Hone Your Preseason Bow Shooting Skills

Archers aren’t always bowhunters, however, nearly all bowhunters are archers at heart. In other words, we love to shoot our bows, whether we’re loosing an arrow on a whitetail or trying to split that little X in the center of the bull’s-eye. Heck, most of us could happily shoot for hours on end if we had the time and energy. Archery is a cathartic experience when the form is good, the mind is right, and Artemis is smiling upon us.

Hone Your Preseason Bow Shooting Skills

But let’s be realistic. The typical target practice routine can become a bit unchallenging once your form is down pat and your equipment is tuned to nock-busting perfection.

Where do we go from there? Shooting less frequently is not a good option since we need to maintain form and mental conditioning through regular practice, but when the sights are dialed in, practice is mostly a maintenance regimen. Shooting skills do not advance unless we continue to challenge ourselves and break out of the rut. This is particularly true for us bowhunters. The flat-range, known-distance target shooting rote is fine and always essential, but after that, it’s time to go beyond the basics to ensure we’re ready for those in-the-field shots that are almost never routine.

Shoot the Middle

Our backyard range and sight pin adjustments are predictable: often at 20, 30, 40 and 50 yards. If you’re a single-pin, slider-type shooter and do a lot of open-country hunting, you may even stretch the distance out a little farther. Regardless, we tend to shoot at these conventional distances whether shooting multi-pin or single pin sights.

Of course, as seasoned bowhunters know, big-game animals never get the memo that they are supposed to stop broadside from us at one of these predetermined distances. Our shots are going to be at infinitely variable distances, so it’s important to learn our arrow’s point of impact when distances fall between the gap.

Learning to shoot the gap is something every multi-pin sight shooter needs to practice—not occasionally, but every time you’re on the range. No matter how fast your bow is or how flat your arrows shoot at typical bowhunting distances, that pin gap between 20 and 30 yards is significant, and it becomes more significant the farther the shot because arrow drop is not linear. In sum, arrow drop between 30 and 40 yards is greater than the drop between 20 and 30 yards. Because of this, it is important to learn your arrow’s point of impact when shooting between these established distances.

Practice shooting at 25 yards. Do you aim high with your 20-yard pin or low with your 30-yard pin? How high or how low? Maybe with your bow setup you can split the difference. Perhaps centering the middle of your 20- and 30-yard pins on your intended point of impact (bull’s-eye) will put your arrow right where you want it. Try that same technique at 45 yards, though, and you may find that your point of impact is too low.

This is why bowhunters who use multi-pin sights need to practice shooting the gap at all distances and to learn how to adjust for point of impact on those off distances. Doing so is also going to add a bit of challenge and spice to your backyard practice sessions.

Start by shooting bull’s-eye targets until you feel confident that you’ve got the gap point of impact figured out, then transition to a 3D target, such as the Delta McKenzie Hoosier Daddy. Practicing your gap-shooting technique on quality 3D targets like this one is perfect because the targets’ subtle vital rings and excellent self-healing foam help to minimize sighting points, much as you encounter when aiming at the real thing. Lacking a distinct point of aim on the target when gap shooting is the best way to learn how to gap shoot on a live animal.

Adding the Third Dimension

That, of course, leads us to the importance of including 3D targets in your practice repertoire.
All the bull’s-eye practice in the world doesn’t amount to much for the bowhunter unless shot placement is lethally quick on a live animal. Now our practice must transition from repeatable point of impact (drilling bull’s-eyes at varying distances) to being able to place an arrow in the vitals of a deer. Three-dimensional targets provide the lifelike simulation we need for this.

Begin by shooting 3D targets broadside so you can commit to memory the area on a deer’s body you need to aim for a lethal shot to the heart and lungs and, to a lesser degree, the liver. We put the liver shots as the outlier because, although they are fatal, a deer hit in the liver will often travel a bit farther and take longer to expire than a well-placed shot to the heart or lungs (which will seal the deal in a matter of seconds).

As with bull’s-eye target shooting, however, shooting 3D targets only broadside limits your skill development potential. Once you’re confident in lethal shot placement when shooting 3D targets broadside, it’s time to ramp up for real-world shot scenarios.

One of the big advantages of 3D targets that most bowhunters fail to capitalize on is the opportunity to practice off-plane shooting. By this we mean quartering shots, high- and low-elevation shots, and shooting from all angles in-between.

