Prepping For Spring: Small Game

bowhunting small game

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Hone Your Skills Now

Spring is right around the corner and you know what that means – strutting longbeards! To me, there’s nothing more exciting than hearing a longbeard respond to your call, then watching him come straight to you, strutting and drumming the whole way. To most turkey hunters, getting to that point is the hard part. However, to bowhunters, that’s only half the battle. Once he’s in range, we still have to draw without being seen, anchor, level, float, and slowly release. All while he’s doing what all turkeys do – moving. The vital area of a turkey is very small when compared to that of a whitetail, and matters are complicated further when he’s at full strut. And your point of aim changes based on the direction he’s facing. There’s a lot to factor in when shooting a turkey with a bow, but without accuracy and remaining cool under pressure, nothing else even matters.

Aim Small, Miss Small

We’ve all heard it said – aim small, miss small. Usually, it’s in reference to a firearm, but it rings true for the bow as well. When you shoot 10-15 arrows at 40 yards, then move your target to 20 yards, what happens? Your target acquisition and release is much quicker than at 40, and you’re more accurate than if you’d have started off shooting at 20. Going from small game to turkeys offers a similar experience. Spend one winter shooting at squirrels and rabbits and you’ll know what I mean. The vitals on a turkey that looked so small from a tree during deer season all-of-a-sudden look plenty big enough after a few 10-inch squirrels in the cooler. 

Prepare For Movement

There’s one thing you can always count on when it comes to turkeys. They’re going to move. All. Day. Long. Sure, you might see them lie down for 10 minutes here or there, but aside from those short breaks to bed or dust, they’re going to walk and feed from the time they fly down to the time they roost. It’s just what turkeys do. That’s an important point to remember because that means this spring, you’ll be floating your pin over a target that intends to move, making your shot window potentially shorter than you’re used to. That can be a problem, especially when you throw gobblin’ fever in the mix.

Practicing on squirrels, which move erratically and often, prepares you to get on target quicker and release faster, while still maintaining accuracy under pressure. Taking squirrels in the winter will boost your confidence and get you anticipating movement for when that fidgety longbeard comes walking through the woods this spring. 

Get To Showtime Often

Outside of competitive archery, your blood pressure is going to remain relatively steady when shooting at an inanimate target. Put a live turkey downrange, however, and suddenly your heart starts trying to leap through your camo. Target shooting, even at a 3D, simply cannot replicate the anxiety that accompanies a longbeard at 20 yards. Even small game can’t fully get you there, but it’s the closest you’re going to come to the full on panic attack that accompanies a strutting longbeard. The more repetitions with a live animal, the better. And deer season is going to feel like ancient history in just a couple months, so you’re going to need as much productive practice as possible. Hunting small game is that productive practice.

Now, let me stop here because I can sense the steam coming out of someone’s ears. I am in no way advocating that the life of a small game animal is less significant than any other animal. All life is sacred and should be treated and thought of as such. I am simply using that terminology to make my point – that taking small game (and enjoying the meat) is a good way to stay comfortable with shooting at live animals in the “off season” between deer season and turkey season so that you’re fully prepared to keep your wits about you come spring time.

Practice In The Woods

The last point I’ll make in my efforts to get you out there chasing rabbits, squirrels and other legal small game has to do with your peripheral vision – the things you see without focusing on them. When shooting at a block target over and over again at a range or in your yard, your eyes become so accustomed to aiming with the same backdrop and same surrounding objects visible in your peripherals. Or more likely, the lack of surrounding objects in your peripherals. That’s all well and good until you draw back on a turkey where the colors, patterns and dimensional look of the background and foreground don’t match up with what your eyes have grown accustomed to. 

If you’ve ever drawn back and just felt a little uncomfortable with what you were looking at as you tried to calm down your pin, it’s likely that while your body was going through the same motions it went through hundreds of times previously, your eyes were seeing something unfamiliar. You can alleviate some of that uneasiness by drawing back on small game. Doing so will keep your brain from becoming too dependent on seeing the same sight picture with every shot, allowing you to stay cool when you finally get to showtime with a tom.

There’s Nothing Like The Real Thing

If you only take one thing from this article, I hope it’s that the best way to become more confident and comfortable with shooting game animals is by shooting game animals. Block targets are great. 3D targets are even better. But there’s nothing like the real thing, so get out there and get after ’em this winter!


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