One of the most important points in all of bowhunting is to recognize your own shooting abilities and limitations, and stay within them at all times.
With the possible exception of religion, politics or the merits of different brands of whiskey, few things can heat a bowhunting camp debate faster than the subject of the farthest distances at which a skilled archer should actually take a shot at a white-tailed deer.
Each bowhunter has a different shooting ability. No one else shoots exactly the same way, or with the exact same degree of skill. Additionally, no two bowhunters perceive a target identically, even under identical conditions. Shooting is an individual thing. However, one of the most important points in all of bow hunting is for each individual to recognize his own shooting abilities and limitations — and stay within them at all times.
We all must learn and remember that each shot presents a unique set of problems that must be overcome — distance is only one of them. Other factors can include poor light, strong winds, too much brush, too many deer or the animal standing at the wrong angle.
Experience is the most important piece of equipment a bow hunter can take into the field. All the new high-tech doo-dads are terrific, but they can never take the place of your own ability to size up each situation, make judgments based on past experiences and decide whether the time is right to take the shot.
WATCH: How to Extend Your Effective Bowhunting Range
Experience is time spent in the woods — during and out of hunting season. It’s also being around the game you’re hunting, acquiring an intangible feel for the animal and an ability to anticipate its actions. It’s time spent honing your hunting skills. It’s familiarity with chosen bow-and-arrow setup, how it draws, how long you can hold it at full draw, just how it settles in your hand, the trajectory of your arrows. It’s how well you can judge distance to the target. And it’s how well you shoot your bow with broadhead-tipped arrows.
First and foremost, you should strive to extend what I call your MESR — or maximum effective shooting range — as much as you can. Most tree-stand hunters I know, have difficulty making a shot beyond 40 yards. Yet, with today’s incredible compound bows, carbon arrows, low-profile broadheads, precision sights and a laser rangefinder, 40-yard shots are truthfully within the capability of most of us.
However, to become this kind of shooter requires dedication and attention to detail. It all begins with a bow-and-arrow setup that fits you perfectly, you are comfortable shooting, and that has been paper-tuned with the exact same arrows and broadheads you’ll be hunting with.
Forget field point shooting. If you want to know exactly how your hunting arrows fly at distance, you’ll destroy at least one broadhead target each year during practice sessions. Also, the importance of meticulously tuning your setup cannot be overemphasized. If your arrows have any wobble at all, they will not hit precisely where you want them to at long distance.
Extending your MESR is a simple process. Start shooting at the distance you are most comfortable with. That might be 20 yards. After laying your arrows in the bull’s-eye, back up 5 yards. Keep practicing until you can place 90 percent of your hunting arrows in the X-ring. Then, move back another 5 yards, and repeat. Keep the process going until you get to the point where you are not getting them into the bull’s-eye. It might be 30 yards, it might be 50 yards, but you’ll know what it is. Unless you can put 90 percent of your broadheads into the vitals, you should not take a shot at a deer at that distance.
Of course, this does not occur in one range session. Fatigue and the ability to keep concentrating are limiting factors. It is much better to shoot fewer arrows with proper shooting form and good con
centration than a lot of arrows when you are tired and not paying attention. What you’ll discover is that you really have to concentrate on proper shooting mechanics to consistently make the shot at longer distances. You’ll also find that after shooting well at 50 yards, 30-yard shots are easy as pie.
Knowing the exact distance to the target is everything. Tests conducted by the military have shown that the average person cannot accurately judge distance past 35 or 40 yards. Yet, without a precise knowledge of how far away the target is, you’re going to miss the shot. That’s why using a laser rangefinder is so important.
How far is too far? Only you can answer that question for yourself. I do know this: The two largest bucks I have ever killed were arrowed at 42 and 46 yards, and those shots were the only ones they were going to give me.
Clint Eastwood, playing Dirty Harry Callahan, put it simply: “A man’s got to know his limitations.”
I do. And while I still work hard to get shots at deer at 20 or 25 yards, I want to be able to make the longer shot if I have to.