Maximum Range: How Far Is Too Far With a Bow?

Sure, you can group arrows in a 6-inch circle at 80 yards. But does that give you the green light on animals at the same distance?
Maximum Range: How Far Is Too Far With a Bow?

Back in 1993 I wrote a column for Field & Stream entitled “How Far Is Too Far?” Re-reading it reminded me of several things. For one, the debate on how far a bowhunter should ethically take a shot at a game animal is not a new one. For another, the change in equipment between then and now is stunning. Back then I talked about compound bows shooting hunting arrows at a “blistering” 220 fps and solving the range estimation problem by using such revolutionary rangefinding products as the Ranging 50/2, 80/2, Eagle Eye 3X (the 80/2 with a 3X eyepiece) and TLR 75.

To say these units were mediocre is a huge understatement. The readings were by no means precise — and even if you were skilled in their use, they were useless past 40 yards or so. Thus, back in the day the discussion about how far was too far ended at 40 yards — and this was only for the most accomplished archers. For everyone else, 25 yards was considered the end of the earth. And that’s on flat ground, because the old rangefinders did nothing to help you when shots were taken at steep uphill and downhill angles.

Fast-forward to 2018. It’s not uncommon for a compound bow to launch a precisely made arrow tipped with an equally precisely made low-profile mechanical broadhead over 300 fps. Instead of fingers we fire the arrow with a release aid, and we aim with a bowsight that’s machined to NASA-like specifications. Arrows fly with virtually no side-to-side wobble, making tight groups at much longer distances a reality. And modern crossbow manufacturers now advertise themselves with slogans such as “Meet Your Next Rifle” and as being able to produce sub-MOA accuracy at 100 yards.

Bull’s-eyes vs. Bucks and Bulls

Still, there’s a huge difference between shooting an arrow at a target and at a living, breathing creature whose actions are as unpredictable as the financial markets, just as there is a huge difference in the skills of each and every bowhunter. Over the years I’ve been around some of the best archers on earth. In 1984, I worked the summer Olympic Games in Los Angeles, where I watched America’s Darrell Pace and Rick McKinney win gold and silver, respectively. My friend Rick Bednar, now the president of TenPoint Crossbow Technologies was a three-time NCAA champion and qualified for the 1976 Olympic team. The man can shoot a gnat’s eye out at distances that would amaze you. He’s also a very serious and highly accomplished bowhunter with both a vertical bow and a crossbow. And yet, Rick is the first to tell you that the recent long-distance shooting craze is bad for bowhunting.

“We have tested our crossbows from 0 to 60 yards in hunting conditions and 10 to 100 yards in target shooting conditions,” Bednar said. “All of our test results are consistent with claims other manufacturers make, and we have duplicated similar or better results. However, in all cases our company recommends shooting your crossbow (regardless of the brand) at distances of 60 yards or less for hunting. At these yardages, we are confident you will be as successful as you are personably capable in your shot execution and given environmental conditions.”

maximum bow range

Modern crossbows look like rocket ships, but their effective range is still no more than 60 yards.

All this new technology is wonderful and makes it so much easier to get the most out of your own shooting ability. I shoot my compound bows a lot and have sight pins set at 10-yard increments from 20 to 80 yards. When I’m shooting well on a calm morning I can hit the lid of a Big Gulp cup pretty much every time at 80. I also have a crossbow with which, from a bench on a calm day, I can drill this same 4-inch top most every time at 100 yards.

But that’s not trying to kill one of God’s magnificent creatures. To me bowhunting is all about getting in their face, using skills I’ve developed over a lifetime to close the distance until I’m closer than half a football field away — and preferably closer. Even then, unless everything’s right — I know the exact distance to a calm animal, the winds are stable and I have a steady platform — I won’t shoot.

Both bowhunting — the sport we all love — and the magnificent animals we hunt deserve our complete respect. I’m no Darrell Pace, or Rick McKinney, or Levi Morgan, or Rick Bednar. Like Dirty Harry said, “A man’s gotta know his limitations.” I do. And so should you.

What do you think? Drop me a note at and let me know. I’d love to hear from you!

Top photo: Mitch Kezar for


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