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Nonresident license-sales data doesn’t lie. More and more bowhunters east of the Mississippi are coming to the West to chase pronghorn, mule deer, and elk. As a longtime Western bowhunter, outdoor writer, and seminar speaker, I get asked one question more than any other: Do I need to shoot 100 yards to effectively bowhunt the West?
The short answer is: No.
It’s true that there are a some incredible long-range archers out there. But many of the long-ranges whizzes you see flinging arrows 100 yards and beyond on YouTube and Instagram and Facebook should be taken with a grain of salt. If their groups seem too good to be true, it’s probably because they are. Remember, you see what the camera wants you to see, and who knows how many attempts were needed to make those “epic” shots?
Just as important, there’s a world of difference between punching foam and shooting a live animal. Your max field range should be significantly shorter than the distance at which you can shoot decent groups on the range. The purpose of bowhunting is to get close to game and win the chess match. That’s true anywhere in the country. So, if you’re used to shots at whitetails from 40 yards and in and you’re headed West this fall, all you need to do is stretch your yardage a bit, and you’ll be good to go.
How to Add 20 Yards to Your Maximum Bow Range
If your current max field range is 40 yards or less, make a goal of stretching that by 20 yards. Then do your practicing at 20 yards beyond that distance. So, if your max range is 40, your new goal will be 60, and you’ll want to practice out to 80. Don’t get freaked out. You’re not going to shoot game at that practice distance, and you can work your way up to it.
Get a large foam or bag target or stack a few together—you don’t want to lose arrows—and practice some distance shooting. The first time you do it, be sure that the wind is calm and you’re feeling good. Go ahead and take a some warmup shots at 20, 30, and 40 yards, then start stretching it out to 60 and 80. Before you do, though, remind yourself that the exact shot you made at 40 yards is the same shot you’ll make at 60 and 80 yards. Nothing changes with your execution.
Don’t try and be too fine at first. I recommend blanking out a target face with spray paint or with pushpins and paper. Small dots can create anxiety. From 60 yards, get a good grip and settle into your anchor. Now, let the pin float. It will be natural to feel a little shaky; that’s why you covered up the dots. Trust your pin float and focus hard on the center of the target. Let the release fire the bow. Don’t get punchy or rush the shot. Now go look at your shot. As you walk up to the target, evaluate how the shot felt and examine the arrow’s placement in the target. Then pull that arrow and repeat this one-shot process 10 or 12 times, working to make every arrow better than the last. Go ahead and make small sight adjustments if you’re a bit left, right, high, or low of center.
Now, if 60 yards is your ultimate field-maximum goal, then do the above again, but this time at 80 yards.
Refine Your Long-Range Aiming and Shooting
Continue the sessions above until you’re good enough at your max practice distance that you feel you can keep your shots on a regular-size block target. (You can always put other targets around it, just in case.) Now, run a piece of brightly colored tape through the target’s center, both vertically and horizontally. The spot where the two strips of tape intersect will be your new aiming point. As far as shooting, nothing changes. Keep fighting for the center and execute. This time, shoot a three-arrow group. Don’t make any changes to your sight or rest, even if your group is a little high, low, left, or right of center. Pull that group, walk back to 80 yards again, and shoot another three arrows. Then look at the group. Ask yourself the following questions: How does this group compare to my first? How did I feel about every arrow I shot? Being honest with yourself is an integral part of the process.
Shoot at least half a dozen three-arrow groups at your maximum practice distance. Again, make no changes to the sight or rest, and don’t shoot any other distances. The next day, walk straight back to 80 yards and execute three good shots. Pull the arrows, evaluate, and repeat the process three more times. By this point, a definitive pattern should be emerging. Your group size should be shrinking, and you should be getting more consistent. Now is the time to make a change to your sight or rest, if needed. Too many shooters make sight and rest adjustments too early in the process and are constantly moving things around. Get comfortable first, and then you can adjust.
If you feel like your arrows aren’t grouping well and you’re executing to the best of your ability, check your bow’s tune. Shoot a few arrows through paper and make sure something isn’t awry. If the paper tear is bad, make the proper adjustments or visit your local pro shop and let them get your shooter in tune.
The key is consistency, so shoot from your maximum practice yardage as often as possible. Then, occasionally, slip up to your maximum hunt distance and put arrows on foam. You’ll be shocked at how close the distance looks and how much more accurate you are.
Finally, Shoot With Some Buddies To Amp Up the Pressure
Now it’s time to amp things up a bit. It’s one thing to shoot 60 or 80 yards in the backyard or on the range alone, but it’s another to do it with another shooter or two looking over your shoulder. So, get some buddies together for a shooting session. Have everyone bring a 3-D target or two and set up a friendly competition. Having others watch you shoot will create some additional pre-shot anxiety that simulates, to a degree, the adrenaline that comes when shooting at a critter in the field. The more you shoot around people, the more relaxed you’ll get. Have some fun. Create games and keep score. It also doesn’t hurt to put a little green on the line. Have every shooter send one arrow from 80 yards. The shooter closest to the the center of the 12-ring takes the cash.
The more you shoot at distance, the more comfortable you’ll get. Just don’t be tempted to stretch your max field range too far. Stick with your original goal. Keep it at a distance where you feel super-confident you can make the shot, and you’ll be ready for a great Western hunt.