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How far is too far? - Archery


Long range practice
Practicing a long-range shot is very different from taking a long-range shot while hunting.

I started bowhunting as a way to become a better hunter and enjoy the outdoors. Bowhunting has always been, and should always be, about getting close to animals. There is no other rush that compares to getting under 40 yards from your dream animal after a well-executed stalk.

Remember when an 80 yard shot was practically unheard of for bowhunters? Advances in arrow and bow technology have made long-distance shots more and more commonplace, but this trend raises another equally important question in the bowhunting community: how far is too far? What’s changed for the sport that traditionally has prided itself on getting closer to animals for a successful harvest? What’s the line between hunting and archery? Has it been irrevocably crossed?

Archery sight tape
Practicing at a distance like this will make your 30 yard shot much more effective.

As with so many hunting uncertainties, part of what’s at stake in these long-range bowhunting questions comes down to hunting ethics. Long-range shots tend to rely on minute sight adjustment, positioning and sleek, highly calibrated compound bows. A minor flaw in form or hitch in breathing that causes an arrow to be off by only a few inches at 30 yards magnifies to a question of feet for a long-range shot. Shifting winds can also cause an arrow to go astray instead of finding its mark. Long distance shots are deeply unforgiving, which only intensifies given the rush of adrenaline on the hunt. As distances get longer, it becomes more difficult to determine the angle of the animal and the amount of penetration that your bow will have at that distance. You may be able to hit a target at 80, but does your bow pack enough momentum and kinetic energy for such a shot?

“Bowhunting used to be about being a better hunter; now it’s about being a better shot. Bowhunters used to brag about harvesting a buck from mere steps away, but now the most praise seems to go to the guy that makes the longest kill shot,” writes bowhunter Mark Huelsing on his blog. The refrain across the hunting community repeats the need for practice on the range well before the season begins. As stated in my recent article for increasing your shot distance, bowhunters should practice shots 40 to 50 yards beyond their target range, but dial back when hunting to ensure accuracy. Ethical shooting distance is different for every person and every bow setup. It all depends on what distance the bowhunter is confident they can make a clean shot. Above all things, bowhunters should not take a shot unless they are 100% certain that they can make the arrow fly where it needs to go.

Bow at full draw
Having the right equipment is one thing, but making the shot under real hunting conditions is totally a different thing.
Photo Credit: Brady Miller,

Practice in a variety of conditions and positions is necessary for successful long-range shots on the hunt. Once in the field, responsible hunters know their limitations and don’t take shots outside their accurate shooting range. Each bowhunter is vastly different, but your maximum effective distance is a distance where you can consistently put arrows in the kill zone shot after shot. This echoes advice repeated across pro shops, hunting forums, blogs and websites. For some hunters this can be 80 yards, for others it remains firmly under 35 yards. It takes a lot of discipline to abide by your maximum effective range when you have the animal of a lifetime in front of you. Passing on a deer might be tough, but if you have to second guess yourself, then you probably shouldn't be shooting that far. Bowhunters need the right bow, the right optics, the right bow accessories and plenty of practice to effectively shoot further distances.

Getting close to a young mule deer
I watched my friend stalk to within 5 yards of this young mule deer before bumping it out of its bed.

Hunters also talk about animals starting to change their behaviors because of long-range shooting. While it’s certainly possible that deer, elk and other animals are recalibrating their notions of what constitutes a “safe” distance from a hunter, it will probably take years of study to make researched conclusions along the lines of those published about elk movements and hunter access in The Journal of Wildlife Management. If the focus continues to emphasize longer and longer distances, the millennia-old practice of bowhunting might change completely for both hunters and animals alike.

In the end, everyone has their limit on distance with a bow. Find your limit and have fun. Bowhunting has always been about getting close to animals. But ... has close gone too far?


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Robert W. - posted 5 years ago on 08-26-2014 11:12:43 pm
Sierra Vista, AZ

I completely agree with the premise you started this article with, i.e. bowhunting should be about our skills as hunters and honing our ability to get close to our quarry. I only wish you had ended the article with the same premise as I completely disagree with your conclusion. Your conclusion," Each bowhunter is vastly different, but your maximum effective distance is a distance where you can consistently put arrows in the kill zone shot after shot." is incomplete when it comes to ethics. Your premise makes the incorrect assertion that accuracy = ethics. This is incorrect because an archers skill is only one half of the equation. The other half is the animals ability to move in the time between shot and arrow impact. Just because an archer can consistently hit a kill zone sized target at a particular distance does not mean it is ethical to attempt shots at game animals at the same distance as the hunter can't assume the animal is going to be in the same spot, stance, shot angle, etc... when the archer's arrow arrives.

I would say your conclusion should be modified to state that a bowhunter's maximum effective range should be limited by the ability of the animal to move far enough to turn a well placed kill shot into a shot that does not result in a quick clean kill. If a bowhunter is not close enough to ensure the animal does not have time to move out of the way between the shot and arrow impact then the shot should be considered unethical and the bowhunter should pass up the shot until the hunter gets closer.

For example, at 50 yards an undisturbed, stationary mule deer or whitetail can easily take 1 or 2 steps from the time your brain tells you to release to the time the arrow arrives at it's intended location. 1 or 2 steps is far enough to result in a wounded or non-recoverable deer, therefore the shot is probably unethical as it is too far. If the deer is alert or has spotted the hunter then 30 yards may be an unethical shot distance as the deer is likely to start moving when the hunter shoots; thus increasing the likelihood of a wounded animal. These examples hold true for even the fastest compounds on the market today. Shots with traditional equipment should be even shorter given the same circumstances as these examples.

I guess my bottom line is that I am asking you to reconsider your premise for what constitutes ethical shot distances. I would be more than happy to collaborate with you on a follow up article that addresses all parts of the ethics equation.

My hope is that all us who share this great sport will do a little self reflection and then refocus our efforts on becoming better all around bowhunters instead of focusing on just becoming better archers (i.e. better shots). I would love to see the days return where we applauded one another for taking our animals at distances measured in feet, not yards or in extreme cases football fields.
Rob W

Kelli G. - posted 5 years ago on 08-26-2014 10:00:22 am
Woodland, CA

No shot, close or far, is a ethical shot, if you haven't practiced... A LOT, and are not absolutely confident with your equipment and shooting ability. You owe it to that animal to put him down quickly and humanely.

Colby K. - posted 5 years ago on 08-21-2014 10:57:56 am
Ogden, UT

Well said!