Every year I hunt, a familiar voice enters my head. It taunts me, asking questions and suggesting to do what may be right or wrong. As the weary whitetail approaches, the voice gets a louder. Each step the deer takes, striking a hoof to the ground, my mind slips into a deeper, more primitive place. All the while, I’m still being taunted by my own mind. “What are you waiting for? Shoot!” “That twig isn’t really in the way.” Knowing I must respectfully harvest this animal, I wait it out. As soon as the animal steps into my 25 yard range, I make the decision to take the shot. Every time my string is draw on an animal, I recognize there are consequences for my actions. These consequences can, and have been, good or bad. It all comes down to the final moment; the judgement call.
With practice comes reward. My time put into shooting has enabled me to shoot accurately at distances of 40 to 50 yards. Though my harvest range on deer sized game is 25 yards, these longer ranges during practices exaggerate the arrow flight resulting in relentless feedback on form and technique. Your harvest range is totally up to you. All I ask, as a fellow sportsman, is that you stay inside of an effective range. We owe it to the animals we pursue.
There are a few ways to range in the field. The most obvious to the common hunter, is a laser range finder. These really are a great piece of gear for setting up targets, shooting windows. or even ranging animals. Where they typically fall short to traditional bowhunters is that they require body movement in order to function and can be quite finicky at close ranges.
For us “inside of 30” hunters, there are plenty of more effective ways to range. My go to for a permanent/semi permanent tree stand or blind, is to either dig a hole in the ground or stack a few rocks on top of each other at my maximum effective range. I will typically use a compass to do this. Standing at my tree, I find north, south, east, and west. Once I figure out the azimuths for each of these cardinal directions, I will either pace out, roll measure, or laser range my max effective bow range. Once I am standing at the range, in the cardinal direction, I will dig my hole or stack my rocks.
On the mobile tree stand side of things, I tend to pace out a single tree on my approach to the tree I intend to climb. Before I pace this out, I will estimate what appears to be 25 yards, and mark it with a line in the ground. Usually, dragging my boot across the ground is all that’s needed. I keep this pace in mind and make my ascent up the tree. When I finish setting up, I look back at the mark. Knowing the distance to that mark, I will imagine a circle around my tree at the same yardage. I take note of any detail that pops out to me. Sometimes I even draw this out on my hunting log to make sure it sinks in. In the 2017 season, I successfully harvested a healthy whitetail buck using this method. The buck had approached from an unexpected area down wind of me. Remembering these details, I waited to draw my bow until he entered my marked range. It was his last step before my arrow passed through both lungs and sank into the tree behind him.
While your knocking the dust off this up coming spring, find your harvest range and look for it through-out your day. Walking through parking lots, range and pace your way both to and from the car. You can do this nearly everywhere and let instinct take over. You may be surprised how effective your brain can become at this game. There’s only one way to stay sharp with our chosen method of hunting; practice like you hunt. Make the decision and know you limitations.
I wish I didn’t have to fess up and admit that I’ve missed a bear, the buck of a lifetime, and several does due to obstructed shots with archery equipment. It’s always a tiny little twig that I didn’t notice that seems to grab my arrow from the air, throwing it to the ground. To say it will never happen again would be foolish, but there are some ways to help minimize the chances of this unfortunate event.
In recent years, I have started packing a bone saw and pruning shears. Now that most of my hunting is done from a mobile tree stand, I will cut what I need to in order to get clear shooting windows. This can be done walking in and while climbing up the tree. Having shears and a saw that are small enough to fit in a pocket will keep things manageable and effective. These tools, like most in our hunting packs, also offer additional benefits for bush-craft and survival.
In a more permanent tree stand, there are options to get it all done well before season, or trim little by little as needed through the season. With permanent stands, always be mindful of your footprint. Deer will notice these changes, so make them slowly and keep them small. It is best to do this while scouting your stand sights in early summer, before a heavy rain. A heavy rain after making some of these changes can be like pressing the “reset” button. It is especially helpful at taking away the odor of human presence.
In order to preserve our lifestyle as traditional bowhunters, we must constantly be showing the world that it is an effective way of harvesting and providing sustenance. To do this, we must make the right judgement calls to allow the clean and ethical harvesting of wild game. More importantly, we owe it to the animals we pursue. If you would like more information or have questions on this article, please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.