Long Range Accuracy 101
If you watch bowhunting shows on TV or read bowhunting magazines very often, you have probably noticed that bowhunters are taking longer shots in the field. Not long ago, a 30-yard shot was the maximum shot that a bowhunter would take in the field. Eventually, it was extended to 40 yards.
Now many bowhunters I know don’t think twice about taking a 50-yard shot at an animal. Some bowhunters regularly shoot big game animals like elk at 70 yards and beyond. Before you scream and curse, realize that the large majority of bowhunters who take extreme shots in the field are amazing bowhunters and practice hours every day. One reason many bowhunters are able to take such shots is because bowhunting equipment has come a long way in the last 20 years.
“Bows have more speed, kinetic energy and are more accurate than ever before,” said Joel Maxfield from Mathews Archery. “As a result, in the right hands, a bow can be a deadly weapon at extreme ranges.” The key to that quote is when Maxfield mentioned ‘a bow in the right hands.’
Let’s face it: most of us have a hard time keeping a group of arrows inside a pie plate on a foam target at 50 yards, let alone shooting an animal at that range. Many hunters are capable of taking long distance shots and even if you are not interested in trying to kill a whitetail at 50 yards or an elk at 80 yards, practicing at long ranges can help you tag more animals regardless of the yardage.
John Schaffer from Schaffer Performance Archery in Minnesota knows a few things about long range shooting. Schaffer owns an archery pro shop in Minnesota and manufactures bow sights and rests. Over the years, Schaffer has competed extensively in tournament archery. “Long range shooting can make any bowhunter an all-around better bowhunter,” said Schaffer. “Regardless if a person practices taking 20-yard shots at whitetails or 50-yard shots, practicing at 60 or 70 yards will make them a better bowhunter.”
If you are considering practicing at extreme ranges, what distance should you practice at? The answer to that question depends on how dedicated you want to be at the sport. “Obviously a person who normally practices at 20 or 30 yards can’t just decide one day to start shooting at 80 yards and be successful at it. The key to success is to slowly add distance to your shooting. If a person regularly practices at 30 yards, they should start practicing at 40 yards, 50 yards, 60 yards and beyond. I regularly practice at 100 yards. I don’t take 100-yard shots in the field, but practicing at 100 yards consistently makes taking a 40-yard shot a piece of cake most of the time,” Schaffer said.
Practicing at 100 yards might seem like a pipe dream to most of us but according to Joel Maxfield, that doesn’t have to be the case. A few years ago, I was hunting whitetails with Maxfield in Kansas. Early one afternoon, I watched him hit a shovel handle with an arrow he shot from 120 yards. He hit the shovel handle two out of three shots. A friend of his who was standing next to him hit the shovel one out of three shots and only missed the shovel by an inch the other two shots. “People think being accurate at 100 yards is nearly impossible, but it isn’t. Practice makes perfect and most of us who can shoot well at 100 yards practice at 100 yards all the time,” Maxfield explained.
Another bowhunter who is no stranger to long distance shooting is Cameron Hanes. Hanes is best known for being a backcountry bowhunting beast and there is no doubt that being in great shape helps him tag many animals. However, being able to hit a pie plate at 100 yards doesn’t hurt either. “There is no question that practicing at long distances helps me tag more animals in the field,” Hanes said. In the last few years, Hanes has killed more than a half dozen bull elk with a bow.
That is more than many elk hunters kill in ten years. Many of those bulls were killed on camera which makes the hunting even more difficult. “Having a camera man over my shoulder makes getting in close to a big bull extremely difficult, so I often take longer shots. I have killed bulls beyond 70 yards and I’m not afraid to say that like some bowhunters are. I’ve discovered that killing a bull at 70 yards that is standing broadside and feeding is easier than trying to call one in to 30 yards when I have a cameraman with me.”
To feel comfortable shooting at an elk at 70 yards, Hanes mainly practices at 150 or 160 yards. You read that right; that was not a typo! “I rarely shoot at short distances except when I am sighting a bow in. Most of the time, I practice at 100 yards and beyond. Doing so allows me to hone my skills as a bowhunter and build my confidence,” Hanes noted. All of us know that having confidence is very important when bowhunting.
