Determining Your Lethal Range (Five Steps Before the Season)

As the summer winds down it is important to determine your effective range. Here are five things to consider when determining how far you will shoot this season.

  • Paper Plates and Rulers

I start with a ruler and the goal of shrinking my groups to the number of inches as the first digit of the distance I am shooting at, so I want to shoot 2 inch groups at 20, 3 inch groups at 30, and 4 inch groups at 40. Often times when I actually start measuring my groups they are not as tight as I thought.

After I have measured my groups I’ll use a paper plate standard to determine effective range. This is important because my groups may be tight, but I may have false confidence from measuring and I am still missing my spots slightly. All 4 shots inside of a 4 or 6 inch paper plate is a good standard.

  1. The first shot of the day

Now that I know what my groups measure at each distance, I focus on where my first shot lands. One of the best hunters I know in New Zealand says your first practice shot is the most important shot of the day. If you think about the hours you wait to take one shot while hunting, he has a pretty good point. If my range is 55 yards, I expect to walk out and make a lethal shot with my very first shot.

If your bow tends to settle into a groove while you shoot, or your groups tighten after 20 shots when you discover a consistent knock point, don’t use that as a metric of your effective range. Walking a 3D course at this time of year with one shot at each target is a great way to find your effective range.

  1. How much do your feet, heart rate, and timing affect your shooting?

Taking three deep breaths and having your feet in the perfect position yields great groups in practice, but these situations are not common while hunting. Start shooting with a shorter prep time to size up the target and do steps one and two again. Or do a short sprint and take a shot, are you still able to hold your pin steady at sixty yards when your heart is beating out of your chest? I don’t think you have to take trick shots in practice, but change up your set-up a little bit and shoot some more groups to find if sixty yards is just a competition distance.

  1. History with your bow

Now consider the past hunts and what distance deer began to adjust to your arrows. Last year I took a 46 yard shot at a deer I stopped as it trotted across a beanfield. The buck lowered itself and turned slightly to the right before the arrow got there. I ended up hitting it high. I wouldn’t recommend shooting at an alert deer over 40 yards now, but I learned that one the hard way. It is possible your bow quieter and faster than mine, and so your distance shooting at an alert deer may be different. Some hunters aim low and let the deer drop into the shot, but this has its limitations as well. Just because most whitetails drop when you shoot at them, doesn’t mean you should aim low and stop a buck at sixty. I’ve seen some deer not drop or drop too much and run off only injured.

I think it’s a good idea to have a set an absolute maximum distance. No matter how well I shoot, my maximum distance for whitetail is 60 yards. I won’t shoot over 60 at a whitetail even if I practice out to one hundred. I believe that a whitetail is quick enough and there are enough factors while hunting that shooting over sixty is irresponsible with my bow.

  1. Reconsider Day-To-Day

Don’t let your ego get in the way of releasing responsible shots while hunting. Just because you shoot accurately at fifty on Monday, doesn’t mean you have a pass to take a fifty yard shot on Friday. When work turns hectic and you aren’t practicing every day, or you bumped your bow while hunting and now can’t quite figure out what has your bow spraying arrows, recalculate your range. While it is frustrating to go into the field with only forty yard range when you have been shooting out to sixty all summer, waiting for a forty yard shot is far less frustrating than spending days searching for a wounded deer that you hit marginally.

Follow these five steps and hashtag #iowaslam on instagram, I look forward to seeing your success.


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