Maximum Effective Range

Maximum Effective Range

Story and photos by Jared Bloomgren

This can be one of those touchy subjects. 

A conversation that often turns into a, “I can shoot farther than you,” debate or an argument or rampant embellishments. Even worse, when you start throwing in the talk about animal distances, things get sketchy. 'Archers' often bolster facts, especially on social media, posting arrow groupings titled “My 100 yard group!” Let’s get real - that doesn’t help anybody out but your ego. I know of one guy who shot all his arrows in a target from a couple yards away and posted pictures about his 80 yard group. Too bad the arrow angle gave it away!

We as archers always need to remember the difference between targets and animals. So you can make a shot on a 3D target at longer than normal distances and put your arrows into the kill zone over and over at that bad-ass 3D course set up on the local ski area. Does that mean you should take that shot on a live animal? Highly unlikely! Sure those 3D courses are great practice but there is one down-fall to having events like this: it makes many archers feel they can shoot at animals at unrealistic distances and make ethical shots. I even heard a couple guys talking after making a shot at a moose target 113 yards away: “Heck, I can shoot at anything farther now that I can make that shot!” The real answer? No you can’t! Some don’t get that live animals are different than targets. So let’s talk facts. What is maximum effective range and what can you do to improve it or keep yourself at bay?

A Challenging shot at the Terry Peak South Dakota, Total Archery Challenge

What is Maximum Effective Range?

I define Maximum Effective Range as the distance in which you can consistently place your arrows in the spot you intend on any target. For a live animal, this is situationally dependent on your skill, the animal’s behavior and location, as well as environmental conditions.

What it comes down to is as simple as this: your maximum effective range is whatever distance at which you are comfortable and can consistently put your arrows in a tight group one shot after another at repeated intervals. For some, this is 40 yards and for others, it may be 90 yards. Keep in mind this is not shooting at live targets during hunting conditions! Therefore, maximum effective range at a live target would be MUCH less and is determined by both the animal’s behavior and weather conditions at the time of the shot. Only you can make that decision when it is go time. So how do you make the right one?

Although shooting a 12 on a 3D target is a great score, it isn’t necessarily the best shot on the animal. I like to overlook the 12 ring and go for a practical shot and not worry about keeping score. In this case it happened to be the 12 ring.

Equipment Variables

Maximum effective range with archery equipment, especially modern compound bows, gets stretched beyond what is practical due to the idea that your equipment allows you to shoot farther. Regardless of the quality of equipment, we all have a maximum effective range we should stick to and each individual is different. The same applies to traditional and compound archers alike; even crossbows and firearms can be lumped into the concept. Each of these situations will vary on the animal’s demeanor and the constantly changing environmental effects of weather.

Also keep in mind that a good bow sight will have three axis adjustments. These need to be set in order to help you improve your shooting capability. The 1st, 2nd, and 3rd axis adjustments are very important and not all sights have these adjustments. If you are shooting steep angled shots these adjustments come into play even more. Invest in a good sight that offers all these axis adjustments. You’ll be glad you did especially when you need to make that shot count!

A severe angled uphill shot across rock at 60 yards. Proper axis adjustments are needed!

Practice Makes Perfect 

“So what do you need to do to increase your maximum effective range?” It all comes down to one word…….PRACTICE! And then more practice, practice and finally, practice some more! Try not to use an excuse that it's too hot or cold out, too windy, too wet, it's raining, etc…you get the picture. Hit up your local 3D shoots and have fun! Sure, there has to be limits but shooting in as many adverse weather conditions as you can will also increase your shooting capability and confidence. Having confidence in your shooting and your equipment is very important and can only be gained by shooting as often as possible in as many different environments as possible. This is one thing that makes those bad-ass 3D archery events so fun - they really test your skill. But don’t let these events make you think you are super human or your bow can shoot faster than the speed of sound! WARNING: live targets do and will react differently.

When I first started shooting over 32+ years ago, I started shooting at 10 yards and over time my range increased to 20, 30, 40, 50, etc. As I became more confident in my equipment and myself, I began to stretch that distance to 110, 120, etc. Granted, this didn’t happen overnight or over a year or two. I am still brushing up on my shooting today and I feel as if I can never be as good of an archer as I want or need to be. Limiting factors in our environment will never let me be as good as I want to be. I realize that and don’t let it cause me to make bad decisions when I decide to loosen an arrow on an animal.

A good rule I like to use is similar to a minute of angle rule for rifle hunters. At 30 yards, I like to have my groups within three inches on generally one minute of angle. This translates to four inches at 40 yards, five inches at 50 yards etc. So at 120 yards, I want my group in a 12-inch circle.

Here is my group at 50 yards with a 3-inch group.

What to Practice

I like to make my practice sessions as realistic as possible. A practice I like to do is shoot an arrow at my target, run to the target and grab my arrow and run back, immediately picking up my bow and shooting another arrow. I do this to mimic the effects of being short of breath as if I had to get into positon quickly in order to make a shot. As I get better, I start to move the target farther away. This can also be practiced at 3D events like those mentioned above.

Another key factor is good form when you shoot. Having good form makes longer shots possible and in turn, longer shooting will actually improve your form. Why? Because a minor flaw in form at 30 yards may mean a two inch change in point of impact perhaps. A minor flaw in form at 100 yards could mean a shot placement deviation of foot or more! Longer shots force you to improve and keep your form consistent. Longer shots compound minor flaws and this makes you become a better shot and a better archer.

Shooting from various positions is also important. Standing and sitting in various positions (on even and uneven ground) with various types of clothing, different angles, etc…again, you get the point. Mimic as many various shooting positions and situations you can. Remember, because you take longer than average shots at a target doesn’t mean you should do it at a live animal! I think you are beginning to see the repetition here!

Shooting on a windy day and at long range will help you understand the effects wind has on an arrow.

I will shoot at and kill animals at longer yardages than most archers would even think about shooting. Again, why? Because of the practice I have done and the confidence I have in myself and my gear! 120 yards is not a shot I have ever done, nor do I plan to because I like the challenge of getting in close as I can for a shot! Afterall, I am an archer and not a sniper with a bow! My average shot with my bow is around 40 yards. With that being said, the animal’s behavior, body position, and weather conditions all come into play for each shot regardless of range, but are far more risky at longer distances. An animal that has no idea I am there and is completely relaxed will allow a farther shot than an animal alert and nervous. The same applies to weather conditions. Keep in mind, we should never loosen an arrow on an animal unless we know it will make a good, clean, ethical kill shot! We should all have that same belief in our mind at all times.

Although still hard to swallow, I had this buck at 70 yards in the high country of Wyoming and opted to not take the shot for various reasons. My foot slipped on a rock and made a bit of noise that in turn made the buck nervous. Because of his nervousness I decided not to chance the shot. Now if he wouldn’t have heard me, he would likely have been on my wall!

The greatest archer of all is the one who knows their own limitations.

Only you can know what your maximum shooting range is. It will depend directly on your level of confidence and ability that’s a direct result of the practice you make yourself complete. Maximum shooting distance on a live animal in a hunting situation takes on many variables that also only you can decide on. Your Maximum Effective Range will always vary depending on numerous factors that we talked about above. The only constant is that nothing is constant in the field.

So what are you waiting for?! Get out there and practice and brush up on your skills! I challenge you to start practicing at longer distances. You will be happy you did! It will increase your maximum effective range guaranteed - just don’t let it go to your head!

Posted in Tips & Tactics