Judging Distance To A Target – Guide For Bowhunters

| Last Updated September 25, 2020

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I think we’re all familiar with the time and expense that has gone into getting ready for archery season. We painstakingly take care of everything—from buying all of the right camouflage gear to making sure that the bow makes as little noise as possible when releasing the arrow. Why is it then that the art of accurately judging distance is so often overlooked?

Always Be Prepared

It is very important to properly judge distance. Over the course of 50 yards, an arrow fired at 400 feet per second will fall about two feet. That’s a substantial amount. If you have any hope of getting a kill you must be at least somewhat accurate in your distance determination.

There are plenty of heartbreaking stories of the arrow sailing right over the target because the hunter overestimated the distance.

Here are a few ways to make sure that you’re truly prepared for hunting season.

Laser Range Finder

There are many uses for a laser range finder, but in general, it’s not advisable to use it to judge distance when you’re getting ready to shoot at a target. The extra time and movement required for its use may scare the animal away, and cost you the opportunity to take the shot. However, you can use it to help you practice, and in setting up your distances when you go out hunting.

Landmark Method

This is a very simple method for judging distance. When you get to the spot where you’re going to be hunting, measure the distances to various landmarks around your position. For example, there might be a tree at 20 yards, and a boulder at 30 yards. If the animal walks in between the tree and the boulder, you know it’s between 20 and 30 yards away, and it’s easy to judge the distance to within a couple of yards.

 Of course, an even better idea is to set up your own landmarks, since there will rarely be landmarks placed for you at easy-to-remember distances. Some people like to tie ribbons to branches at a certain distance. Some like to place rocks every ten yards. Turkey hunters can place a decoy at a distance they’re comfortable shooting. However you decide to do it, a laser range finder can be valuable so that you don’t have to hope that your paces are accurate enough.

Practice Makes Perfect

There are other methods for judging distance, but no matter which method you choose, practice is important. There are 3-D archery ranges which provide opportunities to practice under realistic conditions. These ranges have life-size targets, and you get to practice for scenarios that can challenge even the best hunter’s ability to accurately judge distance. Between light and shade, on a severe slope, or when it’s raining or snowing can make it difficult to judge distance, and those are conditions under which we should practice, and that we need to prepare for.

Three-dimensional targets are the best way to practice both judging distance, and other archery skills. Since the cost of 3-D targets has come down rapidly over the last few years, you may want to buy some of those targets for practicing in your own back yard.

Some people are very accurate when practicing, but struggle when they actually go out hunting. This can be caused by practicing in unrealistic conditions. You may want to consider practicing while wearing the same clothing, and shooting the same arrows that you will use when hunting.

Get a Range Finder

Another good way to practice is to go out with your range finder, and practice determining the distance to trees, and then verify your determination with the range finder. This is the kind of practice that you can do year round in your own neighborhood.

There are many good ways to practice judging distance, but many hunters never bother to practice. Be sure to occasionally practice under realistic conditions, with all of the same equipment you actually use when hunting. All of the practice will pay off. When you’re out hunting, you’ll be glad you took the time to prepare.

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My name is Jeff and I have been hunting and fishing for over 40 years. I am an avid archery lover, bass fisherman, and all-around outdoorsman. Currently, I'm obsessed with elk hunting but I'm sure I'll move onto a different favorite soon. You gotta love hunting for that reason :) If you have any questions, or just want chat about your latest hunting score or big catch, you can reach me at admin@biggamelogic.com. Read more about Big Game Logic.