My bowhunting career began in 1972, and through the years I’ve had the pleasure of introducing many people to pursuing big game with archery gear. When I started, I struggled to put five arrows into a dinner-sized paper plate from 10 to 15 yards with my 45-pound-draw recurve (no sights). Over time my accuracy improved slightly, but I never felt confident at the range or in the field. I took one shot at a whitetail doe with that recurve in 1974 — and missed a standing, broadside shot from 12 yards.
In 1979, I switched to a compound bow with sights, and almost immediately I could put five arrows into a 2.5-inch-diameter bull’s-eye at 20 yards. Because I practiced almost exclusively in my parent’s driveway with the target in the back of our garage, I was limited to 20 yards. We lived in suburb of Minneapolis, and attempting shots of 25 or 30 yards would have meant standing in or across the street; not a smart idea! No worries; I limited my shots on game to 20 yards, and my confidence was high.
I detail this shooting history because not a lot has changed as the decades passed. Sure, I now own much better bowhunting equipment, which is capable of outstanding long-range accuracy in the hands of an accomplished archer. However, the majority of my practice these days takes place in my basement, where I have shooting range with maximum distance of 17 yards. In my backyard, I can place targets at up to 25 yards and shoot from an elevated deck. For that reason, I limit my shots on game to 25 yards.
Do I have sight pins set for 30 and 40 yards? Yes. Do I practice enough at those ranges to feel 100 percent confident? Not really. But that’s okay; I don’t want to dedicate the time required to gain this confidence at 30 yards and beyond, so I simply won’t shoot that far at animals. It’s a personal choice.
How good is good enough when it comes to archery accuracy? It all depends on the size of the animal (it’s heart/lung area) and distance.
For example, let’s say a beginning bowhunter is pursuing whitetails, which have a heart/lung area of about 9 inches across. If that beginner can put five of five arrows into a 5-inch-diameter bull’s-eye from 20 yards, I say they are ready to bowhunt, provided they limit their shooting distance to 20 yards. If they can maintain this same level of accuracy at 25 yards, then fine, in my opinion they can extend their range to 25.
How good is good enough for 30 yards? On a whitetail-sized animal, is five out of five arrows into a 5-inch circle acceptable? Probably. But as distance increases, so does the chance of something unexpected occurring, and the most common of these is the animal moving slightly as a bowhunter is executing the release, or when the arrow is in flight. In other words, the margin for error shrinks as distance increases.
At 30 yards, if you can put five out of five arrows into a 5-inch bull’s-eye, that’s great. How about 10 out of 10 arrows into the same bull’s-eye? How about 20 out of 20 arrows? If you have a “flyer” in there somewhere that misses the bull’s-eye from 30 yards, then I say limit your range to 25. Better safe than sorry in my opinion.
The person I introduced most recently to bowhunting with a compound is my son Elliott. He killed a couple whitetails when he was 10 and 12 with a crossbow, and several others with a rifle, then he expressed interest in trying a compound after he was strong enough to draw 40 pounds. During late summer when he was 17, he practiced in our basement at distances of 10 to 15 yards, and because he planned on not shooting beyond that distance, I didn’t pressure him to shoot several dozen or hundreds of arrows at 20, 30 and 40 yards. From 10 to 15 yards, Elliott could hit a 4-inch bull’s-eye every time. And when he had a chance at a tall-tined 4×4 South Dakota buck that fall, he delivered a perfect shot from 7 yards.
P.S. I’ll explain my “how good is good enough” accuracy opinions on bowhunting larger big game animals such as elk and smaller ones such as pronghorn in a follow-up article.