By Howard Meyerson
FRUITPORT, MI – Skilled archers and bow hunters know that being off by an inch can make a huge difference in the outcome of a target shoot or hunt. That’s why many hunters begin training months before the archery deer season – which opens October 1 statewide. Good physical conditioning, they say, is important for strength and stamina while accurate shooting is essential for making clean kills.
“One inch (off when aiming) at 40 yards is going to be a difference of 10-inches,” notes 63-year-old Mike Kotecki, of Fruitport. “That’s the difference between shooting a deer in the heart, or shooting it in the stomach and then having to track it for two days.”
Kotecki, 63, is a veteran bowhunter with 50 years of experience; his slate of big game kills includes a Colorado bull elk, pronghorn antelope, mule deer, Russian boar, and 147 whitetail deer.
“I work at it all year round. I am constantly shooting my bow,” said Kotecki, a member of the Fruitport Conservation Club. “You owe it to the animal you are hunting to approach it and do the best you can, to get yourself in shape and take him out and not wound him.”
Kotecki recently began practicing at the club’s new 3-D archery range which he constructed. The 15-station walk-through wooded range is open to the public on Tuesday evenings. It offers an assortment of animal targets to shoot, each with a highlighted kill-zone.
Come bow season Kotecki will be one of more than 300,000 archers that take to the
field. The archery deer season runs from Oct. 1 to Nov. 14 and reopens from Dec. 1 to Jan. 1, 2014.
Bow hunters killed 127,281 whitetails during Michigan’s 2012 season, according to a Michigan Department of Natural Resources hunter survey. They killed 31 percent of the 415,000 deer taken during all seasons combined. Approximately one out of three, or 33 percent, was successful. State records show 325,424 archers went out for the 2012 season, a 1.1 percent increase over 2011 when 321,869 hunted,
As one might imagine, there are many who do little to get in shape for the season. The stories are legion about the bows that sit in the closet for most of the year and the hunters who complain about muscle soreness after a hunt.
But serious bow hunters know that it can be strenuous endeavor. There are trees to climb and dead deer to drag. Tracking can require busting through rough brush for an hour or more.
“The value of working out on a 3-D archery course is you shoot 30 arrows in a night
and get a good upper body workout,” said Mike Niva, another Fruitport Conservation Club member. “That repetition offers a big advantage. Shooting is then natural when you get out in the woods. I am a lot better shot than before we first started with the (3-D) course.”
Bob Mack, a 59-year-old bow hunter from Ada, likens archery to golf. He came to hunting later in life, at 50 years old. He is now involved with the West Michigan Bowhunters 3-D League and relies on his year-round league time to maintain conditioning for the hunt. Mack also prepares for the season by going to the gym, losing weight and doing aerobic workouts to increase his stamina.
“Shooting a bow is like swinging a golf club, Mack said. “There are so many things you can do to screw up a shot. But by practicing you don’t have to think about the shot when you are out there and the result is a cleaner kill.”
Skilled archers talk about having set “anchor points,” a term they use to describe the
position of their hand and bowstring at full draw. They may have more than one depending on the type of shot they are taking. Consistent practice allows them to become automatic and second nature.
“One anchor point I use is the bowstring in front of my nose, another is the kisser (bead) on the side of my lip, another is my finger touching my face on the side by my ear,” said Mike Ketelaar, a Grand Rapids archer and avid bowhunter.
“A lot of hunters don’t have those consistent checkmarks, but bowhunters like any athlete, need to have a pre-shot routine. “I do a ton to prepare for the season. I hunt with my dad and for us it is a 365 (day) pursuit.”
Ketelaar began bow hunting in sixth grade. Today his preseason routine includes shooting 3-D targets while dressed in his hunting clothes to make sure he has the same feel when shooting. He walks on a steeply inclined treadmill to simulate walking up and down ridges. Being in shape, he says, results in not sweating as much while traveling to and from his hunting spots, which, in turn, lessen the likelihood of being scented by a deer.
As a hedge against developing “buck fever,” and to avoid a possibly shaky and poor shot, Ketelaar makes a point to drive by local deer farms and spend time watching large, mature deer. The experience, he says, helps him control his breathing and mental focus when a big trophy deer shows up in the field.
“Hunting is a privilege, not a right,” Ketelaar says. “So many guys have that ‘If it’s brown, it’s down’ mentality. But we have an obligation to make ethical kills and even pass on giant deer. Hunters are the number one conservationists. It’s a resource we need to respect.”
Michigan’s archery deer season runs for nearly 11 weeks, not nearly enough to get a year’s worth of conditioning in. But it’s never too early to start.
Be careful out there and have a great hunt this season.
This story appears on MLive Outdoors