with Dr. Mark Timney
What is Your OPTIMUM Range?
One of the big questions in bowhunting is "How far is too far?" At what range does a shot become unethical?
Almost everything Ive ever read on this subject suggests we can find the answer to the "how far" question by determining our "effective shooting range." The articles typically describe effective range as being the distance at which an archer can consistently make a lethal shot on an animal. And while different methods have been devised for determining effective range, they all generally come down to seeing how well can you can shoot on a range given perfect conditions.
I have a problem with this. And if youve ever thought about it Im sure you realize how overly simplistic this idea is.
Apples to Oranges!
The range is not the woods! You know the distance to the target on the range. You rarely know exactly how far a buck is. Youre fairly relaxed on the range, but when an animal shows up in the woods your heart starts pumping and adrenaline flows making you anything but relaxed. And I could go on here, but you get my point.
But what about 3-D archery? Doesnt that simulate hunting? Yes... a little. But its still not a simulation that can help you determine "how far is too far." 3-D does test your ranging abilities, but its still lacking targets that can move and react. And while 3-D does sometimes test your nerve, it doesnt reproduce the mental pressure that having an animal in close does. How often do you shoot 3-D when youre cold, or when its rainingcommon conditions in the field? Its not the same.
Consider "Optimum Range"
There is more to the how far question than effective range. I believe you must consider optimum range instead. Let me define optimum range as the greatest distance at which youre likely to accurately estimate the distance to the target, execute a shot properly, and still have the animal in the same position when the arrow arrives as it was when you shot.
If you think about this youll see how the concept of optimum range brings a number of other variables into play. In addition to shooting ability and yardage judging skills, were also talking about:
Putting it All Together
So how do you figure your optimum range? I dont think there is a foolproof way of determining it. Still, as ethical bowhunters we must have a general idea of what our optimum range might be. So, what I going to do here is give you an idea of how I determine my optimum range.
First, I start by finding my INITIAL MAXIMUM range, the furthest distance at which I can put 80-percent of my arrows into the ten ring of a 3-D target of the animal I am hunting. I do this by shooting at known distances. If I shoot an arrow outside the eight ring I automatically disqualify myself from shooting at that range or beyond.
I measure my shooting ability in this manner because it relates it to the size of the kill-zone of the animal to be hunted. Yea, I know 3-D targets sometimes have poorly placed/sized kill zones; and, I know it doesnt test my range judging ability--a critical component of accuracy while bowhuntingbut there will be more on this later.
The range I come up with at this stage ONLY reveals the distance at which I might shoot at certain animals under ideal conditions. But I dont stop here. I believe there are RANGE REDUCTION (RR) FACTORS that have to be applied to the INITIAL MAXIMUM to reflect conditions in the field.
The Range Reduction Factors I consider were presented before. They include: whether an animal is alert or not, as well as its general, overall behavior; my mental and physical condition at the time of the shot; general field conditions; and, how certain I am of the shot's distance.
Since I normally do a rough calculation of my Range Reduction Factors in my head, Ive had to put together the following charts for you to view so you can see what Im thinking. What Ill do here is consider the Range Reduction Factors for a situation during a hunt and show how they impact my Initial Maximum Range. This should provide you with a general idea of what my optimum range might be for a particular animal under a specific set of conditions.
These charts ARE NOT designed to give you an idea of what your optimum range MIGHT BE. Im not proposing that you take what Ive written here as gospel. I just want you to think about your own optimum range given some of these variables.
ANIMAL BEHAVIOR RANGE REDUCTION FACTORS Laid-Back Animals (Type 1) Wary Animals (Type 2) Jumpy Animals (Type 3) Moose Mountain Goats Mountain Lion (in tree) Elk Sheep Caribou Javelina Wild Pigs Bear (all types) Turkey Pronghorn Whitetail & Mule Deer Mountain Lion (on ground) No RR Consideration RR= -10% RR= -20%
YARDAGE ESTIMATION RANGE REDUCTION FACTORS Certain of Range Uncertain of Range No RR Consideration Animal is less than 25 yards away- RR= Consider Size of Kill Zone Animal is 25 to 35 yards away- RR= Consider Not Shooting Animal is more than 35 yards away- RR= Dont Shoot
ANIMAL ALERTNESS RANGE REDUCTION FACTORS Relaxed Animal On Full Alert (Possibility of No Shot) No RR Consideration Type 1 Animal RR= -20% Type 2 Animal RR= -30% Type 3 Animal RR= -40%
HUNTER MENTAL/PHYSICAL CONDITION REDUCTION FACTORS Relaxed/Comfy Excited/Little Uncomfortable Buck Fever/Miserable No RR Consideration RR= -25% RR= -50% or Dont Shoot
FIELD CONDITIONS AND RANGE REDUCTION FACTORS Excellent (perfect conditions) Moderate (breezy, slight rain, etc.) Poor (windy, heavy rain, low light, etc.) No RR Consideration RR= -35% RR= -50% or Dont Shoot
An Example of How it Works
Lets calculate my Optimum Range. I have a Maximum Initial Range of 50 yards when I hunt whitetails with a compound. (I have to do this all over again when I hunt with a recurve.) So, looking on the BEHAVIOR CHART for the whitetail Range Reduction Factor (a Type 3 animal), I reduce the range by 20%. This suggests that the longest distance I should shoot at a whitetail is forty yards under absolutely perfect conditions. This would be when Im certain of the range to the animal, the deer is not alert, Im perfectly calm, and the field conditions are excellent.
