Keep backyard practice as close to real hunting situations as possible.
When it comes to backyards as hunting areas, many archers find nothing back there, so they look elsewhere. Other bowhunters, however, hunt their backyards often, draw their bows frequently, and release many flighty arrows on elk, deer, bears, boars, exotics and blocks. Blocks?
Ok, those backyard bowhunting situations are for 3-D targets, or life-like archery targets, that can create excitement that nears the level of an elk bugling in your face or a bear chowing down on bait in front of your treestand. In recent years, the design and options for the life-like foam, dense rubber, or resin archery targets, and the bowhunters who use them, have dramatically up-scaled. Hunting those life-like targets is the next best thing to being there when you're preparing for that hunt of a lifetime, or waiting to draw a coveted game tag. Shooting life-like foam targets can also help you overcome nervousness caused by an animal being close or in your bow's sights, and these targets encourage you to practice more often. An almost-alive deer, bear, boar or elk down range is possibly more exciting than a block or bale, but don't discount shooting arrows into blocks. All practice with a bow prior to hunting is a good thing.
On the good side, however, block archery targets often cost less, can last longer, and generally require less space to store. For some reason the block targets are also less likely to be chewed by dogs or pecked by birds. Go figure!
If you don't have the space or place for a backyard archery range, a visit to your local 3-D course is the next best thing. Go there, and you could be slinging arrows at a wide assortment of critters for a small fee. Some courses also hold tournaments the weeks prior to the season opener, so hunters can get together and learn, compete, and have fun. Look at these 3-D courses as someone else's backyard – and get ideas how to transform your backyard into a hunting mecca with targets of your own.
It's Wild Back There
If you decide to create a "wildlife sanctuary" in your backyard, your most difficult decision could be which target to buy. There are nearly as many "fake" animals to place on supports, or stakes, and hunt as there are bow models to shoot at them. Most archers are familiar with the standard deer target, but you must decide on small or large bucks, and with or without removable cores. You also have several options for antler size.
Pulling arrows should be done carefully to prevent stressing arrow walls.
Additionally, you can find pronghorns, javelinas, bobcats, coyotes, wild turkeys, raccoons, foxes, bears, elk, wild boars, wolverines and other bow targets. Then you'll have to decide if you want a bear standing or down on all fours, and deer that are scenting, lying down, or standing broadside. Need a turkey just standing around, or do you desire one that's strutting with its tail fanned out? You'll find more than four dozen targets to ponder for your purchase. When cared for properly, the targets could give years of service and many hours of fun.
Standard layered foam or bagged block archery targets are also plentiful when you decide to buy. I counted more than two dozen on one website, in various sizes and colors, and with and without animals printed on one or more sides. In addition to standard square blocks, some of these targets are actually canvas covered bales of various materials.
The good news is that some of these targets can also last many seasons and absorb many arrows. The targets are well built, easy to move, and you can pin magazine page photos of animals on the surface you are shooting at if you simply must see critters before your sight pins. While all of these archery targets are weatherproof, they will last longer if stored inside.
Yes, I'll admit that the expense to fill your backyard with a full Noah's Ark group of 3-D archery targets could possibly cost as much as a week's do-it-yourself hunt in another state. The solution is to buy a few targets yourself, and then partner with your hunting friends who also purchase a few targets.
Several serious bowhunters I know have shelled out top dollars for some of the bigger, life-like targets. Next, they get together with other bowhunters to create an animal trail or forest in one backyard. Some of these hunters move the "hunt" location each weekend so the terrain and challenges vary. The new scenes and challenges help keep every participating archers' interest high. Yes, even the biggest targets can often be taken apart for easy transporting.
Another thing that can keep backyard bowhunts exciting is moving targets often and creating more realistic hunting challenges. Instead of placing the targets in a circle around a hanging or ladder treestand, consider setting up shots where you must kneel to send an arrow through a maze of hanging treelimbs, or challenging shots where you must lean out and shoot around a tree's thick trunk. Shooting down into deep draws and gullies are also popular and much like in-the-field hunting situations. These challenging situations help you build confidence in your gear and yourself. If you do use a treestand when practicing, follow all safety guidelines.
Pointers for Practice
Many bowhunters have a practice routine that they follow each year in preparation for that next hunt. It's well documented that a dozen arrows released with attention to detail and body posture are better practice sessions than many dozen arrows released rapidly just to "sling" arrows down range in a given period of time. Plan your practice sessions and create goals that you hope to achieve, like shooting tighter groups or holding in place after the release. Life-like targets can also help you keep your practice interest higher, so you'll release more often and work to improve.
Use the gear, wear the clothes and use a rangefinder to keep backyard practice more realistic.
Some bowhunters complain that 3-D targets grip arrows and make removal a true chore. Work to pull the arrows directly out of the target in the same path the arrows followed to push into the target. This prevents arrow wall stress, and they'll fly truer on the next release. Being careful on arrow removal also helps the target last longer. In addition to using a grip aid for the arrow, consider waxing your practice arrows with car wax or wiping lightly with a cooking vegetable oil moistened cloth before shooting. Do clean your arrow rest if you note the oil or smell the wax on it because this could possibly alert a nearby deer of your presence while hunting.
If you shoot a lot of arrows and any target develops a "soft" spot where arrows can slide through, either replace the area or replace the target. No one wants an arrow zipping wildly around the backyard.
Use a rangefinder often while practicing with 3-D targets. Seeing the animal's size, and knowing the exact distance, can help you better judge the distance between you and a buck in the field as you hunt. Sometimes things happen too quickly while hunting, and you might not have the time to take a rangefinder reading. This is where practice can help you make a clean shot – because you practiced learning the distances with the 3-D target.
When you practice with partners, have them stand safely beside or behind you and listen for any rattles, clangs, or noises coming from your bow and gear. Then seek to pinpoint and correct the noise. Any metallic or odd noise, like a loose and fluttering arrow vane, can spook targeted deer. Fortunately the 3-D targets just stand there and take it!
When practicing, wear as much of the clothing, especially shirts and jackets, as you will while hunting. Baggy sleeves have saved many big bucks in America, so backyard practice sessions are the place to discover and eliminate problems with gear and clothing.
Finally, recognize that all hunters and archers have bad days. If nothing goes right while you draw and release the first arrows, and you miss the vital zones on a 3-D target or bull's-eye on a block, stop practicing. Come back hours later or the next day and try again. Many factors lead to stress for bowhunters, and pushing to practice (or slinging arrows) can set you up to make mistakes that will be hard to break at later times. Archery should be fun, and 3-D targets can help keep the fun in every backyard practice session. Now, if only the next buck you spot from the stand has as regal antlers as some of the life-like deer targets, then you'd be motivated to hunt more often!