Is That Deer Within Range? Know Your Shot Distance.

Featured How to Shoot

As modern archery equipment advances, the distances bowhunters are willing to shoot at game also increases. This raises the question, how far is too far to shoot, as a matter of hunting ethics. Let’s dive into the factors to consider before taking a shot and how to determine your maximum range.

Practice Isn’t Hunting

The first thing any bowhunter needs to realize when determining their max range is shooting on the practice range or in the backyard isn’t the same as shooting in the field. When practicing the environment is controlled, the target is stationary, multiple shots can always be taken and your heartbeat is calm. None of these factors hold true when hunting and must be considered before releasing an arrow at an animal.

Determining Effective Range

To simulate a hunting shot opportunity take only one shot from a cold start. This means when you haven’t shot for an extended period, as would typically be the case in the field. By doing this you’ll reveal your true first shot accuracy. Photo Credit Yamaha Outdoors

Finding your max range for ideal conditions can be done with a few trips to your local archery range. To simulate a hunting shot opportunity, take only one shot from a cold start, meaning when you haven’t shot for an extended period of time which would typically be the case in the field. This practice will reveal your true first shot accuracy. Doing this at the beginning of every practice session and increasing in distance every time until you miss your mark, will let you know where you stand and where to draw the line. Lastly, remember the distance you determine to be your max should only be considered when conditions are perfect, something rarely seen in a hunting situation.

The Animal Matters

The type of species and level of alertness of the animal in your sights both influence ethical shot distance. Larger game like elk and caribou typically warrant longer shots due to their larger vital size compared to smaller game like deer and turkeys. No matter the size of the game you’re hunting, the alertness level of your target should play a significant role in deciding when a shot should be taken. Animals on high alert are more likely to react to the sound of the bow firing, making longer shots more risky.

The Location Makes a Difference

When hunting in steep country angled shots can reduce effective ranger, as well as timbered or brushy terrain where small sticks and limbs can interfere with an arrow flight path. Photo Credit: John Hafner

Location also plays an important role in determining ethical shot distances. When bowhunting in open areas and places with gentle topography, accuracy is less likely to be impacted. On the contrary, when hunting in steep country, angled shots can reduce effective range, as well as timbered or brushy terrain, where small sticks and limbs can interfere with an arrow’s flight path.

Weather Conditions

Mother Nature can greatly influence effective range when bowhunting. When the skies are clear and calm a shot at max range may be warranted but when strong winds or any type of precipitation are present, shot distances should be reduced.

Equipment Should be Considered

A bowhunter shooting a high poundage compound or crossbow has the ability to ethically take longer shots than someone hunting with traditional archery equipment or a compound with a low draw weight. Photo Credit: Paul Sherar

The gear you take afield should also be considered when deciding how far to shoot at game. A bowhunter shooting a high poundage compound or crossbow has the ability to ethically take longer shots than someone hunting with traditional archery equipment or a compound with a low draw weight. This is solely due to the amount of power and momentum a particular weapon produces. As an arrow or bolt travels down range, it loses energy, meaning the greater the initial power produced the greater the retained power present in the arrow down range.

The Bottom Line

There are no laws defining the distance at which bowhunters should or shouldn’t shoot at game. These decisions must be made by hunters using a personal code of ethics and taking into consideration all the influencing factors we’ve discussed, as well as their own abilities. This topic will likely always be one of debate and heated discussion within the bowhunting community and for good reason. When faced with deciding to take a shot at any distance use ethical judgement. If you have any hesitation, error on the side of caution and elect to pass and wait for a better shot opportunity. We owe it to the animals we pursue to make the quickest, most humane kill possible.


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