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Long Range Archery Ethics

Perhaps one of the hottest topics going is archery distance ethics. This is definitely a touchy subject for most and yet almost impossible to define. The first thing I think about is, “why am I a bowhunter?” First off, I love the challenge of getting close to big game animals. Close enough where I can hear them breathe or hear them eating, or having a bugling bull elk screaming in my face. That’s the rush that I can’t get enough of. This is the big reason that drew me into bowhunting at a young age. Getting close. That is what bowhunting is all about. Now, am I going to get within 20 yards on every hunt? No. It’s just not possible. In addition, making a 50 yard shot with today’s technology advancements is much easier than it was 30 or even 15 years ago.

This is where multiple other factors come into play in helping me know what my effective distance is. One must ask yourself. How much power does my bow have? How much do I practice and what distances do I practice at? How good am I at reading an animal’s body language? How strong is the wind? What is the terrain like? How much is buck fever affecting me? Now factor all this in while keeping ethics and fair chase in mind! Whew! It’s harder than it sounds. 

So how much power does my bow have? With today’s technology, bows hit harder, tune easier, and shoot quieter than ever before. That right there is a factor that will extend your range and we haven’t even gotten into the meat of this yet. Since Kinetic Energy is easier to wrap your brain around and quantify I’m going to touch on it instead of Momentum. Easton’s Field Chart States 42-65 ft lbs of KE is suitable for large game such as elk, and >65 ft lbs is needed for the toughest game like cape buffalo and moose. After calculating my KE, I came up with 91 ft lbs. I have so much power that will carry down range, I have confidence that I have enough energy to harvest an elk at longer distances. 

How much do I practice and what distance do I practice at? Well, that’s an easy one. I have been bowhunting for 20 years but I still practice consistently. Like shooting a rifle, shooting a bow is a deteriorating skill if you don’t keep doing it. Muscle memory is a huge part of this and your muscles need to be continually trained to perform at their best. And there is no workout that is a substitute for shooting a bow. I practice at least three times a week within three months of archery season and I like to shoot at least five times a week within three weeks before my first hunt of the fall. If I have a gap between hunts in the winter or spring I will take some time off to give my body and my brain a rest. This too is very important to avoid developing bad habits and keeping your skills sharp. My rule of thumb is to practice double the distance I am comfortable shooting at. So if that’s 60 yards, I practice to 120. The practice at 120 yards heightens your skills so much that a 60 yard shot is easy. This mentality has really improved my accuracy at the range and in the field, hunting. My rule of thumb for accuracy is one inch per 10 yards. If I can constantly shoot better than a six inch group at 60 yards, I’m ready to hunt at 60 yards. 

How good am I at reading an animal’s body language? This is a huge factor, especially shooting at longer distances (beyond 40 yards). If you practice at long distance, you know your arrow has some “hang time” in which the animal can move and bad things can happen. It’s simple, the longer your arrow is in the air, the more the wind can affect it. This is a risk that can lead to wounded animals very easily. Is the animal calm? Is it traveling or feeding? These are all  things that are learned with experience and why it is important to carefully observe animals and how they move, even if you aren’t hunting or don’t plan on shooting them. Furthermore, shooting at an alert animal is a gamble. They may or may not jump the string. Some say that past 50 yards they won’t hear the bow going off anyway and odds are they won’t jump the string. I have had experiences that have gone both ways. The fact is, there is a risk shooting at an alert animal with a bow. It just exponentially increases with range. 

Wind is pretty self explanatory. If I am going to shoot past 50 yards there better not be much wind. An arrow with a good FOC will help buck the wind but a 10 mph wind can push your arrow around leading to a poor hit. Once again, the longer the shot, the more your arrow will be affected and the greater the risk of wounding an animal. 

What is the terrain like? This one is important. When you practice at the range, you’re usually on flat ground with an optimal body position for accuracy. If you are shooting on a slope or have poor footing or form, your accuracy goes out the window. This is a good reason to practice from many different positions and know when you start to lose accuracy because of poor footing or form. My rule of thumb is if I can’t get solid footing with good body position and feel comfortable at full draw I won’t shoot. Oftentimes then my true effective range is 30-40 yards max.

Lastly, is good ol’ buck fever. How much is it affecting me at the time? This varies for me depending on the stalk or scenario. Usually, with some deep breaths and positive self talk I can get it under control to feel solid at full draw. If not, when I reach full draw, if I’m shaking too much or don’t feel steady then I have to make a quick decision to shoot or not. This can be very tough when you’re in the moment. 

My concluding thoughts have me focused on ethics. I can confidently say that your max range depends on the situation and how you feel at the time. For me personally, I have to just set a distance that is my cut off limit, and that is 70 yards. If the conditions are perfect and I’m feeling good I have no problem taking that shot. Sometimes I’ll fudge a few yards and still take the shot but the conditions have to be perfect! Anything much further and I just won’t even think about it. I have made several clean kills from 60-75 yards and can’t even think of a time I have wounded anything at these distances but a part of me says it’s way too far. When I think of legendary bowhunters like Fred Bear and Ben Pearson, whose accomplishments made them legends, I begin to wonder, perhaps we need to restrict archery equipment and concentrate more on the ethics and the intentions of bow hunting. Just a thought.

