Week 11: Determine Your Maximum Bow Range

Establishing what type of shots we can and can’t make is very important when it’s time to make decisions in the field. And while we will work on shooting under simulating hunting conditions in the next few weeks, this week we want to focus on how far of a shot is too far?

First, a disclaimer: You are the only one that determines your maximum EFFECTIVE range. It’s not what some guy on TV says is ethical. It’s not what some blowhard at the local range says it should be. It’s the capability of you and your equipment to make a clean, humane kill under the conditions you face. So with that said, how do you determine it?

Is it the distance you can no longer tack a group of five arrows into a paper plate?

I would argue that it isn’t. For some of us, that distance is 80 yards or more, however that doesn’t mean we would take an 80-yard shot at a live animal. But practicing at 80 yards makes the 30- and 40-yard opportunities feel like a chip shot.

The truth is, our effective range changes every time we head into the woods. What are we hunting that day? What is the weather like? How many cups of coffee did we drink? Because of this, I loosely subscribe to Dr. Mark Timney’s philosophy of “optimum range.”

Here’s an example of how it works. First you find the maximum range. Then you consider factors such as the animal you are hunting (size of vital area, behavior), yardage estimation, animal alertness, the hunter’s mental and physical condition and field conditions.

So, if my maximum range is 80 yards, I am hunting whitetail – a wary and jumpy animal (reduce range by 20%) – I am certain of the range distance (no reduction), the deer is relaxed and moving slowly (no reduction), I am a little excited because it is a good buck (25% reduction), and there is a slight breeze (35% reduction).

In this situation, I would reduce my optimum range to 30 yards.

Now, I am not up in my treestand with a calculator and spreadsheet. When I say I subscribe loosely to this method of determining my maximum effective range, I mean I estimate as best I can. Before I even head to the field, I know my maximum range for whitetail is 64 yards. Then, I take the other factors into the consideration and decide what distance I would be comfortable taking a shot on that hunt.

Familiarize yourself with the factors that shrink your maximum range, and take them into account every time you draw your bow back, because the question of “How far is too far?” is not a fixed number. It’s different in every shot situation, and we owe it to the animal that is about to give its life to us as a bounty to get it right.