Are Long-Range Bowhunting Shots Ethical?

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What's Your Maximum Range?

By: Patrick Meitin

 

(Bill Konway photo)

When I started bowhunting in the late '70s, bragging up a successful hunt normally involved tales of stealth  – cat-like stalking skills resulting in getting "close enough to hit 'em with a rock." In the times we now live in, bragging about bowhunting accomplishments seems more often to involve relating how extremely distant an animal was standing when the shot was taken. Some of the yardages sound pretty far-fetched, or reveal something truely wrong with the modern bowhunting ethic.

I shot this Boone & Crockett-class Coues whitetail on a grueling solo New Mexico bowhunt.  I don't recall now how far away he actually was when I shot, settling on 55 yards in published articles about the buck to avoid letters to the editor from indignant bowhunting education instructors.Bowhunting icons such as Fred Bear, Howard Hill and Ben Pearson (the latter two most especially), certainly weren't averse to attempting long shots with their primitive bows and wood arrows. It strikes me though, most recently while reading "Fred Bear's Field Notes," how few of those desperate shots actually connected. I'm always surprised they're even mentioned. There were some very public exceptions: Bear's East India tiger (he admitted he was trying to shoot beyond it and spook it closer, accidently hitting it mortally); a polar bear Pearson shot at 70 yards running; and Hill was often quoted as saying, "If you want to kill something you have to put some wood in the air." Those were different times.

I know an outdoor television personality who regularly bow-shoots – according to him at least – animals at 125 to 150 yards. And here I thought I was something for making full use of seven-pin compound-bow sights and grouping arrows acceptably (during backyard practice) out to 80 yards. It also struck me during a 2009 Archery Trade Association Show event – the "Rage 100 Long-Range Broadhead Shoot" (or some such) – how some of the best bowhunters/shooters in the world could keep dang few arrows in the big 8-inch yellow FITA bull's-eye at 100 measured yards. Even the top two shooters had arrows in the red, out of five shots, during the final shootout. 

I also made certain observations during 23 years of guiding bowhunters for trophy elk in New Mexico's Gila region. There were certainly occasional hotshots who could back out to, say, 90 yards, and still stack them into foam vitals (normally missing a live bull broadside in the open at 35 yards later that week), but for the most part, the majority of the bowhunters we hosted were hard-pressed to assemble a decent group at 40 yards.

I'm not saying longer shots aren't possible, or should never be taken. I certainly don't adhere to what Chuck Adams labels the "Ethics of Mediocracy" many wish to impose – only 20-yard, broadside shots allowed to be discussed in mixed company. I've worked very hard to extend my maximum effective range and understand modern compound bows, fine-tuned accessories and space-age carbon arrows make this easier all the time. I'm regularly forced to shave 20 yards from published kill yardages to avoid hate mail from those mentioned above.

But 150 yards? Really? I've always believed getting close is what bowhunting is all about. But that's just me – the dummy who still regularly goes afield with recurve bows. I'm still most impressed by tales of getting "close enough to hit 'em with a rock." Bragging about 100-plus-yard shots, to me at least, is an admission of bowhunting defeat, not triumph.

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