Every year my family went on a week-long fishing vacation towards the end of the summer in MI’s Upper Peninsula. That was often my most important event of the year! My first real purchase of any kind that I saved for was a spinning rod and reel combo from Naums Department store in Waterford, MI at the age of 7. I’d saved 27 silver dollars for that purchase and I was on cloud 9!
I remember practicing my casting in those early years while there was still snow on the ground in the early spring. Do you realize the difficulty of attempting to get a rubber worm to rest within the backyard birdhouse? The melting ice on the nearby lake stole it’s share of my carelessly placed lures and more than once I braved the icy waters to retrieve a $3 plug. The funny thing is that those casting efforts, and that level of practice continued into my early teens. Baitcasting a lead weight into various trees in the yard and keeping the birds out of the feeder trained me well for skipping plastic worms under boat docks. I felt I had even mastered the art of dropping a well placed spinner bait onto the cover of a boat so I could gently slip it off and into the water with barely a sound. To say I “stretched” my limits of casting would have been an understatement!
You can imagine then when, as a 15 year old, I asked my parents for a hunting bow for Christmas and didn’t sit in the box too long! I was at the local archery store with my brother Kevin every day and I still remember the mixed excitement of my first “robin-hood”. Yep, it looked kind of cool? But those were 2 arrows down the drain for a kid with not much cash in my pockets! Shooting carp, backyard contests, and archery leagues filled my time from then on. Eventually I loved to shoot longer distances, including the 80-yard target within field target archery. It was amazing that if you stood back at 80 yards and shot 30 arrows on a random evening how that when you went back to 40 yards the target seemed so much easier.
What I’d like you to consider is that if you have never pushed your archery limits for bowhunting practicing efforts-do so! I can’t tell you how many archers have told me “I’d never shoot over 20 yards”; so they shoot 20 yards all summer long. Its hard to think of another sport for comparison and archery maybe in a class of it’s own. However, even if you are only ever going to shoot 20 yards, it is still a great idea to practice at 40. Why? Simply, because you will find that when you stretch your archery limits for bowhunting on a continual basis, not only will your accuracy at the closer yards increase substantially, but longer as well. It is fairly common that after a couple of months of practicing 40 yards you will be shooting better at 30 yards, than you used to at 20. Also, your hunting and management efforts will improve as well and I look forward to discussing how.
Just try humoring me for a week or two and risk the loss of arrows at the longer distance. Eventually you will find that you become very consistent with at least keeping your arrows on the target. Even 50 and 60 yard shooting practice can be beneficial to you if you feel the 40 yard mark is boring. Have you ever heard the expression “aim small”? The point of that saying is that you are forced to concentrate harder on the shot. When you concentrate harder on a smaller portion of the target your groups tighten up, and that is no different than when forcing yourself to concentrate harder on a long-range target. Even if you NEVER plan to shoot over 20 yards, one of the best ways to be more accurate at that distance is to consistently shoot further than that distance.
Experience more HUNTING success…
Every year it seems I’m setting a few new stands, and clearing out the tried and true old ones. Just on my WI lease alone there are roughly 24 stands. One of the consistent features on my stand set-ups is getting a look at a 40-yard window or two. Considering I’ve only shot 3 deer over 30 yards out of many dozens of kills, that may seem like a bit odd. But the main point is not that I may shoot a deer at 40 yards someday, it’s instead that I want to be able to SEE 40 yards when I am in my stand. There are some years I will go months without shooting anything but a 40 yard target, except for possibly on a 3D range. I love that distance, I am completely confident at that distance, and it is a great gauge to as my current level of shooting skill. When I am in my stand I want to see that distance and after months of shooting that distance it is fairly easy to find in find in the deer woods. It may be the end of a shooting lane, a nearby stump, a particular tree…but when I can see a 49 yard mark, than every other distance falls into place. Gone are the days when I had the anxiety of knowing that being 1 yard off on the 3D range meant being over an inch off on a 40-yard target; hunting just isn’t that critical and you have a much large window of error. Instead, seeing that 40 yard mark helps me to narrow down 35, 30, and of course down to the shorter and more typical “deer shooting distances”. Within the closer shots being off 3-4 yards isn’t that much of a concern, especially when you have the confidence of finding 40 first. Seeing that mark helps to build my confidence, and it helps me to process a more precise guesstimate on yardage when the shot quickly presents itself within that distance.
Also, when I’m clearing those shooting lanes I have found two great places to place all of the brush. The first place is right at 40 yards, and the 2nd is around and especially in front of the stand itself. Obviously I want to see that 40 yard mark and it gives me a great picture, but most importantly I want to pinch those deer within 40 yards while at the same time keeping them away from my stand where site, sound, and scent become much more of an issue. By pinching deer movements with brush, my shots typically end up somewhere in the middle distances of 15-25 yards. Also, because most of my stands double as rifle locations, it’s no wonder the bulk of my rifle kills are at the same distance.
A huge portion of the archery hunting equation is making a comfortable shot within your capabilities. If you don’t already do so, practice that 40 yard mark, see that mark in the woods, and experience a much higher quality of shot selection and execution of that shot.
Increase your MANAGEMENT capabilities…
Archery is such a powerful management tool for the average sized hunting parcel. Archery allows for a quick, calm, silent kill at the just the right time. My personal favorite “non-invasive” archery kill is on an early season hunt, about 9:00 in the morning when I’m hungry and ready to leave the stand, in a long transition between bedding and feeding areas. If the area is downhill to the truck and I can find a mature doe pointed in the right direction, a great opportunity is presented-even at 32 yards. I can just taste the seasoned backstraps cooked over 20#s of charcoal placed in a dug-out pit within the gravel of the motel parking lot! It wouldn’t be the first time my hunting buddies and I have enjoyed an early season treat from a late morning doe harvest. In the end though most know that archery is a great tool for management, and just imagine if you can increase your proficiency and overall skill level.
Increased skill levels, defined distances, improved confidence levels, and maybe even stretching your shooting limits a bit can all lead to another mature doe or two harvested for the year and on many small parcels of land that may just mean the difference of reaching your management goals for the season, or not.
Shooting longer distances with your bow is fun! Can you imagine the fun as a 7 year old, trying to place a rubber worm into the backyard bird feeder? What about plunking trees or the dog house (not the dog) with a lead weight out of my bait-caster? I encourage you to make your practice fun, and to watch your skill level increase. Also, by establishing a 40 yard pattern for your stand set-ups it won’t matter which of your stands you sit in throughout the season. You will develop a consistent confidence of familiarity that will lead you to a higher degree of success in both your hunting and your management goals. I have to warn you though…be prepared to go through a lot more arrows when you shorten your distance back down to 20 yards! After just a couple of weeks you will find that your new found skill level will help you to jam those arrows into tightly packed arrow-crunching groups. Stretch your archery limits for bowhunting …and have some fun