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Sharon Dudley's Start in Bowhunting

Sharon Dudley

3/31/2014

Eight years ago I never would have thought about hunting, let alone taking a black bear, whitetail, wild hog and several African animals as well.

My friends and family from my hometown are still in disbelief of my role now as an outdoorswoman. I wasn’t raised in a culture where hunting was the “norm” or a tradition that fathers enjoyed with their children. In fact, it was just the opposite. I grew up in the U.K where hunting isn’t an acceptable part of society. In England there’s not an abundance of wild game animals and there aren’t hunters walking around stores in camouflage. You would never see a deer head hanging in someone’s house either.

After meeting my husband John and moving to America, all of that has changed. I knew early on it was a huge part of his life and much more than just a hobby or occupation. He was consumed daily with hunting, writing and taking photos outdoors. John never forced me into archery or hunting, instead he told me it was there to try when I wanted to try it. After several years of shadowing him, I finally decided I was ready to join in with the excitement and pick up a bow myself.

I have since been fortunate enough to have taken some amazing trophies over the last several years and even win a local 3D competition with help from John. My involvement in archery and bowhunting has changed both my family’s life and mine forever. If there are others like me out there that are considering trying archery, then I would highly recommend it! For me there were three things that made it all work and I think if you remember these details while you’re getting started your outcome can be as happy as mine was.

Learning to Shoot Properly

Before meeting my husband I had never before even held a bow, not even in school. When I started I told myself if I was going to learn how to shoot I was going to do it as well and as accurately as possible. I figured if I were ever to go hunting, I would owe it to the animals I was shooting at to have done it the right way.

As much as I wanted to jump in and start firing arrows at targets, it wasn’t going to happen that way and I’m glad it didn’t. I first needed to learn some steps to shoot a perfect arrow. Since I’m fortunate to have a husband that coaches some of the worlds best archers, I’ve heard him say time and time again, that new archers are better off to learn properly from the beginning. John says that beginners have a big advantage because they haven’t formed and bad habits yet. By being patient and taking it slow from the beginning, I’m confident it produced better rewards in the end.

At first, John had me work on correct shooting posture and gave me a shot process or checklist that consisted of 5 steps to each shot. It started by looking at my feet and checking my stance and making sure they were perpendicular to the target location. Then I thought about my hand on the grip and made sure it was in the same spot and also relaxed. From there he made me pick my arm straight up towards the target and pull back while keeping my posture and shoulder position good. Then anchor my release hand in the same spot on my face and finally adjust my head so I was looking perfectly through the peep. These were my steps. John had me doing these steps with my release aid and a string that was tied to my draw length. I would systematically go through each step with my string and release over and over again until I was consistent enough to move on to the next step.

The next hurdle, surprisingly, was pulling my bow back! I wasn’t strong enough to pull back my bow even at a starting weight of 26 pounds. I could struggle through it but it was difficult for one pull, let alone several. To help build those muscles I would practice pulling my bow back just a few times to several times throughout the day when it was convenient. I left my bow in plain sight in the house so whenever I walked by it I would pull it back a few times. Thankfully with a little perseverance these muscles seemed to develop pretty quickly. After a week or so I was able to pull my bow comfortably and was ready to shoot my first arrow.

During my first practices I found I would fatigue quickly if I tried to shoot too many arrows at one time. John assured me it was much more important to focus on the quality of my shots rather than how many arrows I was shooting. He assured me quality is much more important than quantity because it helps avoid learning bad habits. At first I might only be able to shoot 10 good arrows but once I tired, that’s all I would shoot.

After a few weeks it was 20 good arrows then 30 and now my muscles are used to higher volumes. But learning proper form from the start, has kept me shooting without wanting to give up. It will take time and reinforcement from your shooting partner or coach when you’re learning.

My biggest mistake was leaning back when I shot. I never knew I was doing it, but with John watching he would let me know when I was leaning so I could focus on being straight. John and I practice every day and I have since realized just how crucial that is. Sometimes I couldn’t believe my arrows could shoot as good as they do. It is encouraging to see all your shots in the bull’s-eye. With good form and positive reinforcement it will happen.   

 

Having the Right Equipment

I was a beginner with zero knowledge of archery equipment and fitting when I started shooting. I have since realized just how important it is to have equipment that is right for the person who is shooting it. For example, I am small and if John would have just given me his bow I would have never felt comfortable. It would have been too long and too heavy for me.

We have friends that shoot with us and most of the time the women comment to their husbands that their bow is too tough to pull back or too heavy. When they try mine they are much more comfortable pulling it back and holding it. When men give women an old bow that was sized for a man it may not feel right at all. I feel my bow is mine and it is made for me and I like that.

