Shooting bows well obviously requires a certain degree of dexterity. Bowhunting whitetails from stands involves cold, gloves, pack boots and insulated duds. And these are late-October through November dates I have in mind. Things can quickly reach critical mass when addressing post-rut dates into December.
By Patrick Meitin
Cold weather complicates shooting considerably, including stiff muscles, added clothing bulk and loss of flexibility, and possibly bad decisions resulting from a hypothermic brain. But nowhere is this more pointed than with hands, the body parts handling and manipulating our weapon. I’ve auditioned myriad options attempting to keep fingers functioning on stand — from fingerless gloves to flip-mitts — finding all lacking somehow. Space-age bowhunting togs have helped immensely, maintaining core temperatures so circulation to extremities isn’t compromised.
Many of my tribulations stem from clinging to finger shooting (which I still defend as superior for bowhunting in many ways), remaining a viable concern because of a love of traditional bows. And admittedly, since I’ve been forced to embrace release aids because of today’s fascination with short compounds, some of these problems have been alleviated, if not erased. Shooting releases while wearing insulated gloves is like driving while wearing ’80s disco platform shoes.
I’ve discovered only one viable option: a waist-mounted, insulated hand muffler, inserted chemical heater pack (when necessary) and the thin camouflage gloves worn during hot early seasons. Thin, tight-fitting gloves (Under Armour ColdGear Liner or Primos Stretch Fit are favorites) keep hands warm during a five-minute wait on an approaching buck, provide camouflage concealment and ample dexterity with release or finger tab. A large chemical heater packet creates a small oven inside a Thinsulate- or Primaloft-lined muffler. Mufflers are much more ergonomically comfortable than jacket pockets and make it easier to slip hands in and out quietly.
I couldn’t function without Hunter Safety Systems’ Muff Pack, which doubles as a fanny-pack while accessing stands and sitting. The Muff Pack includes two zippered front pockets to hold scents, licenses, a flashlight, a knife, a sharpening steel, a spare release, a pull-up rope and truck keys. A mesh pouch between these pockets keep grunt or bleat calls instantly available. The interior’s lined with soft, warm fleece, the openings including knit cuffs that seal out cold and wind.
Warm hands and thin gloves also promote proper hand-bow relationship while shooting. Wearing thick gloves or flip-mitts can alter draw length and make it more difficult to maintain the proper feel rehearsed during backyard practice in fairer weather.
Proper bow-hand placement — and grip — is critical to bowhunting accuracy, especially while shooting under pressure (such as when a season-making buck appears beneath your stand). First, the bow hand should not grip the bow at all, instead cradling it in an open V made of the thumb/finger unit to avoid applying torque.
Slide your bow in, and let it find its own level (a balanced bow’s important, adding stabilizers as needed to assure your bow sits level without any effort on your part). A wrist sling helps you resist the urge to clutch the grip during release by eliminating the fear of dropping your bow (it should be adjusted to actually support the bow while at rest).
Your bow arm is the base of the entire shot; the steadier this base, the more accurate the shot. To maximize this base, learn to use your solid skeletal structure instead of relying on fallible muscle alone (especially when those muscles are cold and stiff).
To do this, push the base of your thumb into the riser, cocking your elbow out and downward slightly, so all of the pressure of the bow’s draw weight is transferred down the radius of arm bones. Supporting your bow in this manner minimizes or eliminates muscle involvement in bow support and lets you remain more relaxed.
Cold weather and temperatures always will remain part of bowhunting whitetails. In truth, I’ve somehow come to enjoy it on some levels, at least since I’ve made adjustments to my shooting program to assure it no longer negatively affects the way I shoot.
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