Forrest Carter from Carter Releases is a diehard bowhunter and tournament shooter. According to him, the key to success when shooting at extreme ranges is having your form and your equipment dialed in perfectly. “Every shot must be the same if you want to be accurate at 100 yards,” Carter said.
Many bowhunters don’t have a consistent release when practicing which greatly affects their archery. A bowhunter needs to have the same anchor point every time he shoots. I suggest an archer buries his knuckle on his index finger in his jaw bone near the bottom of the eye every time he shoots. Doing this will allow him to replicate each shot.”
One mistake many bowhunters make is resting their string on their cheek or the soft tissue of the nose. Although resting the string on the nose can help someone shoot well, placing the string on soft tissue can cause issues. If the string encounters the nose or cheek as the shot is taken, it can affect the accuracy of the shot.
Most tournament archers have a routine they go through before each shot to ensure each shot taken is similar to the last. “When training archers, I tell them to have a mental checklist they go through before each shot,” said John Schaffer. “They need to make sure their feet and every part of their body involved in the shot are positioned the same way each shot. Form is very important and many bowhunters don’t think much about their form. After a while, the mental checklist becomes second nature and you don’t even think about it.”
To be accurate when shooting at 100 yard, a bow and all the accessories on it, including the arrows being shot, must be perfectly tuned. Like a well-maintained car, a well-maintained bow will always outperform one that isn’t maintained.
“A bow is like any other piece of equipment with moving parts: it has to be maintained to perform at its best. A bow that isn’t tuned properly won’t shoot as well as one that is tuned. I always suggest a person needs to learn how to work on their bow or take it to a reputable pro shop; just pulling a bow out of the closet every year and shooting it a few times before going into the woods isn’t good enough,” Schaffer explained.
Schaffer recommends practicing with the same equipment you plan to hunt with. “Many bowhunters practice all summer with field tips and don’t switch to broadheads until a week or so before they go hunting. To be extremely accurate, bowhunters need to practice with broadheads at short and long ranges all year so they know how they fly. Some broadheads that fly well at 30 yards are not going to fly well at 60 or 70 yards. Finding that perfect broadhead, whether it is a fixed blade or mechanical that flies well at long distances is important,” Schaffer added.
The arrow and broadhead combination is often the Achilles heal of a long distance shooter. Not all arrows in a pack of a dozen weigh exactly the same. Not all broadheads weigh the same.
Most, if not all, long distance shooters pain carefully tune each arrow to make sure they fly true. “I weigh each broadhead and arrow and make sure they all weigh within a few grains of each other. I never want an arrow in my quiver that weighs ten grains or more than the arrow next to it. That won’t make a big difference in flight at 20 yards but at 100 yards, it will make a huge difference,” Carter explained. If you buy a dozen arrows, one of them will probably not fly as well as the others. Most long range shooters number each arrow and shoot it at a long distance. When one arrow consistently isn’t hitting the mark, they get rid of it. If you notice a few broadheads when weighed weigh more than 100 grains or an arrow that weighs less than it should, you can either get rid of them or mix and match heavy broadheads with light arrows or vice versa to get a dozen arrows that fly the same. Arrow consistency is necessary in long distances.
Tim Gillingham from Gold Tip Arrows know more about arrows and tuning than the average guy. According to him, one thing that makes a huge difference in how a broadhead-tipped arrow flies is how well the broadhead is seated inside the insert. If the broadhead isn’t aligned properly and has a little bit of play inside the insert, it will affect the flight of the arrow.
Gillingham says every broadhead needs to be tuned to the arrow it is on. If you unscrew it once and screw it back in later, it will need to be tuned again. “Broadheads don’t always fit into inserts perfectly. It depends on the tightness of the tolerance of the ferule on the broadhead and how tight the tolerance on the insert is. The goal is to have the tip of the broadhead dead center in relationship to the center of the shaft. When the broadhead isn’t aligned perfectly in the insert, the shaft will wobble which affects arrow flight.