Now, what about if Im not sure about how far away the deer is? Look at the Yardage Estimation Chart. Here I have to determine if I should even consider the shot in the first place. If I know the range, Im fine, But if I dont?
If the deer is less than 25 yards away, Im probably only going to be off by +/- a few yards on my range estimation. No big deal given the size of a whitetails kill zone. So, I can attempt a shot within this range even if Im not sure of the distance. But, if the animal is between 25 and 35 yards then I have to consider not shooting at all. Even a fast compound sends an arrow in an arc, and that means a possibility of a high or low hit if the animal is out there a little. If Im not sure of the range and the animal is beyond 35 yards then I wont shoot.
For other animals, such as turkeys, I have to reconsider whether or not to attempt close shots if Im uncertain of the range. Were only talking a kill zone about the size of a baseball in this case. A few yards off on the range estimation and the arrow will go too high or low on a bird.
As you can see, the Yardage Estimation Range Reduction Factors can completely negate my optimum range in some situations. Because of this, I have to consider it before I look at the other Range Reduction Variables.
Im going to talk about the other variables one at a time for now. Later Ill discuss how they might interact with one another. And, for the purpose of simplicity, Im going to assume that Im fairly confident of the range to the animal in all of the following situations.
Lets look at the ALERTNESS CHART first. If the whitetail is relaxed, theres no reduction in optimum range. But if the deer is on alert, then I employ a Range Reduction Factor of 40 percent. This is because the whitetail is a Type 3 (Jumpy) animal. So, my Initial Maximum Range (40 yards) on an alert whitetail is reduced by 40 percent, meaning I will only shoot out to 24 yards. However, I might also consider not taking a shot at the animal if I believe it might move before the arrow gets there.
Now, if Im a very chilled from sitting out in the elements then I have look at the Hunter Mental/Physical chart. Here, my being miserable results in a range reduction of fifty percent. My forty yard range on a whitetail is now at twenty yards. And, once again, I may decide not to take a shot.
Continuing on to the Field Conditions chart If Im in the middle of a heavy rain my Initial Maximum Range also drops fifty percent, down to twenty yards. And, once again, thats if I shoot at all. Nothing ruins a blood trail worse than a heavy rain.
Dealing with Multiple RRs at Once.
Now, what if some of these factors come into play at once? Lets say I know the range to the whitetail, but its alert (-40%), Im a little uncomfortable (-25%), and theres some wind (-35%). That all adds up to a 100% Range Reduction. Does that mean the deer has to be sitting in my lap for me to shoot? Not necessarily.
Let me explain. Taking a shot at an alert deer has dropped my range from an initial maximum of forty yards to twenty-four yards. What I do now is reduce the other range reduction variables on the new optimum ranges rather than the initial yardage. So 25% of 24 yards is 6 yards. Subtract that from 24 and Im down to an 18 yard shot. Now, I reduce 18 yards by 35% because of the wind. This reduction finally results in my only taking a shot at 12 yards or less in this situation . if I shoot at all.
And, weve only been discussing situations where Ive been sure of the range. Not being confident of the range to the animal changes things considerably. And, there are other interactions between the Range Reduction Variables that I cant account for here. The numbers might say I have a shot, but in reality I might not ever take one.
Obviously, its easy to fudge these numbers and make them say what you want. Ive tried to work this whole thing out numerically by putting together information from a number of veteran bowhunters. Unfortunately, this is an extremely complex subject, and its not something thats easily quantifiable. I had to do it, though, so that I could explain my thought processes to you.
I do hope that what Ive done will, at the very least, give you an idea of some of the things to consider when you ask "how far is too far?" And, I do hope youll stick within your optimum range (whatever that is). I know how strong the urge to launch one at an animal can be. Ive shot past my own optimum range once in the past. Fortunately, it didnt resulted in a kill. But, I realize that was partly luck. And thats not what bowhunting is about. Im not going to shoot past my optimum range in the future. I hope you wont either.
And while were on this subject, let me conclude by paraphrasing the words of another writer to remind you of what I think our sport is really all about:
An archer wants to see how far away from the target he can get and still hit it. A bowhunter wants to see how close he can get to his target before he shoots.
Kinda changes the whole question of "how far" around a bit, doesnt it? Good Hunting!!!