I never could have guessed where I would be today, 365 days later, but a chance encounter over the summer made me reflect on what I would tell someone taking similar steps down the hunting path. Her name was Domi, and she came to shoot at Seven Hills Archery on the recommendation of the local bow shop guru. New to the course, and shooting alone, the range guides asked if I would take her around and show her the ropes (quite literally--Station 3 is the bear on a rope pulley that I've finally figured out). Her enthusiasm was infectious and we had a great morning shooting the breeze as well as the foam. Suddenly, I was the "expert," heavy emphasis on the quotation marks and spoken in a sarcastic tone, and my nuggets of wisdom to her that day included the following sage pieces of advice.
Tidbit #1: If you want to shoot well from 20, practice at 50.
This is the single best piece of advice I have received, and I believe it with all my heart. I'm not an expert long distance shooter, but practicing at 50, 60, and 70 yards has been a game changer and made me far more confident and accurate for the shots I will actually take on game in the field. Maybe someday in the far, far future, this type of practice will pay off on an elk or mule deer hunt. Someday.
Tidbit #2: Aim small, miss small.
I stink at golf, absolutely stink. I can putt for days, but driving befuddles me and I have shanked enough golf balls to confirm that it is a sport I shall never master. However, give me a fistful of tees and I'm happy as a clam, wedging them into targets and shooting to my heart's content. Aiming at a 1/2" target from 30 yards is maddening, but will make you a better shooter. Period.
Tidbit #3: Always check your level.
Shooting left? Check your level. Uneven ground? Check your level. In a stand? Check your level. See a monster buck? For the love of all that is holy, check your level. When you get the shakes and your heart is pounding in your ears, check and recheck your level.
Tidbit #4: Watch the arrow, not the target.
I still struggle with this one, and am miserable at retrieving any arrow that hasn't found its intended home, but I'm working on it. Watch the flight of the arrow and track where it lands, and listen closely for the telltale pop of metal hitting flesh compared to the sad, sad crackle of carbon on branches. And invest heavily in Lumenocks...and perhaps a metal detector. Seriously, it's on my Christmas list.
Tidbit #5: Adjust for your angle.
Shots uphill add yardage, shots downhill subtract. This is such a hard concept for my brain to master, and I still rely on dumb luck and guessing for how much to fudge. Shooting down from a stand requires special attention to form, bending at the waist instead of dropping your arm. I hope to practice this more in the coming weeks, and I pray that if the opportunity presents itself, I manage to get it right the first time around.
None of these tidbits were original, thought of by yours truly. I wholeheartedly credit the group of hunters that took me under their collective wings as a Very Special Project to try to teach an old dog some new tricks. To MR, GM, SS, CF, TB, RH, JF, and all the pro staff on Bowhunt Or Die (who have no idea that I watch them religiously and study their every move like a creeper), I can't thank you enough for your role in making me better. To Domi, I wish an outstanding fall with arrows that find their home more times than not. And lastly, to myself, I wish for that one day where the stars align and I get it all right, all at once, and I can text my friends those three letters that get our heart rates going: BBD.