Bowhunting: How Far Can You Shoot, or How Close Can You Get?

By Beka GarrisSeptember 8, 20234 Comments

I could see white antler tines gleaming above the thick brown swamp grass, the early morning sun hitting at the right angle so it seemed ethereal. I knew by the length of the tines that they belonged to a far bigger buck than any I had ever shot.

I stood about 40 yards from the bedded deer, my longbow clutched in one of my cold hands. It was mid rut in southern Ohio, and I was doing some spot and stalk hunting with my 3-year-old daughter in the backpack carrier.

My heart started thumping beneath my thick fleece jacket as my adrenaline started to flow. I knew I needed to get closer — stick bow close — if I wanted even a slim chance at shooting this deer. 

Bowhunting: How Far Can Shoot, Or How Close Can You Get?

I moved as slowly as possible, carefully placing each foot under the swamp grass in hopes of avoiding sound. Would I be the one to scare this buck or would my half-asleep daughter?

At 20 yards I stopped, a few small trees giving me enough cover that I had yet to be spotted. The buck chose that moment to rise from his bedding area and I was in awe of the beauty. My mind raced thinking could this possibly be it?

No, a little voice in my head said, you should get just a little bit closer. 

Those next few steps were ones that I often think about with regret, as those next few steps were enough to startle the buck. In a few graceful leaps and bounds, he was out of my life forever. I stood there for a few moments feeling numb with disbelief at what I had just done. Should I have perhaps just tried taking the 20 yard shot?

Nearly everyone I know would adamantly agree that, yes, I should have. Particularly if you shoot a compound bow, 20 yards is nothing. Yet, that shot hadn’t felt perfect and hence my decision. We will never know the alternative.

Fred Bear once said, “I have always tempered my killing with respect for the game pursued. I see the animal not only as a target, but as a living creature.” And there is no respect like that of trying to close the distance between yourself and a big whitetail to get a close clean shot. 

For years, I shot a compound bow and would practice distances up to 40 yards, and I still rarely take any shots at an animal over 20. This definitely put me in the minority as most folks I knew would challenge themselves to shoot further distances. Practicing at further distances meant that they could take further shots while hunting. Further shots also meant more shot opportunities. When I switched to a traditional bow, I rarely practiced over 20 yards, and preferred my shots on wild game be under 15, unless conditions were perfect. 

Bowhunting: How Far Can Shoot, Or How Close Can You Get?

Yet, is it really more of a challenge to shoot distances, or to wait until the animal is at close range?

Breaking it down to basics, shooting distances can certainly be challenging. The further you shoot an arrow, the more room you have for error. Even a hint of movement in one direction or the other can result in your shot being less than perfect. Your form and release have to be rock solid; conditions have to be perfect, particularly when hunting, or you risk making a marginal shot on an animal or missing altogether. 

Which leads me to the next question…is that what bowhunting is about? Or is bowhunting about getting up close and personal to the game you pursue? It’s something that will be answered differently depending on the hunter you talk to. 

Bowhunting: How Far Can Shoot, Or How Close Can You Get?

Personally speaking, I have always been driven by the challenge of getting close to the game I pursue — the closer the better, and that in itself is an accomplishment. Sitting within a few yards of a wild animal, drawing your bow and making the shot without being seen or winded is impressive. It’s often seen as “old school” to hunt this way, yet it’s certainly a method that rivals all others when it comes to excitement.

That was what won me over as a bowhunter.  The chance to get within close proximity of a whitetail deer, to be able to hear their breath and the crunch of acorns as they feed in front of me. 

A lot of guys brag on how far a shot they made with a bow, but a true bowhunter is driven by the desire to see how close they can get to their target animal, and to realize the importance of making an ethical shot. Many times I have missed out on an opportunity to take a shot, simply because I was waiting for the animal to get closer. Some hunters will buckle under the frustration of not getting a shot, and will try to stretch out their shooting distances for that reason alone. Yet, the true test of a bowhunter is waiting for the animal to get close – and being okay with it if the shot is never presented. 

Beka Garris
Beka Garris is a wife, mom and traditional bowhunter living in Southern Ohio. When not hunting, she enjoys shooting, bowfishing, gardening and cooking.
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