By Bill Winke
By simply increasing your maximum effective range from 25 yards to 35 yards, you significantly increase your odds of having a deer within bow range this fall. Think about that for a second. If you are hunting an open ridge or the edge of a field, every yard of maximum shooting improves your odds for success. There is no reason why a dedicated bowhunter can't be deadly at 35 yards when the opportunity is right. These seven tips will help you make great shots at 35 yards this fall.
Steady Your Aim
Any tension in your body will go straight to the bow and make the pin skip around the target like a moth around a street light. Ideally, the pin floats in small circles around the tiny aiming point you've picked out. It never has to completely stop moving; it just needs to stay close to the spot while you squeeze the trigger.
Start with your legs and work up; focus on each body part while shooting to ensure it is free of tension. It amazes me after all these years of shooting that tension can still find places to hide in my body when I am at full draw. I don't notice it until I consciously focus on each body part and force it to relax.
Most important is your bow arm. Strength from regular shooting (or a reduction in draw weight) will help steady your bow arm, and so will a slight bend in the elbow — just enough to unlock the joint and allow the arm to act as a shock-absorber.
I shoot my best when I focus my attention on the spot I am trying to hit and let the pin blur. It calms my bow arm to focus on something that isn't moving.
Pinpoint focus is critical to increasing your range. Concentrate as hard as you can on every practice arrow. Never get mentally lazy on the range for even one shot.
I have learned many of my shooting methods from great archers. Randy Ulmer and John Dudley are two of my favorite teachers, and both emphasize the importance of controlling your breathing during the final seconds of an encounter with game.
It is important that you take deep breaths before drawing your bow. Pull in a big breath as you draw, let it half way out as you settle the pin and then hold it as you squeeze the trigger.
Squeeze Off the Shot
You can get by with rough shooting on close shots, but when you stretch it out you have to be buttery smooth. With a release aid, this means squeezing the trigger while focusing on the spot you want to hit. If you don't break your concentration on the target to mentally shout "now," the release will be good. Ideally, it will take you by surprise.
Your only job while aiming is to keep the pin near the spot you want to hit until the bow fires. You will immediately eliminate target panic shooting this way, and your long-range groups will become much more consistent.
Follow-through is the most important part of your form when trying to improve long-range shooting. I've helped a lot of average bowhunters improve their shooting at 35 yards by doing nothing more than suggesting they keep their bow arm pointed at the target until the arrow hits.
By the same token, keep your mental focus on the spot you want to hit until the arrow gets there. I've heard it explained that you should "keep aiming" until the arrow hits — both physically and mentally. That's good advice.
You can fine-tune your skills and build confidence by doing most of your practicing at ranges beyond what you would take in the field. For example, if you want to be a great shot at 35 yards, do most of your shooting at 50 yards. After only a few weeks, a 35-yard shot will feel the same way 20-yard shots used to feel.
Increase Arrow Speed
Being accurate at 35 yards in the field is more than just holding your bow steady and squeezing the trigger. You also have to know the range. Obviously, a laser rangefinder is very important on shots past 25 yards, but you can also reduce the effects of errors in range estimation by shooting a faster arrow. Here are two easy ways to increase arrow speed.
- Shoot a faster bow: Bow design has a big effect on arrow speed. There are lots of fast bows on the market today. If you have not upgraded in a while, it might be time.
- Shoot a lighter arrow: For every five grains you reduce arrow weight, you increase arrow speed by approximately one foot per second. However, to keep a good balance between penetration and speed, don't drop your finished arrow weight (including broadhead) below five grains per pound of maximum draw weight. For example, a 60-pound bow equates to a minimum finished arrow weight of 360 grains.
Putting It All Together
Just because you can make the shot under ideal conditions doesn't mean you should always try the same distance when hunting. Other factors, such as wind speed, how cold your muscles are, how jumpy the animal is and even how much clothing you are wearing will affect your ability to pull off 35-yard shots in the field. It is always better to wait if you aren't comfortable with the shot you are facing.
Unknown distance also complicates real maximum range. Even though you may be deadly on the range, hold your shots to 25 yards on deer-sized game unless you know the exact distance. Beyond that, errors in range estimation can result in a high hit or low miss. It is better to risk the extra couple of seconds to get the range right than take a shot past 25 yards unaided.
Bowhunting is supposed to be up close and in-your-face. That's the real excitement of this sport. But 35 yards is still "in your face."
With careful preparation, that's a shot any serious deer hunter can be ready, willing and able to make every single time.