There are many exciting features on today’s bows and accessories — and some of them are even important to the outcome of your hunt. It is good to have a fundamental sense of what really matters at the end of the day. What features actually make a difference?
This past season, I shot roughly 10 whitetails. The average shot distance was 20 yards.
The closest was five yards and longest was 35-40 yards.
My 20-yard average is very common among whitetail hunters. A few years ago, I surveyed 10 bowhunting veterans to find out how far they shoot their deer. I used only successful shots and only those taken at bucks. I was amazed that the average shot distance for all these people was 19.8 yards! The extremes ranged from two yards to 52 yards, but the average shot was right at 20 yards.
Whitetail hunters tend to set up stands to produce close range shots. Placing myself in that group, we don’t need clever, super tricked-out bows that can do everything but read our minds. To rule the whitetail woods at close range, we can almost get by with a knobby club, but something that reliably shoots arrows is more to our liking.
When I’m whitetail hunting, I want reliability and rugged simplicity over sophistication. I live by the motto: “Keep it simple stupid.” Because when a big deer is 20 yards away, I could be the poster child. I’ve sure done some stupid stuff.
But what if I’m not whitetail hunting? What if I’m hunting mule deer in the wide-open plains of eastern Colorado or sneaking around the sage covered foothills of Wyoming trying to slay an unlucky pronghorn? A 20-yard shot then becomes pure fiction. Even 40 yards feels like a gift in this setting. So, your gear and skill level have to change, because the challenge is different.
In this month’s column, I’ll discuss both of these hunting situations — short-range and long-range — and tell you which features will help you shoot more game.
When whitetail hunting, my bow doesn’t need to be set up for ultimate long-range accuracy. I received a crash course in how to best set up a bow for long shooting at the recent Archery Trade Association Show, where I competed in a 100-yard broadhead contest. In order to hit a bull’s-eye at 100 yards, you not only need good form, but your gear needs to be super precise and tuned specifically for that challenge.
Requirements include long sight extensions, small peeps, tiny pins, possibly a scope and ideally a long stabilizer – some guys even weight their bows to make them more stable.
And that’s without even considering the arrows.
The guys who routinely shoot this far when practicing and competing view their gear differently than a whitetail hunter. Long-range specialists are looking for the tiniest little bit of improvement and will stress out over serving thickness to assure their nocks don’t fit too tightly or too loosely on the string.
When was the last time I worried about my nock tightness when a rut-crazed buck stomped past at 20 yards? I guess that might have been maybe the very last thing I would have thought about, right behind what I was going to eat for supper. So, there are obvious differences between what can be done, and what should be done.
As a whitetail hunter, I worry about basic stuff like whether my arrow is on the rest and whether my pins might break if I accidentally drop a treestand on my bow. I worry my rest may have moved the last time I snagged my bow on the bottom tree step when pulling it up in the dark. It is a completely different set of worries than those faced by long-range bowhunters.
There are two common concepts we need to take to heart as whitetail hunters: “Keep it simple stupid” and “Make this thing idiot proof.” It seems that if something can wrong, it will go wrong — exactly when you can least afford the interruption. When tempted by clever products (a.k.a. complicated ones), remember this: I have never missed a whitetail because my bow and accessories were too simple, but I have missed a few because they were too complicated or too fragile.
The real challenge is to find gear that is extremely rugged and simple, yet still accurate enough. For close-range shooting, those two goals are compatible.
Sights are a common accessory that can fail. To keep it simple and rugged, look no farther than a three-pin, fixed-pin sight with large retaining screws, pins set for 20, 30 and 40 yards and a bulletproof system to protect the fiber optics. In keeping the sight idiot proof, I like large diameter pins I can see easily under low light conditions.
I like big peeps too, for the same reason. I have been using the giant, 5⁄16-inch diameter peep from G5, the biggest on the market to my knowledge. With a peep this big, you can center the sight pin guard and still maintain decent precision with a wide field of view.
Those who must specialize in long-range shooting typically opt for some type of moveable pin sight or use seven or eight pins, allowing them to be precise at distances beyond 40 yards. These sights obviously have more parts and moving parts; there is more that can go wrong and more for you to remember during the moment of truth. Again, if you don’t need to shoot long distances, these sights are a liability.
Smaller peep sights also make it easier to be precise, and many long-range bowhunters use 1⁄8- and 3⁄16-inch peep sights. Under open country conditions, we don’t typically get shots in low light anyway, so a large peep does little good.
I have had my rest move during the season. I have also had the launchers sag when the bearings became loose after a month of daily practice. Super rugged rests with setscrews to keep them from pivoting on the riser are the only choice. I wish I had been using one the day my transient rest cost me a big deer in Illinois. Again, because we aren’t shooting long distances, we can get by with heavy-handed rest styles like the Whisker Biscuit and other
full-capture models. It’s all about making the gear idiot-proof.
The only downside to full-capture rests is they contact the arrow until it is completely gone from the bow, not just until it leaves the string. That permits a bit more time for poor form to affect arrow flight. It may be splitting hairs, but that is what you are doing when shooting 60 yards at mule deer. For this reason, some long-range shooters shy away from full-capture rests. If you are a whitetail hunter, you will never notice the difference.
Most good drop-away rests will also automatically center the arrow as you draw the bow, and most have the potential to produce top-notch, long-range accuracy. There are so many good rest options on the market you should never use anything that doesn’t guarantee your arrow will be resting properly at full draw.
While it is fun to shoot a super fast arrow, it is not that critical for shots under 30 yards.
At close range, even the string jumping movement of a deer is minimized. A fast bow won’t add much to your accuracy if you misjudge the shot by 15 percent.
However, if you shoot long distances, it pays to have a fast arrow. Then, a bow that delivers good speed is a definite asset. I could write a book about whether a low brace height is less forgiving than a high brace height, but it is enough to say that if you have good shooting form, you won’t notice much difference.
So, assuming you are taking long shots you have earned through many hours on the range, form is probably not your weak link. If not, don’t take long shots to begin with and stick with bows having at least a 7-inch brace height.
There are many gear options on the market today, but the game of bowhunting hasn’t changed much since the advent of the compound bow. Simple is still better, and you can’t beat rugged.