We’ve all seen influencers take long shots at the range (and even on animals), but here’s what I think you should know about long-range shooting.
Today’s bows are faster and more accurate than they’ve ever been. Technology has had to keep up, and the advent of the dialable sight has made long-range shots seem possible for most archers. Please note I used the word possible – not probable. There’s a lot that goes into shooting at distance, and the reality is most bowhunters aren’t going to take the requisite steps to make ethical shots past 30 or 40 yards. Hell, I know some idiots that I wouldn’t trust from here to my computer monitor.
The issue I have with influencers is not that they often take these long shots – it’s that they film them and usually don’t provide enough context around what went into it. We all know these celebrities can shoot well. If they couldn’t, I wouldn’t be writing about them. Look at how long this article is and how much effort I put into it. That’s why I lose my shit every time I hear some dumb f**k wondering why I’m calling out his favorite YouTube star. It’s because that YouTuber isn’t telling you the whole story, and NOW I HAVE TO START DRINKING ON A THURSDAY MORNING JUST TO GET PAST MY CRIPPLING WRITER’S BLOCK! JESUS F**K.
Anyway, the purpose of bowhunting is to get close to the animal – not to pretend like you’re the American Sniper. But, I’m not the bowhunting police and it’s not my place to impose my own set of philosophical guidelines regarding ethical hunting. If you want to take long shots be my guest. Just like a parent trying to caution their kid about the birds and the bees, I know you’re probably still going to go out and try to cut a slice. Let’s just do it as safely as possible.
In that spirit, here’s a list of things you should probably do and think about before launching bombs at critters:
- Understand the capabilities of your current setup. Every major bow manufacturer has a flagship model. They’ll usually have some budget-friendly models, too. There’s nothing wrong with using a budget bow (many second-tier bows are quite capable), but you need to ensure it has the performance required to shoot longer ranges. Stability, tunability and proper fitment are all key here. We’ll get to speed in a moment.
The bow isn’t the only piece of the puzzle, though. If you’re running a fixed-pin sight, you’re limited to what those pins are (usually 20, 30, 40, 50 and 60 yards). “But, TAB!,” you ask. “What about stacking pins and shooting off the bubble?” Look, if you’re going to be taking 100-yard shots at animals by using the pin-stacking technique, I don’t know what to tell you. Seek help. If you’re running a slider (dialable sight), make damn sure your sight tape is accurate. Confirm accuracy out to the yardages you plan to shoot at. Consider custom sight tapes – your local pro shop can usually help out there. Square away your 1st, 2nd and 3rd axis. Don’t know what that means? Don’t shoot long range.
Other items to consider are stabilizers, arrow rests and arrows. You want a stable bow. You want an accurate, adjustable, reliable and timed rest (i.e. not a f**king whisker biscuit). You need to use the right arrows, which brings us to…
- Using the right arrows and broadheads. Speed is king, right? Not necessarily. Although a lighter arrow is faster, thereby increasing the maximum distance you can squeeze out of your sight before running into fletching contact, you will inevitably hit the point of diminishing returns as it pertains to energy retention. Specifically, we’re talking momentum. In layman’s terms, if you shoot too light of an arrow you run the risk of losing lethality at longer ranges. Let’s use my setup as an example:
I’m pretty happy with my setup, as you can probably tell. I’m close enough to the 280 fps sweet spot that I like for tuning fixed-blade broadheads, and I’m carrying enough momentum to be lethal at long distances. Now, let’s look at a hypothetical setup that I’d never actually use:
There’s a lot to unpack here, and if you’re an archery nerd like me you probably know exactly why the “hypothetical” setup is complete trash. I’ll do a deeper dive on arrows in another post, but I want you to notice there’s so much more to consider than speed when it comes to shooting long distances. The arrow is much faster and much lighter, but it’ll be more impacted by wind. Also, to get an arrow that light with my bow, it’ll probably be way underspined and very hard to tune. Look at the loss of K.E. and momentum. And, good f**king luck tuning a fixed blade.
Speaking of fixed blades, yes, they’re a little more difficult to tune, but I swear by them for their reliability and toughness. Some folks prefer a mechanical for longer ranges, but again, you MUST have the right arrow. Too little momentum and the blades may not deploy as designed. If you need help with any of this, please visit your local pro shop.
*I go the extra mile to ensure my arrows are bare-shaft tuned as well. Another article for another day, but look into it.
