archery deer vector illustration
Illustration by T. M. Detwiler

The Ultimate Bowhunting Training Program

Bow season begins in a few short weeks. Are you in shooting shape?

Are you ready for opening day? We asked Levi Morgan and Chance Beaubouef, two of the country's best pro archers and both serious bowhunters, to tailor this four-week training program to get you ready for the opener.

The Warm-Up

The first step in shooting tighter, more consistent groups is ensuring that you and your bow are working perfectly together. Where most hunters go wrong, according to our experts, is in draw length and bow balance. Use these two warm-up exercises to get both exactly right.

WARM-UP NO. 1: DRILL DOWN ON DRAW

Instructor: Levi Morgan, 11-time IBO/ASA World Champion, 12-time Shooter of the Year, more than 50 P&Y trophies

The Goal: Shoot the perfect draw length.

→ “I can’t tell you how many hunters I see shooting the wrong draw length—and yet it is absolutely fundamental to consistent shooting,” Morgan says. If your draw length is even a little too short, you’ll tend to push or pull too hard at full draw, which causes left-to-right misses, he explains. If it’s too long, you’ll creep up off the back wall, which causes high and low misses. “You’ve got to get this dialed in before you start any serious training on the range.”

The Exercise

1. Have a friend take a profile photo of you at full draw, and look for any of the four problems illustrated here.

2. Put a target out at 30 yards and shoot one arrow every 15 minutes or so until you have a five-shot group of all first-shot arrows. "I see guys who are 4 inches off left or right with their first shot, who say, 'That's just me; I'll get it back in a minute,'" says Morgan. "Well, that doesn't work out so well for hunting."

3. If your shots are consistent, do nothing. If they are sprayed left and right, you probably need a longer draw length. If they are scattered up and down, you need to go shorter.

4. If the problem is minor, try adjusting the length of your D‑loop. Otherwise, go 1⁄2 inch longer or shorter and try again. (If you have fixed cams, go see your bow-shop pro.)

Tip: When you get your draw length perfect, take another profile picture at full draw to use for future reference.

compound bow stance illustration
Ensure that you and your bow are working together.T. M. Detwiler

A: A line extended straight back from the arrow nock should split the crease of the elbow. If your elbow is well above this line, your draw may be too short. If it's below—and especially if it sweeps behind you—it's too long.

B: Your head should be aligned with your spine, as shown. Too far forward indicates too short a draw; too far back, your draw is likely too long.

C: You want little to no bend in the bow arm. Lots of bend means the draw length is too short.

D: With a release, your anchor point should be just ahead of the ear. If it's behind or way out in front, you're probably too long or short.

WARM-UP NO. 2: SHIFT YOUR WEIGHT

Instructor: Chance Beaubouef, IBO World Champion, Indoor World Champion, 40 P&Y trophies, including a 175-inch whitetail

The Goal: Get your bow perfectly balanced.

→ A balanced bow stays on target when you aim, and an unbalanced one doesn’t. Yet hunters pretty much ignore bow balance. “Proof is in the 6-inch stabilizers on most field bows, which soak up a little vibration but are useless otherwise,” Beaubouef says. What you need is a longer front bar and especially a back bar to act as a counterweight for the rest, sight, and quiver. For hunting, Beaubouef uses a 12-inch front bar and a 10-inch back. “I get it. You don’t want to carry the extra weight,” he says. “Well, try it and see how much it improves your shooting. Then decide.”

The Exercise

1. Close your eyes, draw, and anchor as usual. Open your eyes and check the sight bubble. If it's centered, you're good. But if it's left or right, swing the back bar in or out until the bubble is centered.

2.  Draw, anchor, and try to hold your aim on a small target. If the pin consistently drifts low, add a little weight to the back bar; if it tends to rise up off the target, subtract a little.

Tip: "It's a feel thing," says Beaubouef. "Once you're roughly balanced, just shoot a lot and make small tweaks as you go until your pin settles in on the target and stays there."

Bow Prep: Get a Tune Up

→ Your bow needs to be properly tuned for all of the exercises here. Specific tuning procedures vary from bow to bow, and are just complicated and mysterious enough to deserve their own article and video series, which you can view at field​and​stream.com/bow​tuning. Meanwhile, Morgan and Beaubouef offer these tips.

1. Paper tune your own bow. Your bow-shop pro can time the cams, laser the center shot, fine-tune the nock travel, etc., but you have to paper tune your own bow, because your grip and form are unique to you and affect how your arrow flies. Both pros recommend bare-shaft paper tuning but say you can get away with paper tuning with fletched arrows for hunting.

2. Walk-back tune. Once your arrows are shooting bullet holes through paper, walk-back tune at least to your max field range. Then you should be good to go. ## The Workout This four-week training program will take you right to, or very close to, the start of the bow season in most states. For the first week, concentrate on the sighting, aiming, and trigger-release exercises. Then mix it up, focusing more on the shooting drills as your first hunt approaches.