For women who are smaller you should express interest to try to a bow sized for ladies. This is why I really love Hoyt. They have always had all sorts of models that are made perfectly for people of any size including women. I started on a Hoyt Cobalt and have progressed up to now shooting a Carbon Spyder 30 at 26” 40#. With practice I can pull it comfortably and it also isn’t too heavy to carry around in the field. I was measured properly for draw length and the bow was ordered for that size. The pulling weight did take time to build up to but since the bow was ordered as 40 pound max we could reduce the weight to under 30 pounds to begin with. After 2-3 weeks John would make a one pound increase in weight until I slowly got to where I am. In addition John gave me the choice on my string and arrow fletching colors. I chose pink, but again this is what made me feel like it was my own.

 

Being Prepared

I can’t express just how much being prepared or more specifically being prepared for the hunt has helped me. For example, my first bow hunt was for Turkey in Illinois. We bought a turkey target and I’d practiced from every angle and studied the areas where I needed to aim. I got comfortable putting my pin in the right spot and going through my steps to shoot a good arrow.

On my first hunt John was with me of course, and called the gobbler in to only eight-yards. We were in a ground blind and the turkey was busy strutting his stuff. Although I thought I was ready to shoot, my heart was beating so fast I suddenly felt unsure if I was actually able to do it. My mind was taken over with thoughts of just how fast my heart was beating instead of my steps.

For as much as I’d practiced for that hunt, I wasn’t prepared for just how nervous I’d be when I came face to face with that Turkey. Thankfully though, I had practiced on making the shot and John was there assuring me I would do fine. I got in position to pull back my bow only to find that it felt like I was pulling too much weight. I couldn’t draw it back during this intense moment, it was the nerves. I let down and took a breath. Eventually I got my act together and waited for the perfect angle and took the shot. I was overcome with excitement and adrenaline.

Although I got my bird, I knew that I didn’t do my best because my nerves had got the best of me. Looking back I know that I never went through any of the steps in my head that John had taught me. Whilst that adrenaline rush is what it’s all about, I learned from that experience not to let it consume me in the future.

Honestly, if that turkey wouldn’t have been that close I don’t think the outcome would have been so good. John assured me that focusing on my shooting steps in my head will help reduce my nerves before the shot and this is an important lesson! Since then, I’ve managed to keep my cool by focusing on the steps John taught me to make a perfect shot. Those 5 steps are literary all that goes through my head and it’s worked perfectly on the animals I’ve shot since my first turkey.

Being prepared mentally is just the start because it’s also important to think in advance about the type of hunt you are going on and the typical scenarios you may encounter. For my Canadian Bear hunt I knew that I would be 20ft up a tree and my most likely shot distance would be around 20 yards. So to prepare, John and I set up a similar scenario at home in our yard. We put up our Lone Wolf Stand and set up a bear target 20 yards away.

To add to the scene John put some brush around it and even a large steel barrel in front of the bear. He also had me wear my Lone Wolf Safety Harness not only for the safety reasons but also to get used to shooting in it. I would shoot groups from the tree and John would pull the arrows and adjust the target angle slightly. Each time he adjusted the angle he would talk about where to aim as well. I made sure I was not only accurate but completely confident that I knew precisely where to shoot. Weather I’d be sitting or standing, I knew I could make a perfect shot regardless of the angle and when the moment of truth came that‘s exactly how I felt.

I was totally in control and felt completely calm under pressure. It absolutely paid off, the confidence I had along with the steps I take to keep me focused bagged me the biggest bear I’ll probably ever shoot in my life. My nerves and excitement still came, but this time they were AFTER I saw the arrow go behind the shoulder, and not before. Preparation really was the key and the outcome would have been much different if we didn’t take the time to prepare in the ways we did.

We took very similar steps in preparation for our recent South Africa trip and my whitetail hunts. We knew we would be hunting from a blind with very low or even dark back lighting. John had me practice in low light conditions from inside our garage with an illuminated pin. We also went through the shot placement for the species I was hunting. I felt confident that I knew where to hold my pin no matter what came in to the water hole. I feel like I can do my best when I gain the confidence from practicing life-like scenarios, it makes it all seem like I had done it before. Going through these small steps really can make all the difference, it gives you the confidence to know you can still make the shot and one less thing to make you nervous at the time.  

Archery has been fun and has given me a hobby I can share with my husband. I hope every woman can experience the same and enjoy this extra time with their husbands. I would encourage you to keep an open mind and really giving it a go. Express interest to shoot and get fitted properly with your first set up. It will make a huge difference in you being comfortable.

Make sure you stay patient. Some hunts took only an hour while others like my first whitetail buck took just over 700 hours. However, that one is possible the most rewarding! Lastly, be sure to commit yourself, set aside enough time to be fully prepared and make practice part of your daily routine even if it’s only a few good shots. I now take pride in having more family time and knowing that regardless of what I’m shooting at, my husband and son are cheering me on.


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