After weeks of fighting warm September weather, I finally sneaked close to a decent-sized elk. The bull was feeding atop a short-grass ridge between stunted juniper trees. His tall 6x6 rack bobbed bewitchingly as I slipped out my rangefinder and gauged the steeply uphill shot. The elk was 50 yards away, but the rangefinder told me to hold for 43.
Heat, excitement and hard hiking can all threaten perfect shooting. I took a deep breath, made sure both feet were solidly planted, then pulled back my 75-pound-draw bow. From there, hundreds of hours of shooting practice kicked in. All I remember was swinging the 40-yard sight high behind the elk’s shoulder and dumping the bowstring.
The arrow flickered past pine trees and smashed the bull just above the “elbow.” He ducked over the ridge, but I knew he was mine. Thirty minutes later, I was gutting my Montana prize.
GET A GRIP
Although I was on automatic pilot when I took that shot, I know exactly how I drew, held and released on that bull. The movements were ingrained from years of practice: Draw straight back and anchor to the face; open and relax the bow hand, then lightly touch forefinger to thumb; aim at a small spot on the animal and let the bowstring go; feel the string hand slide backward along the face; continue to aim until the arrow hits.
Of all archery moves, your grip on the bow is one of the most important. Hold it tight, or grab it during the shot, and the bow will torque or twist in your hand. Hold it loosely, in a relaxed hand, and the bow will twist very little. The difference can be a terrible shot instead of a perfect one.
There is more than one correct way to hold a hunting bow. I softly touch my forefinger and thumb, and let the bow “rattle” in my relaxed hand as the arrow flies on its way. Some archers—particularly treestand or ground-blind enthusiasts—prefer to secure their hand to the bow with a wrist sling. They shoot with a relaxed, wide-open hand and let the sling hold the bow to their wrist.
Wrist slings are not all that practical for hiking bowhunters because it can be tiring and cumbersome to keep your hand inside the sling as you walk. If you wait until you need to shoot, slipping your hand into the sling can slow you down and create game-spooking noise and movement. But accuracy trumps everything else in bowhunting, and some archers can’t get the hang of shooting with a relaxed, lightly closed bow hand.
The sort of bow you shoot can greatly affect how much it torques during the shot. When an average-sized man touches thumb to forefinger, the resulting inside circle is about 1½ inches in diam-eter. Any bow with a grip fatter than this will force you to hold it tightly in a closed hand. A tight grip tenses hand muscles and invites you to flinch during the shot, and flinching will torque the bow and cause arrows to scatter left or right.
I shoot a compound bow with a skinny, incredibly torque-free grip that measures slightly more than 1 inch in diameter. This grip is difficult to squeeze or grab as I shoot because it’s so small. The result is less torque and better accuracy.
If you shoot a bow with a fat grip, or can’t keep from grabbing the bow as you shoot, a wrist sling is clearly the way to go. Learn to shoot with a wide open hand, adjust the sling so it snugly cradles your wrist, and you won’t be plagued with terrible torque.
The key to using a wrist sling is relaxing your hand and keeping it open throughout the shot. If you want the worst possible results, grab the bow as you release. I see this amateur reaction all too often at target ranges and hunting camps, and it’s an absolute accuracy killer.
Other factors can cause excessive bow torque and poor shooting. An overdraw arrow rest certainly lets you shoot short arrows faster, but this places the rest well behind your bow hand and amplifies torque. The most accurate rests sit directly above the bow grip. This is where the bow pivots in your hand during the shot. Pivot, which causes torque, is less dramatic with the arrow rest directly above your hand. An overdraw rest placed several inches behind your hand will wag from side to side and magnify tiny bow twisting errors you make, causing arrows to scatter wildly to left or right.
A bow-attached arrow quiver is a handy device, but it makes the shooting tool lopsided and causes the bow to twist as quiver weight surges forward during a shot. For this reason, many accomplished bowhunters prefer to carry their “ammo” in a hip quiver or back quiver. Stand-hunting archers often use detachable bow quivers so they can hang these beside them in a tree.
One note of caution: If you plan to shoot without a bow-attached quiver, you must tune your bow without the quiver. Increased bow weight and torque with a quiver attached will greatly alter arrow flight and point of impact.
One time-tested torque-tamer is a stabilizer screwed to the front of your bow below the grip. Modern hunting bow stabilizers usually weigh 5-10 ounces. This forward-extended weight helps to hold your bow in place during the shot. Tests by various archery companies have shown that a flexible stabilizer with rubber components tends to reduce torque even more than a one piece metal design.
The average modern compound bow lets off a lot in string-holding weight at full draw. This creates a potential “static” torquing problem. With only 15 or 20 pounds of rearward pressure on your bow grip at full draw, it’s painfully easy for you to twist the bow back and forth with slight variations in bow-hand pressure.
A brand-new type of bowsight has been designed to prevent static bow torque as you aim. The IQ Sight features a brilliant, fiber-optic disc above the sight pins. Once the IQ is properly adjusted, you can see a black “Retina Lock” dot in the center of the green disc at full draw. If you don’t grip your bow the same every time you aim, this dot will wander off-center or completely disappear.