The Workout

This four-week training program will take you right to, or very close to, the start of the bow season in most states. For the first week, concentrate on the sighting, aiming, and trigger-release exercises. Then mix it up, focusing more on the shooting drills as your first hunt approaches.

DRILL NO. 1: SIGHT RIGHT

Instructor: Morgan

The Goal: Set your sights for serious accuracy.

→ “A lot of hunters sight in on a GlenDel buck’s vitals or a big dot on a block target,” Morgan says. The problem is that everyone tends to shoot just well enough to hit the target. “If you sight in and practice at a softball-size bull at 30 yards, then your best groups are going to be roughly softball-size at that distance. You need to set your bow up to aim smaller.”

Set your sights for serious accuracy using these four steps
Set your sights right for serious accuracy.T. M. Detwiler

The Exercise

1. Use a level and a strip of masking tape to create a horizontal line on the target.

2. Step back to 20 yards and shoot several four-arrow groups, adjusting your 20-yard pin up or down, until all of the arrows are hitting the line or are very close. Repeat in 10-yard increments until you reach your max distance.

3. For left and right, tape a perfectly vertical line on the target.

4. Step back to the max distance you know you can shoot a good group. Again, shoot four arrows, adjusting left or right until all of the arrows are on or very near the line.

Tip: Take your time, and only count your good shots. If you shoot a flyer, throw it out and shoot another. Most important, says Morgan: "Don't make the typical hunter mistake of sighting in once and forgetting about it." That's why this is a drill, not a warm-up. "Altitude, temperature, humidity, and more can affect your point of impact. You need to check it on a regular basis."

DRILL NO. 2: AIM SMALL

Instructor: Morgan

The Goal: Hold the pin on a small ­target—and keep it there.

→ “I’ll bet all top 3D pros can hold on a 1-inch bull at 30 yards for 30 seconds without ever letting the pin leave the circle,” says Morgan. “But we aren’t born with that ability. You can learn to do it, too.”

Hold the pin on a small target and keep it there
Aim Small: Hold the pin on a small target—and keep it there.T. M. Detwiler

The Exercise

1. Place a target at 20 yards and slap on an adhesive dot big enough—say, 6 inches—that you can easily keep your pin on it.

2. Draw your bow, and aim at the dot. The pin will float, but your goal is to keep it from leaving the circle. After 30 seconds, let it down. Rest and repeat for a total of 30 minutes. (If needed, start with 15-second intervals for 15 minutes.)

3. When you can stay in the 6-inch dot for the full duration every time, switch to a 5-inch dot. Repeat, shrinking the dot or increasing the distance. Resist the temptation to shoot at any point.

DRILL NO. 3: DOT TO DOT

Instructor: Beaubouef

The Goal: Tighten your groups.

→ Whatever your group size is on the range, at any given distance, you can pretty much double it in the field, Beaubouef says. “You’ve probably read that if you can keep it in a pie plate at 40, you’re good to go. No way. If the best you can do on the range is a pie plate, you’ve got no business shooting at an animal.” You need to be at least half that, and preferably much smaller. “Even at my max field range, I want there to be as little room for error as possible.” Here’s the drill he uses to tighten those groups.

Friendly competition at the shooting range
Get a buddy or two and alternate shooting one arrow at a time, starting with the largest dot.T. M. Detwiler

The Exercise

1. Put a target out at the maximum distance at which you feel comfortable shooting at a deer.

2. Then, in whatever pattern you like, attach five adhesive target dots, decreasing in size from 5 inches in diameter to 1 inch.

3. Get a buddy or two and alternate shooting one arrow at a time, starting with the largest dot. With each hit, the shooter gets to move on to the next smaller dot.

4. First shooter to get through all the dots, including the smallest one, wins.

Tip: "The beauty of this exercise is that a little friendly competition with your buddies adds an element of pressure, which is good practice for the field," Beaubouef says. With that in mind, don't hesitate to raise the stakes, say, by putting a few dollars (or a few beers, after you're done shooting) on the line.

DRILL NO. 4: READY, DON'T AIM, FIRE

Instructor: Beaubouef

The Goal: Perfect a surprise release.

Have a friend trigger the release so you can focus on what a true surprise release feels like.
Have a friend trigger the release so you can focus on what a true surprise release feels like.T. M. Detwiler

→ “You can’t focus on both aiming and shooting at the same time,” says Beaubouef. “And if you try to jump back and forth with your focus, you’re just asking for target panic.” Instead, you have to separate the two, and learn to do one subconsciously. “Blank-bale shooting lets you work on a smooth, surprise release without the distraction of aiming.”

The Exercise

1. Put a blank target 10 yards away or close enough that you won't miss with closed eyes.

2. Draw the bow, point it generally at the middle of the target, and have a friend trip the release, while you focus on what a true surprise release feels like. Repeat this four or five times.