To properly align a broadhead, use an arrow spinner. Pine Ridge Archery makes a great arrow spinner called the Arrow Inspector. It is relatively inexpensive, portable and can easily be brought to hunting camp,” Gillingham added. “Spin each broadhead-tipped arrow on the spinner and put the point of the broadhead up against a piece of cardboard. If it is wobbling, you will see a circular motion created by the tip of the broadhead against the cardboard as it is rolled. If the broadhead is properly aligned, the point will stay stationary as the broadhead spins.
To fix the problem, rotate the arrow to the high side of the circle and mark the top of the broadhead with a marker. Rotate the arrow 180 degrees opposite of the mark and press the tip of the broadhead against a hard surface. This will push the broadhead around inside the insert until it is dead center in relationship to the center of the shaft. You will likely hear the broadhead pop into place after it hits dead center. The reason you mark the broadhead is to measure the amount of pressure you have applied. All broadheads, whether fixed-blade or mechanical, need to be tuned.
Every bowhunter should have an arrow spinner of some kind to test their arrows.” To ensure a perfect flush fit every time, you may want to consider buying a G5 squaring device that squares the insert so it is perfectly flush, allowing the broadhead to fit into the insert properly.
Other key ingredients to consider when shooting at long ranges are the arrows you shoot and the rest and sight you use. Arrows that aren’t extremely straight with weight tolerances that aren’t very good won’t shoot as well as high-end arrows. Many arrows today, including those made by Carbon Express are run through a laser to ensure they are perfect in every way. Carbon Express arrows have built-in weight forward technology. A heavy front end is said to be more accurate. Gold Tip and Easton also have great standards in place for their high-end arrows to make sure they are great.
A good sight is a necessity when shooting long ranges. Many long distance shooters use a 7-or 10-pin sight so they have a pin set for 100 yards. Others prefer a 1-pin sight. Many sights can now be dialed in yard by yard, out to 100 yards. If the rangefinder says 92 yards, you set your sight for 92 yards, eliminating guess work.
Many will say that shooting at 100 yards is a waste of time. Others will say that shooting an animal at 60 or 70 yards with a bow is unethical. That is for every bowhunter to decide for himself. I think Joel Maxfield sums it up best. “Even if a guy doesn’t want to take extreme shots in the field, long distance shooting in the backyard is fun and hones my skills. Anything that makes me a better bowhunter is a good thing. Practicing at long distances is well worth the work,” Maxfield stated.
There is no question: becoming accurate at 100 yards requires a lot of work. All your gear must be fined-tuned. Each arrow you shoot must be an exact clone of the others in your quiver and your form must be close to perfect. Achieving all these things takes an immense amount of time, but if you are willing to invest your time, you might be able to hit a paper plate at 100 yards, which will make hitting a whitetail at 25 yards a piece of cake.
Sidebar: Tuning A Drop-Away
Just because you are shooting a drop-away rest doesn’t mean you don’t have to worry about vane clearance or need to tune your bow. Today’s high profile vanes need lots of clearance. The timing on the rest must be perfect for these vanes not to encounter the rest as it is shot. One way to know that your vanes are achieving total clearance is to spray them with foot powder before shooting. If you see lots of powder on your rest or riser, your vanes are coming into contact with the rest.
It is also important to note that the timing cord on a drop-away rest can stretch out over time, creating a timing issue with the rest. Thousands of shots, freezing rain and snow come into contact with the timing cord. A variety of other factors can cause the length of the timing cord to change. According to Tim Gillingham, one of the top pro shooters in the country, it doesn’t take much stretch for the timing of the rest to be effective. As little as .1/16” from the original length of the cord can throw the rest off.
Remember that nothing is maintenance free. Maintaining the moleskin on your riser and launcher, regularly tightening the screws on your rest and frequently checking your timing cord will ensure that your rest works flawlessly in the field.