When I heard the story, it cut me like a dull broadhead.
“We helped a young kid track a bull yesterday,” said one of three bowhunters in the truck parked next to us on a road in Oregon. “He wasn’t even carrying a knife with him, but we never found the bull anyway. He said he shot the bull at 98 yards.”
Two waves of emotion came over me as I absorbed those words. The first was pity. I felt sorry for the young man who had shot his first elk and was now suffering through that painful loss. The second emotion was anger. Not at the kid, but at the bowhunting community at large.
Where did this young bowhunter get the idea that shooting at an elk at 98 yards was acceptable? I’ll tell you where — from the bowhunters he looks up to, the bowhunters who flaunt their long-distance shots on social media or television, the bowhunters who boast about the “hits” they’ve made at muzzleloader distances, and yes, even the bowhunters who constantly post videos of simply practicing at targets out to 130 yards, and more. These so-called “influencers” (a questionable term often attached to the undeserving) are the ones who convinced this young bowhunter that it was okay to release an arrow with his bow pointed toward the horizon.
Such risk-taking is not an anomaly. A friend told me a young bowhunter he’d mentored told him he missed two whitetail bucks — one at 50 yards, and one at 60 yards! He certainly wasn’t following the advice of his mentor. What happened to the days when rookies voluntarily limited themselves to very close shots until they became proficient?
Many factors come into play here, but let’s start with the mechanical. An arrow shot out of a modern compound travels about 200 miles per hour. It takes that arrow at least a full second to travel 100 yards. That’s long enough for any animal to move several feet, or to turn to any angle from the time your brain says “release,” until the time the arrow gets there. That potential movement is unpredictable and completely out of the bowhunter’s control. Such a long bomb is always, always a pure gamble, I don’t care what your favorite influencer says.
Next factor — arrow speed. I wasn’t sure my chronograph could survive a 100-yard shot, so I researched several arrow-speed charts. Fletching design, degree of helical, and other factors can cause loss of arrow speed, but from zero to 100 yards, the average hunting arrow will lose approximately 25 to 35 feet per second (fps). That won’t have much of an effect on penetration potential, unless your setup is already at the low end. For example, if you’re hunting elk and shooting a light arrow of 380 grains at 280 fps, you are already pushing your luck when it comes to two-hole penetration. At 100 yards, your arrow will be flying closer to 250 fps, which drops your kinetic energy (what most are familiar with) from 66 ft-lbs. to just 52 ft-lbs. Chances are you could find yourself looking for an elk with one good lung, which almost always ends badly. Admittedly, if you start off with 90 ft-lbs. and end up with 72 ft-lbs., you’re probably good.
Next factor — trajectory. If you shoot an arrow off a cliff, aiming level, by the time your 300-fps arrow reaches 100 horizontal yards it will drop over 200 inches! That’s 17 feet. A very fast arrow at 360 fps will still drop about 90 inches, which is 7½ feet. Even if your trajectory is clear of obstacles, that leaves a lot of room for error in such a long-bomb shot. Gravity will not be denied.
On top of all those variables, you also have wind to contend with, as well as the slightest error in your shooting form being magnified by the distance.
This brings me to the part that is likely to ruffle some guard hairs. Since when is a long-distance bow shot at an animal something to boast about at the archery shop, pub, or online? Shooting an elk, caribou, pronghorn, or any animal at 100 yards is not a badge of honor. If a bowhunter makes such a claim to me, I immediately think two things. First, they were unable to “hunt” their way closer to the animal, which can happen for many reasons including errant wind, lack of cover, getting spotted, or a lack of stalking or hunting skill. And second, they lost discipline and took a shot they knew, or should have known, was risky and unethical.
And there it is…that word with a definition as elusive as a 200-inch whitetail buck — ethics. How does anyone define ethics? The variables in any moment where ethical decisions must be made are infinite. The skill level and the personal philosophy of each participant also varies widely. I might take a 60-yard shot at a stationary caribou, but never at a brown bear. A 50-yard shot at an unsuspecting pronghorn may be doable, but if it’s looking at me and wired to explode at the sound of my bow? Not so much. We could debate 40, 50, or 60-yard shots all day long, but 100 yards? Or 90? Or 80? Unless it’s a follow-up shot, you cannot make the case that those are ethical shots at a live animal. Not to me. Are such shots possible? Of course. So is 130 yards. But being possible does not qualify the shot as ethical.
Am I asking you not to take such extreme shots? No, I am not. I cannot tell you what to do. But I am saying it’s unethical. If that offends you, then find your safe space. However, I am asking that if you engage in such gambling, please keep it to yourself. Think about who is listening when you publicly thump your chest about how you killed your critter at 95 yards, or whatever ridiculous distance. Some young, impressionable bowhunter is paying attention, watching your video, or listening to your podcast. You’re giving him the misguided impression your unethical shot was okay. Keep the yardage to yourself. Take the shot if you must, but the rest of us don’t need to know how far it was. I feel the same way about this as I do about wounding losses. If you wound and lose an animal, I don’t want to hear about it. Neither does anyone else, but especially non-hunters. Keep it to yourself, for all our sakes.
I’m sure a few of you are fired-up and ready to send an e-mail to the Editor (firstname.lastname@example.org), but allow me to state my case in another way. I just returned from a successful brown bear hunt in Alaska. The hunting regulations in Alaska state that if you draw blood on a bear (brown, grizzly, or black), your hunt is over. You cannot continue to hunt for another bear. It’s a dumb law that only applies to bears, but that’s a different debate. For the sake of this argument, what if that law applied to every animal we hunt? Let’s say it’s the first day of your hunt. You draw your bow to take a 100-yard shot at a caribou or elk with the full knowledge that if you so much as clip the top of the animal’s back, you must cut your tag and go home. Would you still take that shot? Be honest with yourself.
The goal in bowhunting is to see how close you can get, not how far away you can shoot from. That young Oregon elk hunter is likely still living down the loss of a beautiful Roosevelt bull because he thought it was okay to take a 98-yard shot. It’s something he learned from the bowhunting community. And we should be sorry about that.