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Improving your Odds at the Coveted "Moment of Truth"

By Rob Stenger

The time has come for many bow hunters. Many have been shooting for months and some never stop. With the beginning of September fast approaching, the time is nearly here and those visions and dreams of harvesting a mature whitetail keeping us awake at night become clearer each night. So are you truly ready for that encounter with a mature bruiser when he steps out this Fall? rs_1.jpgHere are some tips that help get me ready for the archery season and hopefully for that coveted "moment of truth".

The very first thing I do before I start practicing every year is make sure my bow, is shooting properly. To guarantee this I usually take my bow in and have it paper tuned with my arrows that I will be shooting that year. However, the past two years I have taken it a step further and brought my bow into Schaffer Performance Archery in Burnsville, MN. John Schaffer not only paper tuned my bow and arrows but shot it through their hi-tech camera. Schaffer Performance Archery is one of the only pro shops in the country equipped with a high-speed camera system. They can look at virtually every aspect of bow, rest, arrow and the shooter's performance at thousands of frames per second to diagnose problems and maximize performance. Once I know for sure that my bow is performing at its peak level, the rest is up to me.

Ok, I’ll be the first to admit, I’m no Olympic archer or even close to being the best shot around town, but the following tips are things I have observed, learned or found out for myself in my 14 short years of archery hunting. I have been around and shot long enough to know that CONSISTENCY and repeating things exactly are the two keys to being accurate and being able to hit my target time after time. For me, this all starts with what people call your "Grip". The funny thing is when I think of grip, I think of holding onto something. Well, in this case it is just the opposite for me. I like to have an open hand grip on my bow and more cradle my bow in the webbing of my hand between my forefinger and my thumb like in the 2nd picture. I prefer this type of grip for a few reasons, but mainly so I do not "torque" my bow while I’m shooting. This open grip also helps me to have the bow in the same position every time I release an arrow. It may take a while to get used to, but well worth it in the long run in my opinion. Every single time I draw my bow I think about how my bow is resting in my palm, if my hand is relaxed and not squeezing the bows grip which helps my arrow consistency.

My wife Stacie demonstrating an open hand "grip" on her Mathews DXT and release to help reduce torque.

rs_2.jpgAlong this same concept many hunters also shoot a wrist style release. Not only can you torque your grip on your bow you can also torque your grip on your release. To alleviate this issue when I’m drawn back on my release I do not grip or even put my hands around by release. I shoot my release also with an open hand and only lay my finger down on the trigger as shown in the picture of my wife to the left. By "torqueing" either your bow grip or release you change positions of both and make it very difficult to duplicate the same pressure on either, thus affecting arrow grouping and consistency.

Well, so far consistency has been a big part of this article and it will continue here. To help me increase my consistency in my shooting, I have established a little routine that I do every time I draw my bow back and release an arrow. These steps below are the things that work for me. You might have different steps or sequences all together, but the important thing is to have a set sequence that you follow each and every time you draw back. As I come to full draw, I think about my hand placement and grip on my bow. Next, I nudge my knuckle against my ear lobe where my anchor point is. I then rest my nose on my string. I then ask myself what yardage I’m shooting at and then what pin goes with that yardage. I look at the target and then align my peep up with my sight circle and look at my level. I again find my spot on my target and bear down. My finger slowly pulls my trigger and WHACK…. Dead deer. It may seem a bit long and cumbersome, but it only takes about 4-5 seconds to run through my list. This helps me during that moment of truth, not only do I keep my mind off that big rack by thinking through these items and focusing on other things. It also ensures everything is consistent each and every time I release an arrow (nose placement, lining up peep and sight circle, anchor point, etc). What this also accomplishes is, it trains my brain to think for me during that moment, when my emotions will be high and my thoughts may not be straight.

This little process has become so 2nd nature to me now that I don’t even really think about it when I’m shooting at a deer as it just happens. This brings me to the last part of this article, the mental side of shooting at an animal. I know quite a few people that are really good at shooting targets day in day out and can hit bull’s-eyes all day long. However, when it comes down to that moment of releasing an arrow on an animal that pin point accuracy seems to fade away as fast as those big bucks appear. Why is that??? So many of us bow hunters practice for months and shoot thousands of arrows with keen accuracy all Summer long, but it comes down to making the shot. We fumble through it and are lucky sometimes to get a good shot off. The reason is we practice every physical aspect of shooting all Summer long. Yet we ignore the importance of the mental side of shooting, by preparing our mind and body what we will encounter when that buck makes his presence. Face it, those deer do a number on us. Call it "buck fever" or whatever you want, but they make our knees shake, heart pump and experience that rush of uncontrollable adrenaline. I’ll be the first to admit it, I get the fever bad and I mean bad. That is the very reason I love archery hunting whitetails so much. I do it for that feeling or rush I get from a deer encounter. To me, that is just about the best feeling in the world and can’t be described to someone unless they experience it firsthand. However, through time and mentally preparing myself for those types of encounters I have been able to delay and harness those emotions until after the shot, well at least most of the time.

