By Bill Krenz (1952-2010)
Research suggests that the average successful bowhunting shot on a deer is taken at about twenty yards. On the surface, that would seem to suggest that practicing at twenty yards would be the ticket. After all, that’s the magic distance at which you fully expect to shoot your next buck.
I’ll tell you a secret. That’s not the way to do it. The best way I’ve found to prepare to shoot a buck perfectly at twenty yards is to practice at forty yards. It’s a technique I call double distance practice.
Double Distance Practice
Different big game animals, in different locations and cover situations, conjure up different shot expectations. I fully expect to shoot most treestanded whitetails at twenty yards or less. I expect the same thing for baited black bears or antelope coming to water. On the other hand, timberline mule deer are famous for throwing bowhunters a shooting curve. Thirty to thirty-five yards is a more realistic expectation of shot distance when stalking big mule deer. In the same fashion, open tundra caribou tend to stretch the expected shot distance even further, habitually pushing things out to at least the forty-yard mark.
To Practice for all of those sorts of bowhunting situations, I simply double the distance at which I realistically expect to make my shot, and then I shoot at least seventy-five percent of my practice arrows at the extended distance.
Polish Shooting Form
Double distance practice is an excellent way to polish your shooting form. At forty, fifty, sixty, or seventy yards there is very little that you can get away with. Peek and drop your bow arm during the shot and you’ll miss to the right. Align your pins too high in your peep sight and your arrow will impact too high. At twenty yards, such shooting mistakes are moderately forgiven by that relatively short distance. Your twenty-yard miss may only be a few inches and the tendency is to find that acceptable. Step back to forty yards and the same slightly bobbled shot misses by six inches. You’re shocked and instantly challenged to improve.
Perfect Equipment Selection
Double distance practice also represents a superb way to perfect your equipment selection, setup and tune. People argue all the time about broadhead accuracy. My only interest is in how accurate a particular broahead-or arrow shaft or sight or rest for that matter-is in my hands and with my setup. With double distance practice it’s easy to check. Screw three new broadheads onto three good arrows and shoot them at sixty yards. Compare them with other broadheads on the same arrows. Measure the group sizes and make your decision. I routinely do that to test equipment compatibly and accurately with broaheads, arrow shafts and arrow rests. I even do it at times to releases, stabilizers, string loops, fletching, even nocks. If it doesn’t do well at double distance, it wont make my setup. It’s also a great way to fine tune a bow, especially with broadheads. Minor adjustments show up big time at double distance.
One of the benefits of double distance practice is the psychological impact it creates. Imagine what the chest of a deer target looks like at twenty yards after weeks of practicing with that same target at forty or even sixty yards. It looks like a barn door. It looks like you coudnt miss it if you tried. It looks like your sight pin doesn’t even move. It looks great.
Just before the bow season opens or in the final weeks before I head off on some far-flung dream bowhunt, I’ll often step up my double distance practice to near one hundred percent of my practice shots. It polishes my form and sets my head right.
An additional benefit of double distance practice is that is slowly, inevitably increases my personally effective shooting range. If you don’t seriously practice at longer distances, you should never take longer shots at game. Hunting bows are relatively short range weapons, although the exact definition of “short” is a bit up in the air. With diligent double distance practice, almost anyone who wants to can make perfect shots on caribou at forty yards.
Double distance practice can make you a better bowhunting shot. It will help you perfect your shooting form, select and tune your equipment, build a powerful sense of shooting confidence, and amplify your effective shooting range.