Bowhunting Tips for Out West

By author of Brow Tines and Backstrap

What Western Game Do You Hunt?

Whether you're planning an elk hunt, spot-and-stalk mule deer hunt or just want to increase your range in the whitetail woods, adding some western flair to your archery practice can pay off

What’s the farthest you’ll shoot at a deer with your bow? Two years ago, my limit was 35 yards unless the animal was wounded. I considered a shot much farther than that unethical. A bow is a close-range tool, and a good hunter can get close. Living in the eastern treestand bubble can do that to you. Most of my hunting buddies feel the same way.

But things are different out West. Hunting is done from the ground, and the terrain doesn’t often allow for 20-yard shots. Many mule deer, pronghorn and open-country elk hunters consider 40 and 50 yards to be close. Sixty, 70 and 80 yards isn’t uncommon. A few hunters are effective out to 100.

It’s not a question of whether modern bowhunting equipment is capable. It absolutely is, so long as the guy behind the string does his part. And one guy who can definitely do the part is Utah hunter Anthony Dixon with Full Moon Productions. Dixon is a high-energy guy, fast talker, and an amazing bow shot — whether the targets are stuffed with backstop material or flesh and bone. He specializes in spot-and-stalk hunts for mule deer and says, “My favorite shots in the field are 70 to 80 yards. When you get too close, you actually begin to lose options for killing him. By moving 6 or 10 inches at 70 yards, you can open up an entirely new shooting window without being detected. If you’re at 18 yards, you can’t do that. You might be able to see your buck’s head or rear end, but you’re stuck.”

The Bow Factor

Gadgets and gear can’t replace form, practice and skill — but most archers can’t group a cluster of arrows into a pie plate at 60 yards with a recurve, either. For the sake of this article, we’ll assume you’re shooting a perfectly tuned modern compound. Here are some additions you might want to make:

  • Single-Pin Adjustable Sight: “A single pin helps eliminate variables. One pin gives you one line of focus and can help your long-range accuracy,” Dixon says. “If you’re shooting a fast bow, say 300 feet-per-second plus, you can be off a yard or two at any distance and still kill the animal. Many whitetail hunters worry about the animal moving, but at 300 fps with a 400-grain arrow, I can shoot anything inside of 30 yards.”
  • Peep Position: “It’s critical for your peep sight to match the diameter of your sight pin guard at full draw,” Dixon says. “If it doesn’t, change the diameter of your peep until it does. Also, I like to sight in with my peep sight a little lower than normal on the string. It’s just a little uncomfortable when shooting up close, but at 60 and 70 yards, when you have to raise the bow, it aligns perfectly. At those ranges, everything needs to be comfortable.”
  • Lose the Grip: Dixon says to remove your bow’s factory grip. “It’s going to increase your draw length a bit and be a little uncomfortable, but you’re able to better feel the bow in your hand.” That’s important for the next part of the process.

The You Factor

Once your equipment is ready to go, the rest is up to you. Your form is everything when it comes to accuracy, especially at long range.

  • The Stance: Rather than point your toes at 12, move them out to 11 and 1. “If I push against you with your toes pointed ahead, you’ll stumble. You have more balance with them pointed out,” Dixon says.
  • The Grip: When you begin to draw, your left arm (if you’re right handed) should be fully extended, but turned so that your pinky is pointing out from the riser. “You’re looking for that sweet spot in your hand to hold the bow,” Dixon says. “You can see that triangle of skin between your thumb and forefinger. That’s where you want the riser.”

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  • The Anchors: “It’s critical to have multiple anchor points,” Dixon says. “I put the first knuckle of my right hand behind my jaw and the string in the center of my nose.” Dixon says the string/center-of-nose anchor point is universally good for everyone. “If the string is on the side of your nose and you have to take a steep shot — like at a deer right under you — the anchor point will change.” From here, it’s a matter of aiming and making a smooth release.

The Rangefinder Factor

I’ve always been able to judge yardage pretty well, especially inside of 40 yards. So I never carried a rangefinder. That’s handy on a white oak ridge in Tennessee where the farthest shot is 25 yards. But things change on the edge of a beanfield — or on a Utah mountain. The modern laser rangefinder gets nearly as much credit as the compound bow for extending today’s bowhunter’s effective range.

“To shoot at animals beyond 40 yards with a bow, a rangefinder is absolutely critical. In addition to the bow and arrows themselves, it’s the most important piece of gear that I carry,” Dixon says. “But it’s important to sight in your bow with your rangefinder. They’re all perfectly reliable, but individual ones may vary by a half yard or so.”

Out West, shooting up and down steep inclines is a regular obstacle. “I used to carry a cut chart and inclinometer to figure out where I needed to hold given the angle,” Dixon says, “But many of today’s rangefinders automatically compensate the angle for you. So if there’s a 27-degree angle, I may cut 10 to 14 yards off the distance. That’s significant when you’re aiming a bow.”   

Wrap Up

I’ve shot alongside some great bowhunters and talented archers from Utah, Colorado, and Idaho in the past couple years, and I’ve learned some things. I’ve gone to a single-pin adjustable sight, and I carry a rangefinder. Do I think an 80-yard shot at an animal is a good thing for most bowhunters to try? No. Maybe never with a quick animal like a whitetail.

But I can say that I double-lunged a deer at 48 yards last fall without the slightest hesitation. That’s a near 30-percent increase on my former effective range — and a big advantage in the woods.

Editor's Note: This was originally published on June 29, 2011.

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