Straight-on or front-quartering shots on large-game animals should be avoided if possible because there is simply too much bone shielding the vitals from these angles. Rear-quartering shots, on the other hand, are certainly viable, and this angle is often one of the best for whitetails as it presents a good shot column into the chest cavity. That being the case, you still need to send the arrow in at the right angle to hit the vitals.

Here is where 3D targets are so beneficial. They not only give you the X axis (front to back) and Y axis (top to bottom) of an animal when viewed broadside, they also give you the Z axis (left to right) when viewed from an angle. By noting the X and Y axis of the vital rings on a 3D target, you can visualize the Z axis location of the vitals as well. When making off-angle shots, simply observe where the arrow impacted and mentally project the path of the arrow through target while visualizing where the vitals are located. With a little practice, you’ll quickly learn the optimal arrow impact points of a whitetail regardless of the angle you are shooting. If you hunt from a treestand and can set up a safe shooting platform on your backyard range, practice shooting 3D from an elevated position as well as on the ground.

For off-angle 3D practice, one of the best targets on the market is the Big Daddy Buck 3D by Delta McKenzie. This target has an oversized body (designed to simulate a 250-pound whitetail), making it a bit more forgiving than small-body targets when practicing extreme horizontal and vertical angles.

Hit the Woods

For the ultimate real-world target practice for bowhunting, nothing beats shooting in a realistic hunting environment that allows you to add undulating terrain, foliage and other natural features such as you would encounter during an actual hunt. The added benefit for practicing during the warm summer months is that shooting in the woods can also be a lot more comfortable.

For this, a lighter weight, more portable 3D target such as the Delta McKenzie Baby Daddy is in order. Weighing 23 pounds, the Baby Daddy is light enough to carry into the woods and to set up in a variety of shooting scenarios and distances. Again, try some uphill and downhill angles, as well as situations where the target is partially obscured by trees or brush.

Hone Your Preseason Bow Shooting Skills

If toting around a 3D target is not a viable option, portable bull’s-eye targets will also work well. At 8 pounds, the 12-inch Mo’ Foam CHUNK presents a good roving-style target for practicing yardage estimation—especially in fields or in woodland settings with little understory. For shooting in more aggressive terrain, the Wedgie is an ideal choice. This is a free-standing bag target that you can set up practically anywhere—behind a log, in a creek bottom or at the far end of a shooting lane—and it is also sized for honing your range-estimation skills at longer distances.

Pre-season target shooting doesn’t have to be all about, “Making sure I’m sighted in.” Backyard sight-in and point of impact verification is just the first step. To really hone your bowhunting skills, you need to go beyond the basics by shooting outside of the established distances and shooting at many angles under varying environmental conditions such as those you will undoubtedly encounter in the field. And besides, it’s a lot more fun!


Delta McKenzie Daddy Series (all three compatible with broadheads and fieldpoints)

Big Daddy Buck
• Oversized 3D target
• 3-piece dovetail-jointed body
• Self-healing foam construction
• Horizontal dovetail joint assembly (prevents separation when moving)
• Both vital and universal scoring rings
• Compatible with: crossbow, recurve, compound bows
• Weight: 41 pounds
• Dimensions: 41-in. shoulder height; 48-in. width; 54-in. head height

Hoosier Daddy Buck
• Mid-size 3D target
• 3-piece body
• Self-healing foam construction
• Horizontal dovetail joint assembly (prevents separation when moving)
• Both vital and universal scoring rings
• Compatible with: crossbow, recurve, compound bows
• Weight: 31 pounds
• Dimensions: 36x15x47 inches

Baby Daddy Buck
• Portable-size 3D target
• 3-piece body
• Self-healing foam construction
• Horizontal dovetail joint assembly (prevents separation when moving)
• Both vital and universal scoring rings
• Compatible with: crossbow, recurve, compound bows
• Weight: 23 pounds
• Dimensions: 31x11x20 inches

Wedgie Bag Target
• Best type of target for easy arrow extraction
• Stable, free-standing
• Dual-side w/high-contrast graphics
• Compatible with: crossbow, recurve, compound bows
• Point compatibility: field tip
• Weight: 36 pounds
• Dimensions: 24x24x12 inches

Mo’ Foam CHUNK 12-inch
• Layered foam target
• Can be shot on all four sides
• Heat-fused into a single one-piece block
• Integrated carry handles
• Compatible with: crossbow, recurve, compound bows
• Point compatibility: field tip, broadhead
• Weight: 8 pounds
• Dimensions: 12x12x12 inches

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Big Daddy Buck from Delta Mackenzie Targets