hunter with a bow in a tree stand
Prep Time: Drawing on small deer makes shooting a larger one easier.. John Hafner

Shooting arrows at a backyard target or at a local range is always better than no practice at all. But it resembles the shots you’ll get from a stand or blind about as much as kissing a poster of Emma Stone prepares you for a date with her. You need real-time practice that mimics the real deal as closely as possible. Here’s how to pull it off.

1. Shoot the Junk

Arrow, that is. Every fall, I carry one that shoots well but I can live without. I save this “junk arrow” and shoot it at a leaf, dirt clod, or stick just before I exit the stand. This one shot reminds me to bend at the waist, maintain solid form, and concentrate for the single opportunity a buck will give me. It’s also great preparation for the light conditions (dim light, shadow, bright sun) that I’ll encounter during an actual hunt. And if I wreck the arrow on a rock, who cares?

2. Go for the (Small) Game

Bunnies, grouse, and squirrels are fun to watch, but they also serve as the perfect prep for a shot at a buck if your license allows it. Shooting at small game forces you to draw undetected, pick a tiny aiming spot, and anticipate movement. And when you’re successful, you’ve got the bonus of a tasty meal.

3. Visualize Success

Years of bowhunting have convinced me that nothing prepares you for the act of shooting a really big deer like drawing and aiming at a bunch of little deer. So every time I see a deer approaching, I rise, grab my bow, anticipate an open shooting lane, draw when the deer isn’t looking, and bury my sight pin in the exact spot I’d send an arrow if I wanted to shoot. It’s shocking how much even a button buck can make you shake at this point…​and equally surprising is how much easier it is to kill a buck when you’ve run through the process a dozen times that season.