Learning from Western Bowhunters


Most bow shots at whitetails are easy. I once read that the average range is 19 yards. I don’t know where the figures to back that up came from, but I believe it. I shot five whitetails last fall with my bow, and all of them were inside 25 yards. Four were inside 15. Most of the time, if I think there’s a chance that a 35-yard deer will move closer, I’ll wait. Watching a deer ease in close until the moment to shoot is just right is one of my favorite parts of the game.

But that doesn’t mean I’m not prepared to shoot farther. I do most of my archery practice from afar— 50, 60, 70 yards—sometimes beyond that. At the Bowcast at the Bird 3D shoot in Utah last week, I took some 100-plus-yard shots. I even hit a few of them. I practiced on steep angles, in country and on targets that are far-removed from the eastern whitetail woods. It did me some good.

I look forward to this event each year, not only because it’s a heck of a lot of fun to challenge myself and my equipment, but because it’s made me a better, more confident shooter and hunter. I’d always thought of myself as a decent shot and a good bowhunter. But when I first attended this event three years ago, I listened as those western guys talked about killing antelope at 80 yards—and then backed their stories up by piling arrows into a 120-yard target. It was intimidating. Here I was with a 3-pin sight, dialed in to 40 yards—and I rarely even used that third pin. I was outta my league.

But rather than tease me about my “flatlander’s” setup, guys like Anthony Dixon, Shawn Monsen, and my pal Kasidy Manhart welcomed me in. That first year, we moved my whole sight-pin bracket so that I’d have a 40, 50 and 60-yard pin and could join them on the Elite Course. I’d never taken a 60-yard shot at anything, but when I put that bottom pin on the target, the arrow fell right into it. It was a cool feeling, and I was hooked. Over the subsequent years, I’ve made adjustments to my setup, and find myself stepping a little farther back from my target all the time, just to see where my groups fall apart. I’ve stood in the road in front my house and lobbed arrows into the back yard. The old man across the street gets a kick out of it. “Boy, that ain’t like the old bow I had when I was a kid,” he says.

Right now, 80 yards seems to be my consistency mark. When you’re shooting distances like that on the range, those 20-yard shots are cream puffs. I’m supremely confident on a broadside deer at 50 yards, and even a bit beyond. I couldn’t have said that a few years ago. 

I guess what I’m getting at here is yeah, you may already be a great shot and a good bowhunter. But someone out there is better than you. Find them. Learn from them. Step out of your comfort zone. It’ll help you in the long run.