3. Next, slowly ­trigger the release yourself, trying to re-create that surprise feel.

4. Repeat five to 10 times, several times a day, working on rhythm and consistency. You want the overall motion to feel the same every time, while the exact moment the bow fires remains a surprise.

DRILL NO. 5: ZERO TO 60 (IN A MONTH)

Instructor: Morgan

The Goal: Make your max field shot seem like a gimme.

→ If 40 yards is as far as you will shoot an animal and you never practice past that, then 40 will always seem like a long shot, says Morgan. But if you practice at 60, 40 will come to seem like a gimme. “Confidence is everything. If you feel like, God I hope I hit, you shouldn’t even take the shot. But if you say, ‘I’m going to hit that hair,’ you’ll probably make a really good shot.” This drill is dead simple and focuses on the specific goal of increasing your confidence at max field range.

bow training 60 yards
Give yourself the full four weeks to get your max field range up to 60 yards away.T. M. Detwiler

The Exercise

1. Set a target at a gimme range, and use whatever size dot you are comfortable with, as long as it is no larger than 6 inches.

2. Shoot a three-arrow group at the target. If you miss with any arrow, stay at this distance until you can put all three arrows in the dot consistently.

3. Move back 10 yards, and repeat.  If you miss, step forward 10 yards and start over. If you hit with all three, move back another 10.

4. Keep at it until you are hitting consistently at 20 yards beyond your max field range. Then go to a smaller dot.

Tip: The goal isn't just to hit at extended range, but to hit virtually every time there. Nor is your goal to extend your field range. Only consider that if you're drilling a small dot at 30 or more yards past your current limit.

GEAR CHECK: EXERCISE EQUIPMENT

→ Yes, all you really need is a stick and a string. But if you’re ­serious about being deadlier than ever by the opener, having the right modern equipment goes a long way. Here’s what Morgan and Beaubouef recommend.

Illustration by T. M. Detwiler detailing the modern equipment used in training with a compound bow.
Having the right modern equipment goes a long way in training to be a better shooter.T. M. Detwiler

1. Bow: You don't need an expensive one. Both pros agree that they can shoot a cheap bow well if it's properly tuned and has the right accessories.

2. Cams: Check their timing regularly. Morgan and Beaubouef do so at least once a week.

3. Sight: How many pins, fixed or sliders, is up to you. What matters is having second- and third-axis adjustments and that the pin adjustments are easy, precise, and positive.

4. Rest: Get a fallaway. Today's models are tough and reliable, minimize arrow contact, and allow way more latitude for nock tuning.

5. Stabilizers: Their main purpose is to balance your bow (see "Shift Your Weight," p. 60). At minimum go with a 10-inch front bar and an 8-inch back bar. Both pros use a 12 and a 10 on their hunting bows.

6. String and Cables: Change them out at least once every two years.

7. Release: Switching from the typical hunting wrist-strap release to a hinge or thumb style can help keep you from punching the trigger, according to our pros. But they agree you have to be comfortable. If you want to stick with a caliper, that's fine—you'll still get the same bene­fits from their workout.

8. Broadheads: Morgan and Beaubouef prefer mechanical broadheads because they're confident that their favorites fly like field points, making tuning and practice easier.

FIELD TIPS: OWN THE MOMENT

→ At the end of this program, you’ll have worked hard to become a better bow shot. Question is: Can you do it when it counts? Here’s how to keep it together and make a great shot in the field.

compound bow whitetail illustration
Can you make the shot when it counts?T. M. Detwiler

1. Set a limit: "With so much talk about long-range shooting now, it's easy to let a long poke fly," Beaubouef says. "Problem is, you can do everything right and still miss—or worse, make a bad hit—because the animal moves." Set a conservative limit and stick to it.

2. Have a routine: Beaubouef also recommends developing a pre-shot routine on the practice range, and doing the exact same thing in the field. "It calms you down and gives your mind something to focus on other than the buck's antlers."

3. Visualize success: It takes a split second. "As I'm drawing back, I look at the spot on the deer and envision the arrow hitting it," Beaubouef says.

4. Get set: Hunters tend to rush shots in the field. "You usually have more time than you think," Morgan says. "Take a second to reposition your feet or check your form."

5. Go right at it: "If you bring your sight pin up along a buck's leg to the vitals or down from the back, there's a tendency to shoot as soon as there's fur in the sight," Morgan says. "I like to go straight to the spot I want to hit."

6. Aim lower: Most hunters aim too high, Morgan says. "Keep your pin in the lower third. If the deer doesn't react, it's a heart shot. If it does, you're still in the lungs."

7. Pick a spot: You've heard this before, but what spot, exactly? "Most animals have a little curly patch of fur right behind the elbow," Beaubouef says. "That's where I aim."