About Dan Pickar

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10 comments

  1. Good read! I enjoy reading both your magazines and enjoy watching your shows. I kinda went way out of the box for normal arrow weights of say around 450 gr. My set up before I changed to what I shoot now was a 30 in. 440 gr arrow with a speed of 292 fps and my bow was set at 74lb draw weight. My current set up is 668 gr arrows. My fps dropped too 256. Bow is still set a 74 lb. My max range that I practice is 60 yrds. My first shot is always at 60 yrds. Then I’ll play with using what’s called the “Trick pin”. That’s where you use your 50 yrd pin aiming 18 inches below your bulls eye from distances 20 too almost 40 yrds for my set up. You’ll always be in the money shooting this way. The closer you are the higher you will hit. The most would be about 3 in. The farther and lowest would be about 3 in. So your hitting inside a 6 in. Bullseye. This is for when you have no time to range your target but you know your under 40 yrds. This is for hunting elk. I also went to single bevel broad heads. They fly great! Split big bones if their hit. Strong as all get out!!! I wish more people would shoot heavier arrows and use single bevel broad heads. I’ve seen enough broad head vids of shooting large bones and most don’t survive a hard hit. Of the two I choose to hunt with are Grizzly Stik and Strickland Helix. My arrows are Grizzly Stik 240 spine. My bow is also tuned well, I can shoot with field points then go to a broad head and still have the same point of impact. The other benefits of shooting heavy arrows, is it will make your bow shoot quieter.

    Thanks for your time
    Your faithful subscriber
    Brett Treadway

    • Thanks for the intel Brett. Sounds a little different but no doubt effective!

      • Wyoming needs to have a 12 day archery season only like other states. They let them hunt for 30 days with all the new equipment including crossbows. If the don’t kill something they come back opening day with their rifle.

  2. Wayne M. Morris

    Thank you Dan for your thoughts. It seems like there is a big emphasis today on long range and ELR hunting, both in gun and bow. While many guys are trying to see how far they can shoot, I am always trying to see how close I can get. A good read is the P & Y ethics for hunting! I appreciate your last sentence and thought – we should focus more on the ethics & intentions of bow hunting. I am afraid ‘technology’ is replacing skill! Just because we have the technology to shoot long & ELR – doesn’t necessarily make it ethical. Does our equipment give us “an unfair advantage over the game” we are hunting? Respect for the animal. Most days he wins – once in awhile I win!

  3. The goal is to get close, that isn’t always possible, if I cant get close i kill em anyway. I practice out to 160 yds. My wifa and I have killed 15 antelope, 5 which are booners. The average shot distance on those are 89.9 yds.

  4. There’s no way in hell I’ll take an 89 yrd shot at an animal with a bow. All it takes is one step of the animal at that range and your day is ruined. Give the animals more respect!!!
    Be a better hunter and get under 50 yrds. Even then an animal can take a step right when you let fly. Happen to me on a 6×6 bull at 30 yrds. Ended up being liver hit. I recovered the bull the next day. But waiting all night to get on him the next day was sickening to say the least!!

  5. Dan, great article, and I agree on most aspects. The 1″ per 10 yards rule is great depending on the vital area diameter. I’d say, that rule applies until you group worse than 5″, regardless of the distance. This applies to traditional as well. a 10″ group at 100 yards is a no-go.

    I think the real problem is, well …Kirk… just because you ‘can’ does it mean you ‘should’? If your reasoning to hunt with a bow has anything to do with hunting skill and challenge, I think you should reconsider taking an average 89.9 yard shot. Kill ’em anyway…thats some Ike Clanton shit- “Ike, maybe archery just not your game”…. Does a ‘booner’ deserve to be killed at 100 yards or 50 yards? Here’s another phenomenon to consider: Kirk stalks a small buck- he decides to take a 50 yard or under shot, he then sees a ‘booner’ and he suddenly allocates twice the ‘ethical’ distance at a chance to hit the record book animal. Shouldn’t this be the inverse? The bigger the animal, the more hunters seem to stretch their ethics because, at most times, that animal is out of our reach. The true trophies are so rare that we allocate a greater risk to wound? our have a bad hit? Shouldn’t we identify that a trophy book animal requires more respect? That if you’re going to shoot at a 200” mule deer that you’re only option is to make it perfect rather than ‘taking a chance’ or ‘lobbing a shot’? The falsehood of ‘when carbon is in the air, there’s a hope’ needs to die. Whats the point of wounding a trophy that you can’t recover, to remove them from the gene pool and have a shitty story? I’m here to take one shot and kill one animal with a perfect hit, if I can’t do that, there is no reason for me to hunt with a bow.

  6. Loved the article and your ethics. Your last point was best. When combined with your statement about a lot can happen while the arrow is in the air, is spot on. Same goes for rifles past 500yds +/- a lil. These folks shooting deer and elk (or anything else) at 1000 – 1500yds are not hunters. As for the arrow, the same holds true for a bullet being in the air for seconds. Lots can happen and it is ALL bad. Thanks for the focus on ethics and respect for the animals. Nice to hear from a devoted archery hunter.

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