You should never take a shot in which you are not confident. Period. Lots of animals are injured and lost because the hunter tried to push his or her archery limits and consequently made a bad shot. For every bowhunter, knowing one’s effective range is absolutely vital.
What is Effective Range?
Effective range is the distance at which a bowhunter is 100% confident he or she can place the arrow exactly where it needs to go. Each hunters effective range is specific to that individual so there is no magic number that applies to everyone. However, every hunter should be able to tell you exactly what his or her effective range is because he or she should be practicing enough to know.
How Can You Determine Your Effective Range?
To know your effective range, begin by sighting your bow in at 20 yards. You are not sighted in until your arrow groups are precisely in the spot you are aiming. There is no such thing as “good enough”; either you are dead on or you still have work to do.
Once you are sighted in, practice at this distance until you are consistently grouping your arrow in a tight group. Once you are confident at this distance, 20 yards is your effective range. Now it is time to work from 30 yards. Sight in at 30 yards with the same standard as 20 — tight, consistent groups. Once your groups are consistent, your effective range has now increased to 30 yards.
At 40 yards, however, things start to get exponentially more complicated. Your arrow flight is affected more by outside forces, your bad habits are exposed, and your groups start to get bigger. This is not acceptable when determining your effective range. If you cannot make these longer shots with the same confidence with which you made your shots at 20 and 30 yards, then you should not be taking them in the field. You have to improve your confidence in order to increase your range.
How Can You Safely Increase Your Effective Range?
The first step in increasing your range is to identify what you are doing wrong. How is your posture when at full-draw? Is you anchor point consistent? Are you torquing your wrist during the shot or anticipating the release? Are you following through after your release or looking up immediately to find you arrow? All these things will alter your shot placement.
Once you identify what needs to change in your form and shooting process, spend some time at close distance (20 yards or closer) working on nothing but your form (Many like to get right in front of the target so that even if your shot is awful, it will not fly downrange). Focus on perfect form, not shot placement, for every shot. Once you are confident in your form, back up to 20 yards again and do the exact same thing; only this time, try and put the arrow where you want it while still using perfect form. Once you are grouping your arrows again, move back to 30 yards and do the same thing.
Once you are consistent here, it is time to take a bit of a leap.
Back up to 50 or 60 yards. You are likely to miss a few times here, but that is okay. Once you get your pin set so that you are on the target, spend time shooting at these ranges. The point is not get every shot in the bullseye right away (although that wouldn’t be a bad thing if you could); the point is to be mindful of form, focusing on a perfect release every time.
What you will begin to notice is that you are able to group your shots pretty well; maybe not as close as you could at 30, but they will group nonetheless because you will be hyper-focused on your form. As your arrows group better and better, your confidence will increase. This does not mean that your effective range is 60 yards all of a sudden. Instead, when you begin to feel more confident at 50 or 60 yards, move back in to 40 yards again. You will find that you are now much more confident taking a shot at 40 yards and your groups likely tightened up significantly at this distance. Once you can consistently group your arrows into tight groups at your aiming point at 40 yards, your effective range is increased to 40 yards.
Practicing at longer ranges serves to exponentially increase confidence at closer ranges. I would never take an 80 or 100 yard shot at an animal, but practicing at 80 yards makes a 50 yard shot seem easy. My effective range is 60 yards and I will never take a shot on an animal outside of that range. However, I will practice outside of that range in order to increase my confidence at 60 yards and closer.
Take a couple hours and put in the work. You will be more confident and your effective range will likely see a nice increase.