Judging the Arch in Archery
Author: Frank Ross
As we ducked under some overhanging branches, there it was, a large 6x6 bull elk standing broadside under a group of aspen trees at an estimated 40 yards. An animal of that size, at that distance, should have been easy money - we thought.
As we ducked under some overhanging branches and followed the trail up to a large boulder, there it was, a large 6x6 bull elk standing broadside under a group of aspen trees at what I estimated to be 40 yards. An animal of that size, at that distance, should have been easy money -we thought.
Derek Fortna, a veteran bowhunter, was lead shooter in our group, and he quickly got into shooting position and released his arrow. Within a matter of seconds, the sound of aluminum clanging into tree branches made its way back to us. Derek's shot had sailed over the elk's back and dismembered itself among the branches. After collecting himself, he nocked another arrow and nailed the target. Fortunately for us, on this hunt, high-tech foam doesn't run off.
Being second in shooting order, I rose to the task and released my arrow with similar results. It is remarkable how easy it is to misjudge an animal with such a large body mass after practicing on small deer targets.
Derek, my two sons, and I were shooting the High Plains Archery Club's 3-D tournament in the Veedauwoo area of south central Wyoming near Laramie. Shooting 3-D tournaments is the finest form of training for archery hunters, period. A lot of beginning archers make the same mistake. They buy a bow and a sack of arrows and set up a paper plate on a straw bale in their backyard. They back off a ways and whack it from 20 yards until they can hit it more times than not, and think they are ready to go hunting. Unfortunately, game doesn't walk out at that backyard "paper plate distance" every time, if ever.
After a few missed shots at game, all too often, beginning archers give up because of the frustration of missing and harassment from their hunting buddies. The reality of hunting with a bow is that judging distance is far more important than form or the technical aspects of the equipment that you purchase. Bottom line, you can't buy a good shot, no matter how much money you spend on a bow. Naturally, a high quality bow will enhance your chances, but it won't make the shot for you.
Buying a Nikon camera doesn't guarantee good photographs. During my dozen-year tenure as a professional photographer, I worked with a very talented Japanese photographer that gave me a great piece of advice. When I was pricing an expensive new lens, he counseled me that "It's not the brush, but the artist that makes the picture."
Ok, Grasshopper, now you know all the secrets of becoming one with the target. You've got to practice judging yardage with different sizes of animals. There's no substitute for shooting with the right pin. The mechanics are simple, and gravity can have ugly effects on an arrow in flight.
In preparation for this tournament we had practiced at my house, on a standing deer at various distances. We varied the distance of our shots and practiced different angles. Problem was that none of us had shot our bows since last year and we had a lot of rust to knock off. To complicate matters even further, three out of four in our group were adjusting pins until dark the night before the event. The only one of us that wasn't changing pins was my oldest son who has decided to shoot barebow. Curiously enough, he represented himself very well, even on a standing bear at 40 yards, so we are back to that brush and artist thing.
Like many hunters that take to the field, none of us were really "ready" when we started up the trail to our 40 targets, but we were reasonably confident. After that first elk target our confidence faded somewhat, but we pushed onward in hopes of redeeming ourselves over the course of the day's opportunities.
After firing our final arrows at a javelina under some brush, we walked back to the van and discussed our successes and miscues. All things considered we represented ourselves pretty well, especially since this was our first pre-season outing with many more to come before we have to go "live." Both Derek and I averaged about 9 points per target, which would have taken all but three animals. Were we ready to hunt? In a word, No! There is much work to do over the remainder of the summer.
Taking the arch out of archery
Recent achievements in design have produced some amazing bows, with blazing "rifle-like" speeds that eliminate some of the need for accurately judging distance, assuming that you can pull that much weight. While there are those that feel archery should have an "arch", I would shoot one of these hot bows in a heartbeat if I could handle the draw. Like many other archers, my upper body is not in the Lou Ferrigno (Incredible Hulk) class, and I am regulated to doing it the old fashion way by judging the right distance and making the shot with the tools that I have at hand.
