Determining Archery Shot Distance Without a Rangefinder

Rangefinders are tremendous tools for bowhunters, but it still pays to know how to determine distance the old-fashioned way.

Determining Archery Shot Distance Without a Rangefinder
Modern rangefinders such as the Trophy Xtreme 850 with ARC provide line-of-sight distance, as well as true horizontal distance for elevated bow shots.
Modern rangefinders such as the Trophy Xtreme 850 with ARC provide line-of-sight distance, as well as true horizontal distance for elevated bow shots.

Rangefinders are incredible. Point, click a button and immediately know the distance of your target. As bowhunters, a rangefinder greatly reduces the information we need to mentally process to execute a successful shot. Get the number, make sure of the angle and execute good form. OK, there’s obviously more to it than that, but no question a rangefinder is one of the most important tools we use.

The fact is, however, we don’t always get the opportunity to range our target. When you’re hunting wild things in wild places, the shot opportunity can change drastically, in seconds. Being able to judge distance in the field with the use of landmarks can be the difference maker in punching your tag and your arrow missing its mark.

The 10-Yard Method

When I was young, just getting into archery and bowhunting, it amazed me how older, experienced archers could look at targets at multiple distances and hit close to, or even in, the “X” without rangefinders. When I asked one of my hunting mentors how he could determine the distance so easily, he responded, “10 yards at a time.” That’s how I learned about the 10-yard method for ranging.

This approach to determining yardage isn’t meant for wide-open areas. It’s best applied in timber or along edges where you have trees or other landmarks to use. The idea is to determine an object that is about 10 yards away and is in line with your target. From there, mentally replicate that distance to the next distinguishable landmark. Continue this process in 10-yard increments until you reach your target. With practice, 10 yards can become instinctively gauged and determined quickly.

Of course, this isn’t an exact science, but with steadied nerves and good form, it should get you in the kill zone within your effective range. For me, this has proven to be a great strategy through the years, especially in thick habitat where deer can appear quickly.

Top photo by Alex Gyllstrom
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