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Rifle Magazine
January - February 2003
Volume 1, Number 1
ISSN: 0
Number 1
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Cover photo by John R. Ford.
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Bow hunting is, by its very nature, an up-close-and-personal kind of game. The whole object of the exercise is to see how close you can get to the quarry before making the shot. Such limitations are the end product of the equipment bow hunters carry afield. From the days of the recurve through the first years of the compound, bow hunters - limited in large measure by available bow technology - who could place a broadhead-tipped arrow into a pie plate-sized circle shot after shot at 50 yards were quite rare. In fact, it was this limitation that spawned several hunting products that all hunters have found quite useful, the most notable of which are the tree stand and “custom” camouflage clothing.

Twenty-first century bow hunting is still an in-their-face kind of game. However, modern compound bow and accessory technology have created tools capable of precisely placing an arrow at ranges that, in decades past, would have made shooters of most of the muzzleloading rifles of that day envious. Today skilled archers shooting modern compound bows, arrows and broadheads routinely make 50-yard shots. Many are capable of extending that distance significantly. While rare, I know a handful of western bow hunters who are quite capable of consistently making the shot at 70, 80 and even 90 yards.

Before proceeding, a disclaimer: I am not one of these highly skilled archers. I have made killing shots at 60 yards but would prefer to be much closer. The men and women I know who make this type of long-range shot are highly trained, shoot only perfectly matched and tuned tackle, practice these shots on a regular basis and know when, and when not, to shoot. They know how to establish what I call their own personal MESR (maximum effective shooting range) and how that maximum distance can fluctuate given the conditions at hand. Establishing your own MESR is important no matter how and where you bow hunt and will be the topic of a future column.

One of the problems in accurately shooting at these extended distances is establishing a sight picture. Even with well-trained shooting muscles and perfect shooting form, the sight picture a bow hunter sees is one of a pin that is dancing slightly about the target. No matter what you do, holding the sight pin rock-steady is impossible; if for no other reason, the beating of your heart will bounce it slightly. That’s why it is important to establish a routine in which you set the sight pin on the target the same way every time. For some, it means placing the sight pin above the spot they wish to hit, slowly bringing the pin down through the target, and releasing the arrow. For others, it is holding the pin to the side, then sliding it over.

My friend Jerry Fletcher, owner of Fletcher’s Archery in Wasilla, Alaska, and I were talking about long-distance shooting recently. Jerry is someone I listen to closely. As a pro shop owner, he builds a ton of bows each year, giving him an intimate knowledge of how they work. He also talks to a lot of bow hunters with a wide degree of skill and dedication. As a serious bow hunter, he knows what it takes to get the job done. As a champion field archer and tournament shooter, Jerry also knows all about what it takes to become a highly skilled archer.

I was setting up a new compound bow for hunting and was out on Jerry’s outdoor range, setting my sight pins for long-distance shooting. All my hunting bows have sight pins set for 20, 30, 40, 50, 60 and 70 yards - with a couple featuring an 80-yard pin. Even though these longer pins are set at distances at which I will never shoot at an animal (I know my own MESR), they are great for practice.

My comment to Jerry was something like: The real thing that makes it tough for me to shoot precisely at the longer distances is the fact the .027-inch diameter fiber optic sight pins I (and just about everyone else) use are so thick they completely cover the 4-inch circle we use as a bullseye. So when my sight pin gets to bouncing around, it is hard to try and center it inside that tiny circle when I am shooting at 60 yards or more.

That’s when my friend made me feel a bit childish. “You shoot a handgun, don’t you?” he asked. When I said yes, he asked, “Where do you hold the front bead of the handgun sight?”

“I use a 6 o’clock hold,” I said. Now, I have never claimed to be the brightest bulb in the lamp, but when that 60-watter upstairs started illuminating my sometimes slower-than-average brain, I felt my face start to redden. There it was. By using a 6 o’clock hold, I could place the sight pin at the base of the bullseye, completely eliminating the problem of the pin covering up the target. When the pin floated into position, I could cut the shot and know exactly where the shaft was heading.

Now I set my 40-yard-and-beyond pins to cover the target, but the longer-range pins are set for the 6 o’clock hold. For a guy used to covering up the “spot” with the sight pin before shooting, this new hold took some getting used to. I have found it has made me a much better long-distance shooter, in two ways. First, by allowing me to see the target clearly, I can be much more precise with my sight picture. Second, when I let the arrow go, I can call the shot before the shaft ever arrives. A good shot just feels good, of course, but when I pull one a little, I can tell immediately where that arrow will end up before it gets there. This in turn has helped me understand more about my own shooting form and its inherent flaws, which has helped me correct the mistakes. This has helped me extend my own personal MESR.

I’ve been shooting a compound bow since the early 1970s, and it took me 20-some years to figure this out. Wow. If you’ve had the same trouble with your long-distance sight picture, give the 6 o’clock hold a try. I’m betting you’ll be pleasantly surprised with the results.

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