Variety in Practice
I'm certain every bowhunter has been there. Whether you have been shooting for decades or you're brand new to archery - you can probably recall an extended period of time when your practice routine consisted of shooting three arrows into a block target at 20 yards over and over again. This is a fine way to practice if you're doing everything correctly - however, I have unfortunately found that archery is one of those things you can do every single day and not get any better at it. In fact, it's something you can do every single day and actually get worse at it. Think of it this way: you probably write with a pen or pencil at least a little bit, most days of the week - has your handwriting improved at all in the last few years?
By implementing a little bit of variety, mindfulness, and pre-determined goals for each shooting session into your practice routine, you can actually start to see measurable improvement.
Variety and Goal Setting
I believe that the best way to start making consistent improvement in your shooting is to introduce variety to your practice routine. If you have been shooting the ol' block target at 20 yards for the past year, try switching up the distances and angles on your shots from time-to-time. Put a different paper face on your target and give yourself something new to look and aim at. There are plenty of possibilities for switching up your practice routine and keeping you focused and conscious about your shooting.
I try to attend several 3D shoots every year, I have purchased my own 3D target that I can set up at a variety of distances and angles on nearby public land (where it is legal and safe to do so), I try to keep a variety of inexpensive paper targets on hand - everything from vital print-outs, paper animal targets, dart boards, battleship - you name it. I have also joined leagues and try to shoot a couple indoor Vegas rounds for score each week as a way to track my progress.
Additionally, I try to set a specific goal for every practice session these days. Going into a practice session with a clear goal in mind helps keep me focused on my shooting and what I am trying to achieve on a particular day.
3D & League Shooting
3D shoots are a fun way to have some friendly competition and get out and shoot in hunting-type scenarios. More and more 3D shoots seem to be popping up every year as they increase in popularity amongst bowhunters across the country. Everything from local club shoots to full-on productions with ski-lift access like the Total Archery Challenge and Mountain Archery Fest provide archers with a wide variety of challenges. You may wish to test your luck shooting out past 100 yards, or simply focus on shooting at comfortable distances between obstacles, at awkward angles, etc.
3D shoots also have competition inherently built-in. Even if you're not signed up for an official competition, a friendly one typically breaks out amongst any group of shooters. Competition certainly makes you want to focus up and perform your best rather than just go through the motions, as you might if you were shooting solo in your backyard.
If your area has a local archery club, league nights can be a great way to get in on some friendly competition as well. In my experience league nights are laid back and enjoyable, but the ever-present feeling of wanting to win a week keeps me on my toes.
Shooting targets for score can be a good way to not only promote focus in your shooting, but also measure your progress. There are seemingly endless options for targets that one can shoot for score. One of the more popular and my personal favorite is the Vegas 3-Spot face.
Whichever style of target shooting you decide on, they are all great ways to consistently track and measure your progress. I try to shoot at least one Vegas round each week, and make note of whether my scores are consistently going down, going up, or plateauing - this gives me an idea of where to start and what I need to work on in the coming weeks.
Keep Switching It Up
Regardless of what type of new shooting styles you're beginning to implement into your practice routine, I think the biggest key is to be switching it up consistently. Particularly in western hunting, you just have no idea what type of shot might be presented to you. An animal could be at an aggressive uphill or downhill angle, quartering away from you, standing in a narrow gap between two trees, or who knows, an elk might come walking in at 3 yards! Did you practice any shots at 3 yards over the summer?
You just never know what kind of shot opportunity you might have during your season, the best way to be prepared for the unknown is to have several months of shooting practice in a wide variety of scenarios.
Be on the look out for the next Freeflow Outdoors Podcast - I will be going into greater detail on how to get the most out of your practice sessions and going more in-depth on the different types of practice routines that I like to utilize during the off season.