Editor’s Note: Michael Braden of Houston, Texas, has won both ASA 3-D tournaments and IBO tournaments. He’s won seven national championship titles and four Male Shooter-of-the-Year titles. In 2004, he won the first and the second legs of the IBO Triple Crown, and he claimed the title of IBO National Triple Crown Champion and IBO National Triple Crown Team Champion in the same year. He’s won the NFFA Male Shooter of the Year, the ASA Rookie of the Year and many state and local tournaments. He bought his first bow at a pawn shop in 1989, shot his first archery tournament in 1991 and became a professional staffer with PSE in 1996. As well as being a tournament archery shooter, Braden’s an archery coach.
PSE’s Michael Braden on How to Overcome Target Panic
Question: Michael, how long have you been a coach?
I started coaching in the mid-1990s. I was working at an archery shop and helping people learn how to shoot their bows. I’ve increased the amount of coaching I’ve done over the years.
Question: We usually think of an archery coach as being a coach for tournament archers. But does a bowhunter also need an archery coach? How can you help bowhunters?
Every one in a shooting sport should have a coach. A coach keeps a person pointed in the right direction and helps him or her stay grounded in the fundamentals of shooting. A coach also teaches the proper techniques for many aspects of shooting to help prevent symptoms of target panic. Target panic is a difficult thing for some people to understand. The word bowhunters use to describe this is buck fever. Many people will see an archer shoot, and when the archer isn’t shooting as well as they think he should, they’ll say that the archer has target panic. As a hunter, you set yourself up to have target panic, because you believe you have to control the release at the very moment the animal stops or walks into a shooting lane. Too, because bowhunters are in the woods all day, sitting-still in tree stands for hours, they may be cold. But more importantly, the number-one problem bowhunters have is they believe they have to control their releases. That belief sets-up bowhunters for making a bad shot or missing the animals they’re hunting.
Question: Let’s use a bowhunter in a tree stand as an example. He has a 250- to a 300-pound 12-point buck in front of him that will score 150 or more on Boone & Crockett. This buck is the biggest one this hunter ever has seen. Now he has to stand, draw and make the shot. How does a bowhunter overcome this problem?
That situation is exactly why a bowhunter needs a coach. The coach will teach you proper fundamentals and shot sequence and execution. Then when that animal presents that shot, you go through a shot process, rather than thinking about how many inches of bone are on that deer’s head.
Question: What’s the shot process?
The only reasons the hunter needs to look at the animal is to determine if it’s a shooter buck, how far away the animal is, and where the spot is on the animal that he’ll stare at to execute the shot. That’s the shooting sequence. You go through that same shot sequence just like you will in practice or if you’re shooting a 3-D tournament. You decide if you’ll take the shot, what distance you are from the target and where on the target to place the arrow. Whether the target is paper or a deer, the process is the same. The second step is the execution of the shot. I come to full draw, take a deep breath, hold my breath, feel my anchor, wrap my finger around the trigger and let my finger touch the trigger. Then I get lost because I’m so intently focused on the spot I want to hit that I’m not conscious of the bow’s firing. Actually pulling the trigger on the mechanical release is a subconscious process that the hunter shouldn’t think about.
PSE’s Michael Braden Explains Shooting Form and Style in the Field
Question: Michael, most bowhunters will be shooting from tree stands or ground blinds. Since the shooter won’t be standing at the line like he will be at an archery tournament, how can an archery coach teach form and shooting style? More than likely, the shooter won’t be able to place his feet correctly like he will if he’s standing at the line shooting an archery tournament. Too, he probably won’t have the proper posture like he will in an archery tournament. How do you coach a hunter to have proper form when he’s sitting in a chair in a ground blind or possibly in a tree stand and has to bend-over to shoot under a limb?
First, I’ll coach the shooter to maintain the best form he or she possibly can, whether he’s in a tree or sitting in a chair in a ground blind. I also coach my shooters to practice sitting in a chair and shooting from a ground blind. Sitting in chair not only changes your form, but it also changes your stability. When I coach bowhunters, I have them practice shooting from their chairs and tree stands. I try to simulate all the different ways a hunter may have to contort his body to get-off a shot. I coach my students to shoot as far as they can to the left and the right in practice, because I know a bowhunter doesn’t know exactly where a deer will appear. The bowhunter needs to find out how he can move his body to get-off an effective shot. He also needs to practice from a tree and shooting uphill and downhill from a ground blind. One of the tactics I recommend to my students is to practice every-possible shot they think they may be called upon to make well before deer season. Don’t just stand in the backyard, and shoot the same target at the same distance on level ground every day.
Question: The form a bowhunter uses is often completely opposite of the form a tournament archer uses. If you’re trying to get a hunter ready for bow season, and you put him in a tree stand and turn him sharp to the left and the right or have him half standing to simulate shooting under a limb, how do you correct his form to enable him to shoot properly from a sitting position?
