Fall is now a memory. For many reading this, it was an epic season of close encounters with a few blood-soaked arrows. For others, fall was, as it can often be, a season on the brink. Some of you want to delete the past few months from your memory banks and start over. For you, the season was horrible — a tragedy — and thinking about it makes your stomach roll.
Regardless of how your archery season went, you undoubtedly noticed some things you loved about your bowhunting setup and some things that frustrated the ever-loving crap out of you.
During the season, there isn’t much time for tinkering and tweaking, and intervals between hunts can be short. But now that the season’s over — whether it was memorable or terrible — it’s the perfect opportunity to diagnose any problems with your bowhunting gear and make adjustments accordingly.
This is a game of inches, and if your confidence in your setup is less than 100%, you must make changes. Here’s how to identify the cause of shortcomings you may have noticed during the season and what to do about them. Let’s be systematic about it, like a medical doctor diagnosing health issues.
Drop Some Coin on the Perfect Bow Sight
Your sight is one of the most important accessories on your bow. If pin brightness was an issue in low-light shooting situations, or your pins seemed overly bright (halo effect) in intense sunlight, get a new sight. Do some reading online about what bow sight the masses are raving about, but also go to a trusted archery shop and ask questions. If the pro shop is worth its salt, you’ll be able to shoot the sight on-premises. And since pro shop lighting usually isn’t the best, you’ll get an instant feel for pin brightness.
Be ready to drop some coin if you’re looking to upgrade to a sight that promises no slop or buzz, has second- and third-axis adjustments, tool-less adjustments, and other high-end features.
Top-tier sights like those from Spot Hogg, Black Gold, Axcel, and CBE will make a bit of a dent in the bank account, but they’re worth every penny. I recommend going with a bulletproof build and a dovetail mounting system that lets you customize how far away from the riser you want the sight housing to be.
For Longer Shots, Upgrade to a Drop-Away Rest
Arrow rests get very little love, and I’ve never been sure why. The rest is the only object on the bow that is in physical contact with the arrow. That makes it a crucial accessory. I’m not going to bash Whisker Biscuits and other static cage-style designs. They work. Many whitetail goers that never plan to shoot beyond 40 yards will never need a drop-away rest. However, hunters who chase multiple game species and demand accuracy out to 50 yards and beyond should go with a drop-away.
I coach numerous archers every year who want to push the limits of their bow-and-arrow combination and start practicing out to 100 yards. They get frustrated because their accuracy wanes considerably beyond the 50-yard mark. For many, it’s not them; it’s their choice of rest. A drop-away design — cable or limb-driven — allows for maximum tunability. Your rest should enable you to make horizontal and vertical adjustments and then lock those adjustments in place.
Nothing builds shooting confidence like tuning a drop-away and punching perfect tears through paper and stacking bare shafts with fletched shafts at distances of 20 and 30 yards. Don’t stop tuning until everything is just the way you want it. Look to quality rest makers like QAD, Hamskea, Vapor Trail, and Trophy Taker.
Make Sure You’re Packing Enough Stabilizer
Are you deadly from a treestand at 20, 30, and 40 yards, but struggle to put carbon on the mark during practice and when chasing Western critters at 50, 60, and 70 yards? The cause might be your stabilizer setup.
A 6-inch front stabilizer will do just fine for close shots, but that dainty, cheap stab isn’t doing you a bit of good when you start stretching the yardage. Remember, a stabilizer is meant to stabilize; soaking up bow noise and vibration is just a bonus.
One of the best tweaks you can make to your bowhunting gear this offseason is to play with different stabilizer lengths, positions, and weights. The first time I added a 10-inch front bar with a pair of one-ounce weights, an offset mount, and an 8-inch back bar, I couldn’t stop shooting at distance. My bow balance improved drastically, which increased my long-range accuracy. Visit your local pro shop and have them walk you through counter slides, back bars, and the like. Check out Bee Stinger, FUSE, and Stokerized for top-of-the-line stabilizers.
Hunting Arrows and Broadheads
Arrows and broadheads become the scapegoat for a lot of bowhunting mishaps.
Some of my favorites are, “The broadhead’s blades failed,” or “The broadhead blades opened during flight,” and “I hit a bone and got a lousy deflection.” There’s also, “My arrow wobbled the entire way to the animal.” You get the idea.
When it comes to broadheads, most accuracy issues arise because of improper testing. In the offseason, practice with the broadhead you plan to hunt with, and shoot them at the maximum distance you plan to shoot in the field. If it’s up to snuff, great. If not, out with the old and in with the new.
Similarly, if you’ve shot animals with your head of choice and are dissatisfied with the impact results, penetration, and blood trails, try a different broadhead. Don’t stay with a model that isn’t doing the job because you have five packs of them left in the garage.
If you’re shooting a quality arrow brand — Easton, Victory, Carbon Express, Gold Tip, take your pick — chances are you don’t need to change your arrows. Something you must do in the offseason, however, is paper-tune every arrow you have. Often, the one arrow out of a dozen that seems to be a little off the mark needs a simple nock tuning (rotate the nock in the shaft) and, voila, it’s fixed. It’s also a great idea to shoot every arrow with the broadhead you plan to hunt with to your maximum hunting range. Get a dozen arrows that are proven perfect, mark each, and put them away for hunting season.
Don’t Switch Bows Just to Upgrade
I saved this one for last because I am, admittedly, a new-bow junkie. But I also have bows that are four and five years old that stack carbon like none other. Don’t switch bows for the sake of getting a new bow. If you have a rig that you’re deadly with, stay with it. On the flip side, don’t hesitate to get rid of a bow that you don’t shoot well. We’ve all had bows that we struggle to be accurate with, for one reason or another. You keep fighting it because you’re loyal to the brand, or because you invested so much money, or you’re just plain stubborn. But bows aren’t hard to sell.
You have to tote a rig that gives you maximum confidence. Go to your local pro shop and shoot different models. Shoot some long axle-to-axle rigs and some shorties as well. Shoot different brace heights and put particular emphasis on the bow’s grip. Grip, in my opinion, trumps all. If the bow doesn’t give you the warm fuzzies the first time you pick it up, it’s not the bow for you.
Give The Rest of Your Bowhunting Gear a Glance
Take the time over the next few months to go through your bowhunting gear with a fine-tooth comb.
This should go without saying, but closely examine your bow, arrows, broadheads, and the rest of the bowhunting gear you won’t be using until you start prepping for next season. Go over everything, from your stand and climbing sticks to your safety harness and medkit — make sure everything is good to go. Check for signs of wear and tear and any signs of potential failure in any of your essential gear and replace whatever needs replacing and fix what needs fixing. Even give your fall hunting clothes a once over.
Do all that and you’re stacking the deck in your favor for next season.