that makes you a great shot? 50? 1,000? If so, does shooting 500 make you only half as good?

Some are of the opinion flinging shafts until your arm falls off is ok, because that means you’ve practiced a lot and a lot of practice is good. This may be plausible if hunting season is still months away and you’re only trying to build muscle memory and not concerned with dead-on accuracy. But hunting big game with archery tackle is different. Oh sure, there are different strokes for different folks and although sending hundreds of arrows downrange may work for some, for most it doesn’t and only leads to developing bad habits and improper form.

Then there is the other side of the coin. Some archers think taking only one or two shots a day is the best way to prepare for the upcoming season. They mistakenly believe “you only get one shot while hunting so why not practice that way.” If that was the case why doesn’t a place kicker on a football team only practice booting the pigskin several times during practice sessions? After all, they usually only get that many chances per game? Why do baseball players practice hitting ball after ball when they only step up to the plate three maybe four times in nine innings? I guess the one-shot-a-day theory may be ok, as long as you throw in additional practice sessions.

There is a big difference between target archers and bowhunters. Paper punchers may spend hours practicing, but their bows are lighter in draw weights. Plus, missing a paper or foam target is not near as bad as missing, or worse, wounding a live animal.

Some of the best hunters I know have a specialized routine. When shooting at dots 20 yards away they may shoot a couple dozen arrows. Then there are days when they will push the 50-60 arrow mark, but this involves more elaborate practice sessions that might include shooting from elevated stands or a 3-D course, giving their muscles time to recuperate. They also mentally dwell on how they can improve with each drop of the string.

There is no doubt most ethical shots taken are inside 30 yards. But a good practice method includes setting your target at 60 or even 70 yards. Why do this when you would never consider shooting that far? Because practicing at these long distances makes shooting at 20 or 30 yards seem like a chip shot and you won’t believe how your shorter distance accuracy improves.

No matter what kind of training you have going on, one thing to become cognizant of is don’t force it when things just don’t feel right. Stop, put the bow up and try again the next day. “I only shoot until it stops feeling good,” says Mark Clayton, an avid bowhunter who has collected a mature buck every season over the past 22 years. “For me this equates to somewhere between 20 to 30 arrows,” he added.

Rocky Kline is a master bow technician who not only shoots competitively but hunts as well. He has 50 years of archery knowledge under his belt. He echoes Clayton’s sentiments. “I think for the majority of people shooting between 20 to 30 arrows a day, starting several months before season is the best,” he explained. “If you shoot too many it’s easy to start developing bad habits which can affect proper form.”

Kline went on to explain that when a bow is set up properly and is in perfect working order your first several groups shouldn’t change much. “But when you are practicing and you notice your arrows start flying erratically that’s usually the time to stop,” he added.

If you’re starting to get serious about bowhunting, don’t go overboard and consider a reasonable approach to your individual routine. You’re always better off to shoot a manageable number of arrows and concentrate on each individual shot.

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John Martino

Martino is a well-known outdoor writer throughout Indiana and has served as longtime outdoor columnist for the Kokomo Tribune newspaper. Martino has won numerous awards for both his writing and his service to youth, conservation and the community. He recently retired as Superintendent of Parks and Recreation for the City of Kokomo and now works as Ivy Tech Executive Director for Facilities for the Kokomo region.

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