Shooting Out West
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Last Updated: Aug 6, 2010 – 1:11:39 PM
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Shooting Out West

By Bob Robb

Nov 24, 2008 – 5:29:45 AM

Robb shot this New Mexico pronghorn at 82 steps. Today’s superb equipment and lots of practice make such accuracy possible.

Most readers live in whitetail country and thus, do most if not all their bowhunting from a treestand or ground blind. Shots are usually 30 yards or less and taken under very controlled conditions.

I have lived out West all my life and while I spend a month or more each fall in the trees hoping to get a shot at a whopper whitetail, much of my bowhunting occurs on the ground as I chase mule deer, elk, Coues whitetails, Columbia blacktail, pronghorn, black bears, western whitetails, and those way-cool animals in the Far North ? caribou, moose, mountain goats, Sitka blacktail, Dall sheep, and upon occasion, grizzly and brown bears. Shooting conditions vary greatly, and you have to practice and be prepared for just about anything if you are going to be successful.

If you are thinking about a western bow hunt, you need to change your mindset about what kind of bow shot you need to be to maximize your odds at success. Here is some real world advice.

First and foremost, you have to extend what I call your own MESR, or Maximum Effective Shooting Range, as much as you can. Most treestand bowhunters I know have difficulty making the shot beyond 40 yards. My Arizona hunting buddies and I warm up at 40. The most successful bowhunters in this part of the world can make the shot at 60 to 80 yards, every time, and often have to. That?s because the open terrain in which we do much of our hunting makes it extremely difficult to get any closer. Not that we do not want to, you understand. But when you combine open and semi-open terrain with dry, crunchy ground over which you have to try and creep closer on a dead-calm day and animals that are scared of their own shadow, you take whatever shot opportunity presents itself.

To become this kind of bow shooter requires dedication and attention to detail. It all begins with a state-of-the-art bow-and-arrow set-up that fits you perfectly, you are comfortable shooting, and that has been paper-tuned with the same 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 set-up cannot be overemphasized. If your arrows have any wobble at all, they will not hit precisely where you want them to at long distance.


A top quality bow sight that allows you to use enough pins and also has a bubble level is critical to accurate long-distance shooting.

 You need to use a bow sight that allows you to precisely aim at all distances. A few western bowhunters use single-pin movable sights, but this doesn?t work for me. I hunt with a sight from Sonoran Bowhunting Products, a small Tucson-based outfit, that is rugged, easy to adjust, has few parts, and allows me to set individual sight pins from 20 to 90 yards in 10-yard increments. Most hunting sights do not have enough sight pins to suit my taste.

 Because knowing the precise distance to the target is everything, a laser rangefinder is invaluable. How important is this? I shoot a 70 lb. BowTech 101st Airborne that launches 405-grain hunting arrows at about 283 fps. To get an idea of how critical range estimation is, the other morning on the range I shot at a bull?s eye 80 yards away using my 70 yard sight pin. The arrow struck the target a full 15 inches low.


A laser rangefinder with drop compensator like this Bushnell Scout 1000 is invaluable when shooting at extended range.

 It is also very important to understand which sight pin to select when shooting at steep uphill or, more commonly, downhill angles. Having a rangefinder with a built-in compensation system like my Bushnell Scout 1000 really helps. You can also download a ?cut chart? that shows you what distance to shoot for when you know the linear distance to the target at varying angles from It?s hard to believe that if you hit your rangefinder on a downhill buck or bull and the reading is 55 yards but the angle of the mountain is 40 degrees that you actually use your 40-yard pin ? until you try it.

 You also need to learn how to shoot from your knees, a position you?ll find yourself in often both when stalking game and when calling elk. If you hunt from a ground blind, learn how to shoot while sitting on a stool. You hope to be able to shoot standing up just like on the practice range, but it ain?t always so.           

Shooting modern equipment makes long-distance shooting so much easier than it was even a decade ago. My friends and I joke about the fact that back in the 1980?s, if someone told you he killed a buck at 40 yards you were pretty sure he was lying, because accurately shooting fingers with slow bows that sent fat, heavy aluminum arrows off at maybe 220 fps without the aid of a decent rangefinder was something that few bowhunters of the time could consistently do. In contrast, today?s equipment is actually so good that the average shooter does not have the skill to wring all the performance potential out of it. If you have the skills, the equipment will consistently put the arrow on target at long distance.

Finally, you have to practice on a regular basis. During the summer I shoot a few arrows at least five mornings a week, before work. My range sessions last between 60-90 minutes during which I might shoot just 20-40 arrows. It?s all about ingraining proper shooting mechanics while becoming intimate with the set-up I hunt with, not about how many arrows I shoot. It may take me a full week just to set my sight pins.

Taking a long range shot also involves reading the animal?s mental state and body language so you will not shoot if the critter is skittish and might move before the arrow arrives. Our goal out West is to get as close as possible before taking a shot. None of us goes out there and wildly launches arrows at game. If a person?s own MESR is 40 yards, they should never shoot at an animal further away.

Attempting to take an animal?s life is very serious business. It?s just that to maximize the chances for success, you have to be able to make the shot that presents itself. Are you willing to do what it takes to be the very best shot you can be?

For more go to:
BowTech Archery
Bushnell Optics
Sonoran Archery


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