Sunday, January 29th, 2023
Sunday, January 29th, 2023

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The reason to practice long-distance shooting

Several years ago, I was sitting in a stand high up on a wooded ridge as the sun came up. With a buck tag and a couple of antlerless tags in my pocket, I was ready for just about any deer that would walk by. Then I heard a stick snap behind me. Turning my head slowly, I caught sight of a doe with two fawns approaching. A lone doe brought up the rear, and I readied myself to fill the freezer.

The first three passed without spotting me. When the loner was maybe 5 or 6 yards away, I drew. Instead of stopping her or waiting for her to stop, I shot her while she was walking. The arrow slipped through her mid-ship and I knew it was most likely a liver hit. I quickly knocked another arrow and ranged her at 50 yards. That was a long shot for me at the time, and I completely fell apart trying to get another arrow into her. The shot wasn’t even close. As my arrow tinked its way through the trees and into parts unknown, I felt lower than low. Although the doe was dead on her feet, I could have ended it in seconds with a well-placed follow-up shot.

Since that time, I’ve had two occasions when I’ve needed long-distance accuracy to make amends on poorly placed shots. The first was a buck I hit in North Dakota that gave me a second chance as he stood in the Little Missouri River at 66 yards. After the follow-up shot, the buck walked five steps and tipped over. The second was on a beautiful velvet mule deer that a buddy had gut-shot. The deer, though mortally wounded, was still in good enough shape to cover some serious distance when I aimed at him at 65 yards. The arrow found its mark and we ended up recovering that buck a short distance later.

The goal of all target practice is to make a perfect first shot. But perfect doesn’t always happen. Things go wrong due to the limitless number of variables associated with bowhunting big game. I’ve laid out the case many times that long-distance practice will make you a much better shot at all ranges, and it will. But there is an extra benefit as well – every once in a while you’re given an opportunity to make right after a poor shot. This scenario is far more common in the open expanses of the West, but it’s not impossible to encounter in the deer woods. If you do run into the second-chance scenario, it’s much better to be prepared.

My personal rule on long-range practice is to try to be very accurate at twice the distance I expect to shoot. In the deer woods, 40 yards is about as far as I’ll ever shoot. I’m much prefer shooting under 30 yards. This means that I’m going to try to be able to shoot good groups in the 60- to 80-yard range. Bow­hunters who have never shot that far often scoff at those distances, but they are achievable.

It takes a commitment to practice and a willingness to keep challenging yourself once you get really good at shorter ranges.

To do this, try to get to the point where you’re shooting tight groups up to 40 yards. This might take a couple of weeks or more, but when you get there you’ll know it. Once you do it’s time to move on to 50, and so on.

If you plateau at a certain range and can’t seem to get it together, that’s fine. If 50 or 60 yards is where you top out, at least you’ll know that. Just make sure you give it your best to master whatever distance is giving you fits.

Throughout this process, you’ll realize that being accurate at twice your imposed limit is possible, and as the season unfolds, you just might find yourself needing a Hail Mary. Just make sure of two things – that you know for certain the deer is mortally wounded and that you use your rangefinder on the follow-up shot.

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