On average, an arrow (depending upon draw weight and arrow weight) drops 1" for every yard that it travels. You can easily calculate that misjudging a target by 10 yards will cause your arrow to hit either 10" too high or 10" too low, depending upon whether your estimate was long or short.
The challenges to properly judging distances are many. Body size and broken ground or obscured terrain between you and the target are the most common deceivers. Other common misleading situations are animals that are standing in the sun when you are in the shade of trees that form a tunnel effect.
When you are hunting in a situation such as a tree stand, you can control the circumstances, and it is much easier to make a good shot. When scouting your site, simply measure the distance to several landmarks along the expected path of your quarry and mark them so that you can reference known distances when a animal moves through your strike zone. One of the handiest ways to accomplish this measurement is to use a rangefinder.
Rangefinders are excellent tools not only for the field, they also come in very handy during practice sessions. At least a month before the season opens, take a stroll several times a week to practice judging yardage. Stop at every opportunity to judge the distance to mailboxes, power poles, cows, the neighbor's dog or anything else that is handy. Once you think you know what the yardage is, pull out the rangefinder and see how your estimate measures up. You'd be amazed at how many times you will be wrong at the beginning. By the time you've completed a half dozen "ranging" walks, your percentages will have improved markedly.
A number of units are on the market, ranging in price from a few bucks up to the hundreds. Compared with the expenses for other elements of a hunt, when you think about the disappointment of missing a shot because of an error in judgement, it's a purchase that should receive serious consideration.
If you don't own a rangefinder, and opt not to make the investment right now, there are a number of tricks that can help you develop a greater level of confidence under a wide variety of conditions. One fairly simple technique is to take a rope and tie a red flag onto the end. Simply mark 20, 30 and 40 yards on the rope and drag it around behind you through all types of terrain. Start at the 20-yard mark and set out on a long walk. As you go through various visual situations, stop and look back at your flag until you have ingrained in your brain what 20, 30 and 40 yards looks like.
Some shooters imagine a 10-yard stick and flip it over in their mind, while others try and judge animals based on the body size in relation to their pins. There are probably several other options as well. Just pick out one and stay with it until you can look at any target, at any distance and be accurate.
Techniques for judging distance accurately are a matter of personal preference. Implementing them isn't. When you release an arrow, you are either right or wrong, and usually being wrong results in the loss of an arrow, and an opportunity. The best way to put the dipstick in and check your readiness level is to shoot 3-D tournaments, or become involved with a local club and shoot their range for fun. While most serious archers own at least one 3-D target, you need to be exposed to all different types of shots, including varied terrain as well as uphill and downhill shots. Also, the various sizes of deer can throw you off. A big-bodied deer at 30 yards can fool you if you've been practicing on a smaller bodied deer at 20 yards. The only way to fully prepare yourself is by walking a course and flinging some shafts.
3-D doesn't have to be a competitive situation. If you're not into the pressure and competitive aspects of a tournament, you should still consider shooting the event and keeping your scorecard to yourself. The cost of participation is negligible compared to the costs of owning 40 targets, and more importantly, you don't have to lug them back to a storage shed after the shooting.
There's still a lot of time before the fall, and plenty of 3-D events to polish your technique on, so get out there and give it a try. One thing for sure. You don't want to hear your arrow clanging against trees when you release on your first shot of the season.
Click this link to view the great selection of 3-D targets
available through Cabela's.
Frank Ross grew up on a lake in Florida, where fishing and hunting were second nature. He has pursued his passion from the jungles of South America to the northern reaches of the Arctic Circle and most points in between. With a background in newspapers, the wire services and magazines that began in 1970, Frank brings a unique perspective to his work with Cabela's. He is an award-winning photographer with a flair for getting to the bottom line of every story.
When he's not out hunting down another interesting story, Frank can be found near his home in western Nebraska where he now spends most of his time guiding his two sons and teaching them how to be successful in the field. "It's part of the responsibility we all have as outdoorsmen, to share what we have learned and pass on the passion. I take the same tact when approaching a sto.... how can I help someone be better at what they love to do?"
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