April 28, 2022
By C.J. Winand
Within a few weeks, I purchased my first bow — a used Bear Kodiak Magnum recurve. Since we were now bowhunters, we needed a place to shoot. As luck would have it, our local gun club had set up a couple haybales for bowhunters. A problem developed when we noticed a sign that read, “NO compounds allowed!” Even though we hunted together, the Club would not let us practice together. Go figure?
Nowadays, it’s not uncommon in many states for “vertical bowhunters” to regularly share the woods with crossbow hunters, and even our firearms friends. Obviously, things have changed within the archery world in the past five decades. But, comparing the different archery tools we use to hunt deer is difficult, and very few studies even exist.
In 2015, the Ohio’s Division of Wildlife conducted an Archery Survey, which was a follow-up to their annual Deer Hunter Effort and Harvest Survey. The bowhunter sample size consisted of 1,391 completed responses made up of 57% compound, 41% crossbow, and 2% traditional bowhunters.
For one question, the study determined the average distance each deer hunter shot their first arrow using their weapon of choice. Compound hunters took the longest shots at 25.5 yards, followed by crossbows (24.7 yards) and stickbows (18.4 yards). The mean-yardage distance for all three was 25 yards.
What was interesting about this first-shot study was there didn’t seem to be any significant differences in yardage between compound and crossbow hunters. Yet, many crossbow manufacturers try to market their crossbows on how far you can shoot an animal or target with one. Since all three weapons were attempting to harvest a deer within 26 yards, this is probably occurring because all hunters are hunting in the same habitat, which allows, on average, shots less than 30 yards. Obviously, yardage distances between marketing and hunting scenarios are vastly different.
The report also looked at the differences between the three bow types in relationship to the yardage where a hit was recorded. Unlike the previous paragraph, there was a difference in yardage between a first-shot attempt and whether an actual hit was made. Their data showed compound (22.6 yards) and crossbow (22.4 yards) hunters were basically the same in yardage where a shot connected in a hit. Traditional hunters had the closest yardage at 15.8 yards.
As stated in the report, “The average distance for all archers’ initial shot was 25 yards, but shots resulting in a hit were almost 30% closer than those who missed. The majority of compound and crossbow shots were in the 20 to 24-yard range, whereas most shots using traditional gear were in the 15 to 19-yard range.” As you’d imagine, accuracy decreased with distance for all weapon types. Considering many bowhunters have pins or electronic sights that go out to 80-plus yards, the vast majority of hits for Ohio deer were within 25 yards. This may be one reason why many hunters only have three pins or less on their bowsight?
Another interesting question had to do with the distance a deer traveled after being shot. On average, deer harvested with a compound bow traveled 82.1 yards, while crossbow-harvested deer went 64.7 yards. And although the survey sample was small, deer taken by traditional bowhunters traveled an average distance of 57.6 yards. Why did this occur? Most likely because shorter shooting distances combined with heavier arrows made pass-through shots much more likely. As with all archery weapon types, two holes are always better than just one. When you compare all three weapons, the average distance a deer traveled after being hit was 74.2 yards. Interestingly, 55% of all recoveries were within 50 yards, and only 11% exceeded 100 yards. Obviously, a lot of factors go into how far a deer travels after a hit.
The report also asked hunters how long they waited to recover the deer once they shot. “In nearly half (49%) of the 972 recoveries, hunters reported that the deer expired within sight of their stand. Given that many hunters saw the deer expire, and nearly 90% of recoveries occurred within 100 yards, it is not surprising that 84% of deer were recovered in less than 30 minutes. In only 6% of recoveries, hunters took longer than one hour to find their deer.”
About 15 years ago, I posed the same question to three groups of urban, compound bowhunters in Maryland and Pennsylvania on, “How far did your deer travel after being shot?” After two years, they collectively took over 300 deer. Unfortunately, a computer crash deleted all my data. But, from what I remember, the average distance a deer ran after being hit was 75 to 80 yards. Interestingly, this is very similar to the Ohio data. I also grouped the harvest data into whether the bowhunter used a fixed or expandable broadhead. In short, deer killed with expandable broadheads traveled 25 yards less than fixed broadheads. As you can imagine, 25 yards can be significant when you consider the small-sized properties located in an urban environment.
Now before everyone starts barking at these numbers, please note that there is a lot of “noise” in my data set. For example: Was a rangefinder used to determine this distance? Was the killing shot a lung or heart shot? Did the arrow puncture one or both lungs, etc? As you can imagine, the aforementioned questions plus many more make this data very interesting, but tough to stand up to scientific standards. Obviously, we all shoot different setups that cover a range of draw lengths, arrow weights, and poundage. But, given the choice between the two types of broadheads for a “normal” setup, expandable heads seem to produce the shortest blood trails for deer-sized animals. And no matter what type of broadhead you use, the bottom line is shot placement.
A tip of the Bowhunter Magazine hat is given to esteemed deer biologist, Clint McCoy, and the Ohio Division of Wildlife for collecting this data. I know of no other state that has anything close to the archery data contained within this report. Hopefully the “unrest” over bow weapon of choice will someday subside, because at the end of the day, we hunters are all in this together.