- Get a proper tune. Properly tuning a bow can be a pain in the ass, but it’s totally worth it. If you don’t know how to do this yourself, it might even cost you a little cheddar. Going back to the first bullet point, you should level out your 1st, 2nd and 3rd axis. Make sure your rest is installed correctly (it’s level, center-shot is correct, and all that jazz). Check that your peep is properly installed and doesn’t twist on you. Get a good d-loop tied on so as to prevent torque. Check your cam timing.
Once you’ve done all of that, now it’s time to get a good bullet hole tear through paper. This is done with your field point for now, but make sure you’re not nock high, low, left or right. Adjustments can be made to your rest, yolks, cable guards or any number of things. Some bows are easier to tune than others. Depending on what you shoot, you may even have to shim. If you don’t know what shimming is, you should already be thinking about heading to your local shop.
Now that the bow itself is tuned, you’ve got to tune your broadheads. You can wait to take this step until you’re done shooting 3-D tournaments or whatever (if you only have one bow). This should be common sense, but broadheads do not fly the same as field points. The amount of difference depends on the broadhead. Some mechanicals fly pretty true straight out of the box, but there will always be some variation. Larger fixed-blades can be more challenging but certainly have their place at the table. The choice is yours. At the end of the day, that broadhead must hit exactly where you’re aiming. NEVER use a broadhead on an animal that you haven’t practiced with.
*You should tune your broadheads to fly along with your field points. There is a scientific reason for this that I’ll explain in a future article.
- Practice perfectly. So, you’ve got the equipment to get the job done and it’s all tuned up. Now, you’ve got to go out and practice. This is the fun part, but not enough people actually take the time to treat it like practice. A good rule of thumb is to “double-up” your distances. For example, if you plan to shoot at 60 yards, you can try to shoot accurately at 120 yards. This becomes impractical at a certain point, but it’s something worth trying.
If you think about the vital zone of most ungulates (deer, elk, etc.), it’s about the size of a standard paper plate. So, if you can hit a paper plate consistently at 100 yards, you’re getting there. The point is you have to shoot at distance to get good at it. Issues with torque, tuning, timing and sight tapes aren’t very noticeable at 20 yards – they become glaring once you get out to 60.
“But what if I don’t have the space to shoot out to 100 yards?” you ask again. Well, it sounds like you’re making your problem my problem. Either figure out how to do it or don’t shoot long range. If you haven’t shot hundreds of long range targets in practice don’t attempt to do it in the field.
- Take the entire environment into account. You’ve got the right equipment for the job. Your setup is tuned from top to bottom, peep to broadhead. You’ve spent months practicing at tournaments, your local range and your backyard. It’s finally time to head into the field and bring home the bacon.
You know the goal is to get as close to the critter as possible, but there’s a group of does that are going to bust you if you get any closer. That muley buck is completely unaware of your presence, but you’re stuck behind your only remaining cover – some sagebrush at 71 yards. It is now your responsibility to determine whether or not you can make an ethical shot.
At this point, you need to remember that rushing your shot is the enemy. Take a deep breath and observe the environment. Calm your heart rate. Is the muley still oblivious? Is wind a factor? What about the angle of the shot? Is there anything obscuring your view, flight path or the deer’s vitals? Did you double-check the range on your rangefinder? Is your sight dialed to the correct distance? If all of this checks out, it is now that you tell yourself this little reminder: If I can draw back and go through my entire shot process, if everything feels right and looks right, I’ll let the arrow go. If anything – and I mean anything – is off do not fire that arrow.
So much can go wrong from the time you let the arrow go to the time it makes its way to the target. Deer are notorious string-jumpers, but I’ve seen elk and other animals dodge flying arrows, too. Be prepared to live with the guilt of a poorly executed shot, but do everything you can to avoid it.
If you’ve made it this far in the article, I want to say thank you for reading it. The margins for error are so small in long range archery and it’s important to be prepared when attempting these types of shots. I hate asking for favors, but I’ll ask this one – remember this article and share it with anyone you come across that needs it. If you think I’ve missed something or would like to make a suggestion/correction, please feel free to email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. I’ll take it under advisement.
So, how far is too far? It all depends. Sometimes, particularly in the West, you have to go long. However, I’m far more proud of the shots I’ve made at close range. It’s supposed to be a hunt after all.