All photo credits: Josh Kirchner
Every shot we take is dictated by a number. That number is the very catalyst for what is about to unfold. It says one of two things to us: "Yes," which means that we can make that shot or a "No," which means that we can't. Bowhunting is often described as a "game of inches," which is 100% true in its own right. However, it is also a game of yards, which is the mysterious number I have been talking about up until this point. The higher that number goes, the lower our odds go of filling our tags. Right? Within reason, I say, "No."
Hard work can skew these numbers and inevitably increase your bowhunting effective kill range, which is not only an added tool in your tool belt but is going to make you even more lethal at closer distances. Here are some things to keep in mind when trying to increase your effective kill range.
First thing is first: If you are trying to stretch out the distance between you and your intended target, I would highly suggest that you make sure your bow is properly tuned. Your bow is a machine and, if it isn't set up right, you can't expect to get optimum performance out of it. We regularly bring our vehicles in for maintenance or tune-ups. A compound bow is no different. In an age where more and more folks are soaking up the do-it-yourself (DIY) lifestyle, I think you should leave this one up to the pros unless you truly know what you are doing of course. A good pro shop is going to be able to get your bow dialed in, shooting laser beams, and ready for action. I wouldn't even consider shooting before you do this step.
You are going to notice (as you embark on the path of increasing your effective kill range) how much everything really matters while shooting. When you step further and further back from the target, all of your flaws will be amplified. The slightest imperfections remain invisible at 20 yards. At 60 yards, though? That’s where you’ll see how consistent of a shooter you really are. The more that I do this, the more I realize how much being relaxed is key. Any bit of irregular tension throughout your shot sequence has the ability to throw your shot. Maybe you are gripping your bow too much or punching the trigger. These are both very intrusive elements in shooting.
One way I like to think of this is by picturing a pendulum. A pendulum freely sways back and forth with no variation in its path. If something were to knock it off kilter, though, that is a different story. What I am getting at here is we need to let our bows shoot themselves and try to limit our influence on the outcome after a shot. If you literally did everything the same way, every single time, with no variation whatsoever, you'd be blowing the X out of every target you confront. Is that a realistic goal? Well, we are humans and far from perfect, but, with enough practice, I think we can get pretty close.
I am sure you have all heard this phrase before, but it really does hold weight in this situation. It all comes back to another phrase that we have all heard in the bowhunting world, which is, "Pick a spot." You are going to be a much more accurate archer if you aim for a quarter size area instead of a softball size area. No pun intended, but that is what we are shooting for here, right? To be more accurate? Try to start aiming for specific spots inside of the bullseyes you are aiming at. Maybe aim for another hole from a previous arrow or a blemish in the production of the target. You could even take a marker and make your own spots within spots. Whatever your flavor is, hone your focus and the accuracy will follow. From here, start picking spots outside of the bullseye. This will replicate hunting. Unfortunately, for us, deer don't have big orange spots on them for us to aim at so it’s up to us to find our own spots to target.
So far we have talked about equipment imperfections, self-imperfections, and taking the time to hone aiming at a target and shooting. With regard to that shooting, I like to apply something that I call "the rule of three."
This is an exercise I do regularly at the range. Here’s how it works: you start at 20 to 30 yards and shoot three arrows into a paper plate-sized target. If the arrows are all on the plate, move back 10 more yards and repeat as far as you can. If at all during this process an arrow is outside of where it should be, I will move 10 yards closer and repeat from there. This is a great way to get an idea of where your effective kill range is. Let's say at 50 yards, you had all three arrows in the plate, but at 60 yards you only had one. I would tell you that you shouldn't be taking any shots at animals past 50 yards then. Three out of three arrows are the goal here. After all, we owe it to the animal to be as accurate as possible and to make the quickest kill that we can.
The number we talked about earlier that dictates our shots is not going to grow overnight. It is going to take time and focus. Take this one step at a time and please don't try and rush the process. By rushing and cutting corners you are not only doing your shooting a disservice, but you will be doing the animal a disservice on gameday and that is something none of us want to deal with. Wounding or losing an animal is something that will stay with you forever and is a constant reminder of why we need to practice and make sure we are up to the task at hand. I would highly suggest that anyone coming out West from the East coast or Midwest take note of this piece and plan to stretch your shots. The West is often a wide-open place with little cover to show for it. Increasing your effective bowhunting kill range is not only an added tool in the tool belt, but it will make you an even more lethal hunter. In the end, I think that is something we should all strive for in our hunting.