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A Shot Too Far?

I don’t like big government telling me what type of light bulb I can use or my homeowner’s association dictating what species of shrubbery I’m allowed to plant any more than I’ll suffer any bowhunter specify limits for how far I can shoot my bow at game. Bowhunting great Chuck Adams once wrote that many bowhunters are ruled by an “ethic of mediocrity.” It couldn’t be put any better. I quickly tire of holier-than-thou archers judging others because they’ve failed to invest in the practice necessary to consciously extend maximum effective range on game.

Please, let me make it quite clear that I’m no slob bowhunter with a “poke-and-hope” attitude. I draw my bow with deadly intent only when I know I can kill cleanly. That said, technology marches forever forward. Our archery equipment is now capable of more—more accuracy, more range (with laser rangefinders), and more penetration. What was once “far” is now reasonable. Proper practice and the right gear make this so.

Determine Your Maximum Effective Range

To get started, you need to determine your current shooting accuracy. This means establishing a realistic maximum effective range. To do this, determine the distance you can keep every single arrow inside the diameter of a standard paper plate (about 8 inches, roughly correlating to the vital area of a whitetail deer). When arrows begin to stray out of this simple target, you’ve exceeded your maximum effective range. This is greatly simplified of course, as nervous tension while shooting at game and unfavorable conditions such as wind will quickly erode this benchmark, but as I said, we’re looking for a starting point. To improve, you’ll need to step well to the back of this range and hone skills to improve your marks.

Improve Your Maximum Effective Range

For this example, I’m talking of a maximum effective range of, say, 25 yards. There’s obviously a lot of room for improvement here. Ask yourself: What is holding me back? Would finer tuning on my bow automatically tighten groups at any range? Is my shooting form inconsistent and in need of improvement?

Or have you simply convinced yourself you can shoot no farther, never pushing yourself outside of an established comfort range?

The most easy to address is the latter. The obvious answer is to push yourself harder. If space is a limiting factor, find a place where you can shoot well beyond your current comfort zone. For example, during summer months I practice diligently at 80, 90, even 100 yards. I have absolutely no intention of shooting at game at such ranges (unless I’ve already wounded it severely at 30 yards and have nothing to lose. After such practice, stepping up to 40 yards seems like child’s play. It’s all about boosting confidence and changing perspectives.

More likely you’ll find something lacking in bow tuning or shooting form. Distance quickly exposes chinks in both these areas. Every thinking bowhunter strives to improve skills, even if long-range shooting isn’t a goal. There’s plenty of information to help you out via the Internet, magazine articles, instructional videos, and such. And don’t be too proud to ask for professional help. A qualified pro shop professional can normally help tune your bow to perfection, and/or offer coaching to improve your form, though this may come at a small price. It’s always money well spent.

Special equipment can also help. Buy the best arrows money can buy, install quality shooting accessories designed with an eye toward improving accuracy, and consider broadhead design (mechanicals like Rocket’s Steelhead or mini fixed-blade designs like Slick Trick) in relation to the ranges and accuracy expected from your gear. For long-range sighting, I find single-pin moving sights most beneficial. Combined with a super-precise laser rangefinder, the single-pin mover allows you to dial an exact range and hold dead-on target at any range. Proprietary engineering and features in Trijicon’s new AccuPin sight are especially ingenious, making sight-in and instant field deployment especially easy.

The ability to make long-range bowshots, unlike hitting Big League home runs or hitting a speeding NFL wide receiver in the numbers, is not the result of inborn talent. It’s a matter of careful and diligent practice combined with a finer attention to detail. In the end, extending your maximum effective range, even if only by 10 yards, means more venison in the freezer.

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