The bowhunter’s form isn’t completely different from the tournament-archer’s form. I agree that rarely does a tournament archer have to shoot from a seated position in competition. However, it’s very likely that the bowhunter will have to shoot from a seated position. In coaching a bowhunter, I’ll take him to the extreme limits of his ability to execute an effective shot. I want that hunter to know what angle or body position is too extreme for him to shoot effectively. Once we know that, then we can determine where a deer or any other animal has to be for the hunter to take or not take the shot. A bowhunter sitting in a tree needs to know when a deer’s at such an extreme angle that he’ll have to contort his body into an extreme position to make an effective shot. In bowhunting, understanding when not to shoot is just as important as knowing when to shoot.
Knowing the extreme angles from which you can shoot plays an important role when considering stand placement. When I’m coaching, I have the bowhunter sit in a chair like he plans to hunt. In other words, if you’re sitting in a ground blind or a tree stand, where will the target be? Most bowhunters sit in their chairs facing the targets. But that’s really the worst position. You can’t shoot effectively straight-out in front of you. If you’re right handed, you’ll want the chair turned slightly to your left. I teach bowhunters that they need to set-up their tree stands, so that they’re sitting in the best-possible positions to get maximum form when animals come-in to them. So, many times we can solve shooting-form problems by how we set-up our tree stands, according to where the deer will come from, and where we want to take the shot.
Question: If you’re hunting a trail and looking straight-down the trail, where do you want to set-up your tree stand?
I’ll set-up my tree stand, so that the deer will come to the left-hand side of the tree stand, because I’m a right-handed archer. I want that deer to be 90-degrees from me, when I’m in my tree stand. I should be able to put-out my left arm straight-out to my side, and that’s the direction from which the deer should come. Then when the deer approaches, I can draw the bow and shoot to my left, while I’m seated. One of the biggest problems bowhunters have with form isn’t the proper alignment of their bodies before their shots, but rather putting their tree stands in the wrong places. Then they’ll have to use poor form if an animal comes-in to them. Many times the bowhunter wants to set-up his stand to see the animal coming-in comfortably, rather than setting-up his stand to take the shot comfortably.
PSE’s Michael Braden Tells Us How to Make the Half-Standing Shot from a Tree Stand
Question: Michael, if a deer comes-in from a direction you’re not expecting, and you have to shoot under a limb to get off the shot, you’ll be in a half-squat position. How do you make this shot?
I’d recommend you not take the shot. This is where training comes into play. If you’ve never made a shot like this before, more than likely you won’t make this shot if you decide to take it. However, if you’ve practiced the half-squat shooting position and developed the form you need to accurately make this shot, then this will be a “take-it” shot. When an animal stands in front of us and presents this type of test to the shooter, we need to reflect on how our training has prepared us for this style of shot. That’s why I say if you’ve never practiced this type of shot, more than likely you won’t make it effectively. However, if you’ve practiced this type of shot and can remember how you’ve aligned your body to shoot accurately, this very well may be a “take-it” shot.
This is the reason I say that training for a bowhunter has to include every type of shot he possibly may be called-on to make. Having a coach watch you as you practice those different shots can help you make them more effectively. I want to practice and have my students practice every extreme shot they may be called-on to make in the field. Then, when an animal presents itself for a shot, the student knows immediately from practice whether he can make that shot. There are times when I’m hunting that I won’t take the shot, regardless of how big the animal is, if I know I can’t execute a perfect shot.
PSE’s Michael Braden Explains How to Shoot from a Ground Blind
Question: Michael, a number of hunters have started hunting from ground blinds, and most of the time when you’re hunting out of a ground blind, you’ll have to take a seated shot. In most blinds, you only have a certain amount of distance you can move up and down, because the blinds have horizontal slits instead of vertical slits. How do you coach a hunter to shoot under those conditions?
You need to practice in the environment in which you plan to hunt. If you’ll be shooting from a ground blind, then practice shooting from a ground blind. I know of quite a few archery shops that will let bowhunters set-up ground blinds at their ranges to simulate hunting conditions. My wife Georgina lifts her bow just a little as she draws. When she gets in a ground blind, she gets a little claustrophobic. She can’t lift her bow quite as high as she normally does when she draws it. She struggles the first time she tries to draw-back her bow in a ground blind at the beginning of hunting season. When she has that claustrophobic feeling of not being able to raise her bow high-enough to draw it, she has to change the position of her drawing motion until she practices in a ground blind a few times, and it becomes more natural to her. Before hunting season, she needs to practice drawing and shooting, if we plan to hunt from a ground blind. That may change her technique from the way she shoots in practice or in a tournament.
