Long distance shooting at game animals is one of those controversial topics, one that’s even misunderstood by hunters themselves. In a camp I was recently in, one archer made the comment that any bow shot over 40 yards is unethical. Had he stated, “My effective range is 40 yards,” I could have accepted it. Most of his hunting was done from tree stands, where 40 yards is a long shot, but where I hunt out West, 40 yard shots are often a blessing.
Given the technological advancements in gear, there has never been a better time in bowhunting history for hunters to master the long shot. With fast shooting bows comes flatter arrow flight, thus increased accuracy. Rests, sights, release aids, silencing attire, arrows, fletchings and broadheads all play a roll in long distance shooting accuracy, but that’s not all.
Hunters must put in the practice time, to develop long distance shooting skills. Even at that, making the long shot on an animal is not a slam-dunk. On a recent trip, a hunter kept boasting about his long-range shooting skills. We propped up a target, shot out to 90 yards and indeed, he did shoot incredibly well. Unfortunately, he shot poorly on animals; I’d have given him an effective range of 35 yards on game. This is a prime example of being realistic and knowing your limitations.
Shooting targets and shooting animals are two different things. A Wyoming guide buddy of mine once took out an olympic medalist on his first mule deer hunt. The olympian missed seven shots, over half of which were inside 20 yards! He simply had so much adrenaline rushing through his body, he couldn’t come through in the clutch, and this from a world-champion shooter.
When in the field, the conditions and the animal’s behavior are major factors to consider prior to taking a long distance shot. Shooting up or downhill, between foliage or in a strong wind are elements to consider prior to taking a long shot. This past spring, I had a turkey feeding away from me at 72 yards. I ranged him, noted the lack of wind and the bird’s undisturbed demeanor, drew and connected on a lethal shot.
The author took this Scimitar Horned Oryx at 74 yards
Not long ago, I stalked to within 32 yards of a bedded scimitar horned oryx in the African high desert. The angle was bad, and after several minutes of waiting for him to stand, the wind changed. He smelled me, jumped, bolted and stopped at 74 yards. It was a strong side-wind, but having practiced that shot, I felt confident. Allowing for 18 inches of drift, the Allegiance did the rest of the work and hit the ten-spot on the record bull. Though the bull was spooked, he didn’t know my exact location, and in the strong wind, I knew he wouldn’t hear me.
By equipping yourself with technologically sound gear, practicing on 3D targets, assessing the terrain and evaluating the animal’s behavior prior to taking a shot, long distance shooting is an attainable goal. I know hunters who routinely connect on shots ranging between 60 and 90 yards. If you can consistently place a series of shots inside a medium sized paper plate, that’s your effective range. Once you start missing the plate, that’s your range limit.
Determine your effective range and know what your gear can do, only then can you work on extending your lethal range. But no matter how good of a shot you become, closely evaluate the animal’s behavior prior to launching an arrow, for that’s the deciding factor on whether or not a shot should be taken.