I probably shouldn’t have hit the “Publish” button on this post. This isn’t a position paper, a proposal to dictate the way that anyone else should hunt, or a means of pointing fingers at bowhunters. These are just some of my incomplete thoughts on a complex topic. What are you thoughts? I would love to learn from your perspective, so leave me a comment below!
My original goal was to talk about what my max shooting distance is for my upcoming elk hunts. It is a question that I have received many times, something that I’ve thought about extensively, and a number that I’ve worked hard to determine. (More on that in the next post.) But for such a seemingly simple topic – effective shot distances for bowhunting – there are a myriad of variables, opinions, and challenges that make it difficult for me to express my thoughts and feelings in a straightforward manner.
It wasn’t long ago that max shooting distances weren’t something that you questioned. The vast majority of archers knew exactly what they (and their equipment) were capable of. But now, with incredibly effective bows, unbelievably accurate arrow shafts, and a new attitude about long distance shooting – common bowhunting shot distances aren’t so common.
I am not a traditionalist. I started bowhunting after 300fps bows were the norm, after carbon shafts were the standard, and after 40 yard shots on whitetail were commonly accepted. But I’m not so sure that the “new school” idea of long-distance bowhunting is a good thing for the future of our sport. Yes, I know that the same things were said with the advent of the compound bow or a myriad of other technologies – but I’m not concerned with technical advances, as much as I am with the mindset of bowhunters.
I love hitting the vitals of a deer from 80 yards out. As long as that deer is made of foam. I love practicing at long distances, competing at long distances, and constantly tweaking my bow setup to attain as much accuracy as I possibly can. But I’m still extremely conservative with the shots that I am willing to attempt in a hunting scenario.
Bowhunting is supposed to be about limitation, simplicity, and closing the distance on an animal. 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.
Let’s say I can make an 80 yard shot – after all it is something that I practice very frequently. Should I take that shot? I’m not raising the question in terms of accuracy or lethality; I’m talking about principle. Where do we draw the line when it comes to giving animals the advantage?
At what point do we gratefully, graciously, and joyously accept that our hunting (not shooting) skills weren’t enough to get us a reasonably close shot opportunity?
Just because you can take a long shot, doesn’t mean you should. Or does it?
I know some amazing archers that have shot elk, deer, and other big game animals at 80, 90, and even 100+ yards. They had little doubt in their shooting abilities, as did I. But these guys are exceptions to the rule. I would argue that most bowhunters overestimate their abilities. I would argue that target and “practice” accuracy is vastly different when compared to hunting accuracy.
Look anywhere on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, or archery forums, and you’ll see folks posting photos of their 3″, 50-yard groups. I know that many of these photos aren’t telling the whole story, but even if these guys could shoot like that in their yard, I can guarantee they can’t hold to that accuracy in the field. Maybe 1 out of 10 of them could, but probably not. (It’s okay; I’m pointing the finger at myself, too.) I don’t care about these photos, or what people want to pretend to be capable of. I care about what they will actually begin to believe about their shooting abilities, and how that false assurance will translate into reckless hunting.
But what if every single bowhunter could make an 80 yard shot? What do you think would happen to the future of bowhunting? You might be surprised to find out that certain states have already discussed limiting archery seasons because bowhunters have become too successful. Crazy, but true. Moreover, there have been discussions about eliminating the need for archery specific seasons. Why, if bowhunters are so capable and successful with their weapons, and if their range is longer a limiting factor, should they have archery-only seasons?
I encourage you to practice at long distances and build incredible confidence in your abilities – just don’t get caught up in the “hype” over long-distance bowhunting. At the end of the day, I don’t care about how far you can shoot; I want to know how close you can get.