When a big buck steps into view while I'm out hunting, something just happens to me. It is like a switch flips. I used to not like it and not know what it was. Through time, experience I have learned to embrace and understand it. Some people call it "being in the zone", sometimes I referrs_3.jpg to it as going on "auto pilot". Professional athletes pay psychologists "big bucks" to help them achieve this state of mind and focus. It is something not often thought about in the bow hunting world, but we as bow hunters can greatly benefit from this state of mind also. It can be achieved by training our minds to conquer the goal at hand through preparation and focus. Here are some of the things I use to help my mind reach such intense focus for those moments of truth.

During my practice rounds in the Summer, I usually shoot 3 arrows per round. After my first two shots at a target, I usually take the last arrow of the group and I really slow it down and simulate a real shot opportunity at a deer. I tell myself that a certain buck had just stepped out and I will have a shot at him and this is my only chance at him. I simulate slowly drawing my bow as he moves behind a tree as I would in a stand. Sometimes I shuffle my feet to get turned in the stand. I will hold it until I visually see him stop or sometimes I will grunt with my mouth to stop him. Sometimes I hold it longer sometimes short. These last few years, I even go as far as asking my camera guy if he is on him, before picking my spot, bearing down on my trigger and letting one fly. A few years ago a buck we called Splitter had been shot a 1000 times in my yard before I even ever sat in a stand or even hunted him. To add even more realism to it, I have a 3D target set up next to my foam target and will shoot this on my last arrow. As Fall gets nearer I will also start shooting my 3D target more and more getting my mind used to seeing a deer in my sight and again tricking it into believing I have been here many times before on ol’ Splitter. So when I do get that shot opportunity on that big ol' boy, I have practiced it a 1000 times before and just let autopilot kick in.

Another thing I do is, during my time in and sometimes even out of the deer stand. I visualize my different stand set ups and walk through scenarios of what happens when a deer comes down a certain trail from this way or that way. How far is that trail? I think about when is a good time to draw? When is a good time to shoot? Will he be broadside here or there? Again, this is just training your brain to think during that moment, when your emotions will be high and your thoughts may not be straight. I again simulate this during practice by shooting from rs_4.jpgelevated positions and sometimes from a ground blind or a sitting position. In the Summer I will erect a ladder stand or even shoot from my porch roof to again bring more realism into my practice and mentally prepare me for shooting from an elevated position. How many of you actually shoot deer from the ground??? So why only practice from the ground??? It may seem like a lot of nonsense to some. However, if you have been in a situation before your mind knows what to expect and do if and when it does happen for real. You will greatly benefit if you can practice and develop that mental mindset that will put you on "auto-pilot" or "in the zone" when that mature bruiser decides to step out.

Another thing that helps me is mentally I know I have shot that deer before and I keep those positive thoughts flowing in my head this way. If you have any doubt at the moment of truth and bad things enter your mind as you are about to release an arrow, it really makes it tough for anyone to make that shot. So try to stay positive and think positive during these encounters and in your practice sessions. All your thoughts should be do’s in lieu of don’ts. Think thoughts like; do concentrate, do slowly pull the trigger, do be quiet, I will kill this deer. Instead of thoughts like; don’t punch my trigger and don’t make a sound, I'm not sure if I can make the shot, etc.. Anyone can teach themselves to stay better focused. Our ability to focus and stay positive can be practiced and learned. Pretend your practice shots are real. Walk through those steps of drawing back on that mature whitetail you have been seeing like I mentioned. If you try these tips, you will be on your way of mentally preparing yourself for this Fall’s encounters and being "in the zone" come your moment of truth.

To me whitetail hunting really comes down to being almost all mental when a shot presents itself. Sure a lot of things need to come together in order to get a shot opportunity. Things like; putting out and checking trail cameras, food plots, hanging stands, scouting, time commitment, personal sacrifices, with a lil’ bit of luck thrown into the mix to get that shot opportunity. Yet in the end, it all boils down to our ability to make the shot year after year or encounter after encounter. All of us pretty much have the equipment and physical ability to make the shot. As we proved that all Summer long during our practice sessions. It just all boils down to mentally getting it done at that crucial moment of truth. So again I ask you, "Will you be ready this Fall when your coveted "Moment of Truth" arrives?