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.