Question: Most archers who hunt from a blind want to get as close as they can to the opening they’ll shoot through when the animal comes-in to make sure the arrow gets out of the blind when they release. Is that a good idea?
Definitely not. I recommend will and coach the hunter to stay as far back in the blind as possible. The further you are to the back of the blind, the less movement an animal will see. Plus, you have more room to draw and move, and you’re less likely to have light reflect-off any of your equipment.
Question: What’s the biggest problem most hunters have when shooting out of a ground blind?
They don’t really understand the difference between line of vision and the path of the arrow. The bowhunter’s line of vision in a ground blind is above the path that the arrow will fly. So, there are times when a bowhunter shooting downhill will come to full draw and see the animal in his or her sight picture and nothing obstructing his line of vision. But the line that the arrow will take is below what the bowhunter is seeing. I’ve seen many archers shoot the bottoms of the windows they’re shooting through, because they don’t recognize the difference between their line of vision and the path the arrow will take when it’s released.
PSE’s Michael Braden Explains How to Choose Bow Weight
Question: Michael, don’t most bowhunters try to over-bow themselves?
For many years, we’ve believed that the more bow weight we can pull, the better we’ll shoot, and the truer the arrow will fly. We know that the more poundage we pull relates to the speed of the arrow, the kinetic energy the arrow can deliver and the penetration of the arrow. So, the more poundage we can pull, the better-off we’ll be in a hunting situation. However, drawing a bow is easier when you’re standing than when you’re sitting. Also, when you’re practice shooting in the backyard and warming-up, pulling a heavy bow isn’t as difficult. However, when you’re hunting, you’re usually cold from a temperature standpoint, but you’re also cold because you’ve been sitting in one position for hours and haven’t drawn your bow. Therefore, your being able to draw your bow comfortably without contorting your body and being able to point your bow straight at your target and pull the bow straight back, without having to lift it, in a comfortable, controlled manner are important to your success. That’s far-more important than being able to pull heavier poundage. You may have to give-up all the advantages of shooting a heavy-weight bow, because you can’t pull it as easily as you need to make an accurate shot, if you’ve been sitting a long time, and you’re cold.
My wife Georgina has a short draw length and only pulls 48 to 49 pounds. But she can take any animal in North America shooting that weight, because she shoots accurately. With the compound bows and arrows we have today, we don’t have to shoot extremely-heavy weights to get great accuracy and performance out of our bows, like we had to in the past. The bottom line is that you should be able to draw-back your bow easily and comfortably when you’re cold, and when you’re wearing heavy, bulky clothes. Whatever weight you can draw under those conditions is the bow weight you need to use when hunting. If you train with a 65-pound bow and turn it down to 62 or 63 pounds, you’ll be surprised at how much easier the bow is to draw and shoot in hunting conditions. If you train with 65 pounds and shoot 60 to 62 pounds, more than likely you can shoot that bow comfortably under most hunting conditions. If you want to practice at 65 pounds and then turn the bow down to 60 or 62 pounds before you go hunting, you should be able to shoot that bow comfortably.
Question: How do you compensate for taking a shot going uphill or downhill?
As you shoot uphill and downhill, cut yardage (shoot the target for a lesser distance than your rangefinder tells you the animal is), because there’s not as much gravitational pull on the arrow as there is when you’re shooting on flat ground. Most people realize that when you’re shooting downhill, you need to reduce the yardage, but the same is true when you’re shooting uphill. There are some great computer programs that will help you with these two problems. Also, today there are some good rangefinders that actually compensate for uphill and downhill shooting. Those rangefinders will tell you the distance to the target, the angle uphill or downhill and the corrected range. So, when coaching a bowhunter, I have them train shooting uphill and downhill. If I ask the student how much he thinks the angle is, either uphill or downhill, and then check that angle with my inclinometer or rangefinder, I can tell them the exact angle.
Get a rangefinder that compensates for the angle of the hill, because it takes all the guesswork out of how much yardage you need to take-off, if an animal is uphill or downhill. So, if you’re hunting in hilly country, I strongly recommend you get one of the new rangefinders that compensates for uphill and downhill shots. I always suggest that every hunter use the best technology and equipment he or she can find to help him shoot accurately.
Question: What’s the biggest problem for bowhunters?
They don’t set-up properly. Also, perhaps their bows don’t fit them, and they don’t receive instructions from a coach to get them pointed in the right direction and to help them learn to shoot a bow accurately before they try to shoot animals. Also, they may not have practiced enough to know when to take their shots. As hunters, we owe it to the animals we hunt not to take any shots if we’re uncertain about whether we can make accurate shots. I advise any bowhunter to get with an archery pro or coach – well before deer season and have the coach check his form and equipment and advise him on how to shoot more accurately.
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