When it comes to bow hunting, a Wisconsin state hunter safety specialist said practice is a must - but all practice is not equal.
"Not too long ago, archery practice meant a couple of bales of straw with a paper plate or pie tin attached," said Tim Lawhern, hunter education administrator for the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources. "The quality of targets has improved, but the routine remains the same."
The pie tin practice session remains effective to train the muscles, but fails to replicate what bow hunters face in real conditions.
"Only when we can use these real life variables in our practice can we truly prepare for that shot-of-a-lifetime moment," Lawhern said, adding practice sessions in your hunting clothes while using your gear makes the most sense.
Real-life variables to work into practice sessions address distance, shot angles, body position and obstructions.
More opportunities are blown because hunters fail to correctly judge distance, Lawhern said.
"Many of today's better-equipped hunters have addressed this issue with the purchase of a laser rangefinder," he said.
With a touch of a button on the laser rangefinder, the hunter can know within a yard the range of the target.
But, Lawhern advised, using a rangefinder is not a replacement for the ability to judge yardage on your own - and there are ways to practice.
"Try tossing an object in the yard and take a guess how far away it is, then step off the distance to judge your guess," Lawhern said. "You can do this walking in a park or in your yard working. Practice in both wooded and open areas. Perception is different in these areas."
When it comes to bow hunting, there are two kinds of shot angles - vertical and horizontal.
The vertical angle is the one formed by the hunter being either above or below the deer.
"These angles are most associated with tree stands," he said. "However, steep terrain can also play a factor in vertical angle."
A good way to practice for this is to shoot from either a tree stand or a deck. If it's not possible to do this in your own yard, try the local sportsman's or rod and gun club. Many will allow you to shoot for a nominal fee. Use the available terrain to practice as many different shot angles and distances.
Horizontal angle is the angle at which the deer is turned in relation to the hunter.
"Most of the time, we refer to it as quartering away, or quartering toward," Lawhern said. "The best way to practice for these types of shots is with one of the many 3-D animal targets available."
Some companies make models with scoring rings or quartering shots, or ones with anatomically correct vitals painted on the side of the animal. If you are unable to get such a target, the standard version is fine.
"Just remember when shooting at an animal that is quartering, it is crucial that you keep in mind the location of the internal organs, and plan a shot that will angle through both lungs, regardless of where the scoring rings are located," Lawhern said.
Working various body positions into your practice routine is not difficult and doesn't require anything special. It is a matter of alternating shots from your normal stance with any other possible body positions that could occur during an actual hunt.
"These include planting your feet at various angles in relation to the target, as well as squatting, kneeling or even sitting comfortably in your tree stand seat," Lawhern said. "Try to imagine as many scenarios as possible and work them into your practice routine."
Veteran hunters often will recall missing a target because the arrow collided first with a tree or branch.
Using any obstacle at hand, place your 3-D target in as many real-life-hunting situations as possible. "This may cost you an arrow or two, but the practice will be invaluable," Lawhern said. "Further, make sure your shooting area is safe if you suspect you could have an arrow ricochet."
There is no way to prepare for every situation, "but being able to judge distance, how and where to aim and make the shot regardless of your body position will boost your chances for success," Lawhern said.