By Tony J. Peterson
The debate over how far a bowhunter should shoot in the field will never be settled. There are too many individual and subjective factors for there to be hard-and-fast rules that cover the masses. At what distance you are comfortable flinging in the field is up to you, but should be based on your confidence level and personal experience.
With all of the weasel words out of the way, I’ll say this - a lot of us would benefit from target practicing farther than we currently do. I don’t know how many bowhunters I hear from each year who will say something to the effect of, “I never shoot at deer past 30 yards, so why would I practice farther?”
The answer is always to be a better shot. The hunter who can pop balloons consistently at 80 yards will out-shoot the 30-yards-and-under bowhunter all day long. Even at the ranges the 30-yard shooter is entirely comfortable with, the long-distance shooter will almost always lay down tighter groups.
This is because being good at 30 with a modern compound is easy, but 80 not-so-much. Form flaws, tuning issues, and a lack of adequate practice will all show up at 80 yards in a way they won’t be nearly as visible at much closer ranges. And then there is the issue of confidence.
You Can Do It
I’m a firm believer that confidence in ability and situational awareness are the two things that separate stone-cold killers from the rest of the hunting crowd, where a point-blank encounter is far from a guarantee of two deflated lungs. Knowing, without doubt, that you can make a shot is a wonderful feeling.
Doubt, or second guessing, is an accuracy killer and does bad, bad things to us. If you can stand at 60 yards and shoot solid groups into a 3D deer target all summer long, a live buck standing at 22 yards is easy.
Spacial limitations aside, most of us have the opportunity at least once per week to stretch out our practice sessions. Oftentimes, we don’t simply because the max distance we can shoot in the easiest-to-achieve practice session is not very far. This tends to involve the backyard targets and the shot distances that come with them.
If that’s not very far, it’s easy to get locked into shooting short distances. Repetition is good, but so is changing up the routine. Find a place where you can haul your target and shoot, or locate a nearby range that allows you to squeeze some extra yardage out of your sessions. If you devote a little range time each week during the summer to this, you won’t regret it come deer season.
What To Shoot
By about halfway through the summer, I tend to start getting bored with my practice sessions. At that point, I know it’s time to mix some things up. I really like shooting targets with something at stake.
For example, a small basketball sized target at 50 or 60 yards really causes you to focus on shot execution, because there is a lot of space around it. The same goes for 3D targets, which present something different to us mentally. I don’t know why a bale target with a target face representing an animal stapled to it is so much easier to hit at long range than a true 3D target, but it is.
There is something about all of that opportunity to whiff that increases the stakes. That’s a good thing, because it will at least get you in the neighborhood of what it’s like to shoot at a deer or other game animal. Anything that can get you rattled mentally, even slightly, is worth it because it will help you shore up your game and develop a higher level of accuracy over time.
To Double Or Not
Let’s say you have a hard rule not to shoot past 40 in the field. Should you be shooting 80 during your practice sessions? If feasible, probably. Doubling your set hunting distance allows you to make that max distance much easier.
If doubling it is too much, tack on at least 25 percent. You’ll still be working on all of the good things that come with longer-range shooting and probably won’t be losing expensive arrows in the long grass. If you stick to it, you’ll develop a lot of confidence and still be able to clearly identify if there are any issues with your form or equipment.
Where this will really all come together is when you start to shoot broadheads. There is nothing better than standing at 60 yards and laying broadhead-tipped arrows into the vitals of a 3D target. If you can do that, you know that it’ll be a cinch when a good buck strolls past your stand at 20 yards - which is the ultimate goal of this longer-range work.