UPDATED ON: May 8th, 2015
There is no denying that “closer is better” when it comes to dumping the bowstring on the trophy of your dreams. However, adding just 10 yards to your effective killing distance can have a huge impact on the likelihood that you return home with a filled tag this fall. I know there have been a few times in my career when I would have done just about anything (relatively speaking) to have been just 10 yards closer to an animal. This wishful thinking is typically connected in one way or another to a very large whitetail. And, while I don’t attempt, nor advocate, long-range “pokes” at deer or any other big-game animal, with today’s equipment and a disciplined practice regimen, adding 10 or 15 yards to your effective killing range is a realistic and attainable goal. However, there are a few key points to consider in order to get the most out of your practice efforts this summer.
Long-Distance is Key
The first thing you need to understand is that in order to increase your EKR (Effective Killing Range) you’re going to have to step outside of your comfort zone….at least temporarily. This means shooting at distances you would never attempt in the field. It may sound intimidating, but I promise, after shooting at a 3-D target from 75 yards away, for a week straight, that 40 yards shot that once made you cringe will seem like mere child’s play.
A good rule of thumb to go by when trying to decide how far is far enough when practicing, is to first consider the maximum distance from which you would like to be able to deliver a killing shot. For example, if you want to be deadly at, say, 40 yards, then you should be shooting regularly at 50 and 60 yards. Shooting under pressure, from a stand, in an awkward position, with cold, lethargic muscles, combined with the overwhelming effects of “buck fever”, can easily turn routine shooting ranges into anything but. It is funny (frustrating actually) how a previously acceptable shooting distance can suddenly look out of reach as you struggle to compose yourself. Therefore, it is imperative to combat this situation by going overboard in your summer-time preparation. This means shooting while you are out of your comfort zone, i.e. long-range.
In the initial stages of “long-range” shooting, expect accuracy to suffer. While this may be unavoidable, it is not un-fixable. With a little practice, your groups will tighten back up, but more importantly, your confidence during “typical” bowhunting shots will soar. This 70 yard group will add nothing but confidence during routine bowhunting shots.
However, before you step outside to do some long-range shooting, be sure to leave your ego in the house. I say that because when you first start slinging arrows from “way back”, your patterns are going to more closely resemble that of a shotgun, rather than the tight groups you might be accustomed to. Naturally, your first reaction will be to move back up to a comfortable distance in order to tighten up your groups again, and thus, restore your self-esteem. Unfortunately, that won’t make you a better shot this fall; especially when the chips are down. The point is, keep your eye on the goal at hand (extending your EKR) and forget about shooting bad for a week or so. I promise the payoff will be enormous.
The Right Stuff
While some equipment choices will definitely make shooting at long distances much easier, that doesn’t mean you have to abandon your current hunting rig. In fact, it is best to practice with the exact same setup you plan to hunt with. That is why I try to build my bow in a way that allows me to handle a variety of shooting situations…long or short range.
Practicing with the same setup you plan to hunt with just makes good sense.
The first piece of equipment I like to concentrate on is the bow sight. When considering certain models, I like to think of the differences between a pistol and a rifle. In other words, it is much easier to shoot at long range with a rifle (with the front sight being further away from the eye) than it is with a pistol who’s sights are closer together. The same goes when shooting a bow. The further away from your eye you can put your sight pins, the more accurate your setup will be; particularly at long range.
Sights that incorporate some type of “extension” bar are great for getting the sight pin as far away from the eye as possible, thus increasing accuracy.
Next, is the pin size itself. Large diameters may mean increased visibility, but at longer ranges, they can actually hinder accuracy because their size will tend to cover up a portion of the target. However, low-light bowhunting conditions dictate highly visible pins, so what’s a guy to do? Simply choose a pin diameter somewhere in the middle. This usually means a diameter somewhere in the neighborhood of .029”. Yes, you will experience a little target “cover-up” at longer distances, but the bottom line is this is Bowhunting.com, not TargetArchery.com. Remember, the goal is to become a better bowhunter.
Before purchasing your next bow sight, consider how far away your shots will be and choose your fiber optics accordingly.
With the unique “triangular” aiming point on the new Trijicon AccuPin bow sight there is no need to worry about target “cover-up”. Shooters can simply use the tip of the aiming point for the most precise shooting possible…up close, or far away.
Lastly, consider the object you are propelling down-range. Differences in arrows aren’t very noticeable at stretches of 30 yards or less. However, launching “cut-rate” shafts at long range will quickly offer plenty of reasons to spring for arrows with tighter manufacturing tolerances. This is even truer when placing a broadhead on the end of your arrow. Variances in arrow straightness, weight and spine, combined with broadhead tolerances, and the straightness of the insert face, all conspire to steer your arrow off its intended mark. And, as the distance grows, so does the effects sub-par equipment will have. So, choose the best arrow and broadhead combo you can afford; especially if you hope to extend your killing range this fall.
Fixed-blade accuracy like this is hard to achieve with mediocre equipment. The combination of a properly tuned bow, in this case a Mathews eZ7, precision arrows (Gold-Tip Pro Hunters), and meticulously made broadheads (NAP), all add up to make for a deadly package at any range.
I have used a number of quality arrows over the years; these include shafts made by Easton, Gold Tip and Carbon Express. With regard to broadhead choices, I can honestly say, those manufactured by NAP have provided the best fixed-blade flight thus far….and no, not because they are a sponsor of bowhunting.com. See accuracy displayed in photo above and decide for yourself.
Ignore What You See
The last point I want to cover is the sight picture. You see, when you’re standing 20-30 yards from the target, your pin will appear to hold “rock-steady” on your aiming point. However, as the distance grows, your pin will appear to move more erratically; almost seemingly with a mind of its own. You will suddenly feel incapable of holding the pin steady, on the exact target spot you want to hit. This will then create an urge to further “control” how steady you aim, which will ironically lead to more pin movement and thus, more effort to control it. It is a crazy cycle of which there is only one solution….forget about the sight pin movement! Just get your pin as close as possible to the spot you want to hit, and then forget about it. Let it roll around in the smallest circle possible. I like to do this until the bow fires (using a surprise release).
Resist the urge to hold your sight pin “dead-on” the target, regardless of the range. It is an unachievable goal and will ruin your ability to shoot well; especially when attempting long-range shots. Instead, strive to let it move in the smallest circle possible around the target spot.
Don’t forget, this entire process of learning to shoot at long range will take some getting used to, but when that giant buck comes strolling down the trail this fall, all you will be thinking about is how confident you are in your ability to make the shot….despite the distance reading on your rangefinder.