Many people find that accurately judging distance is one of the most difficult aspects of bow hunting. But with a little practice, it’s possible for everyone to turn this area of weakness into a strong point, and there will be no more stories of that heartbreaking miss—at least not due to inaccurately judging distance.
There are several methods for judging distance. It’s important to find one or more that works for you, and practice it consistently. Laser range finders are useful, but taking the extra time to use it when the game wanders into sight may cost you the opportunity to get a shot off. It’s best to be able to accurately judge distance without the use of your range finder.
Subtending is a method that everyone will have to personalize. It works by comparing the relative size of the target with how large that target appears at a given distance. For instance, if you usually hunt white-tail deer, and your sight pins are set to 5/8 inches, you know that the average-sized deer fits perfectly between your sights at twenty yards away. If the deer only fills half the height of your sights, you know the deer is forty yards away. There are other things to compare with other than sights. You may be able to use a finger or another part of your bow. This method works well if you consistently hunt the same game.
This is a very good method, and I think everyone should use it. With your laser range finder, or by measuring or even pacing it off, find the distance to various landmarks. You might have a tree at 25 yards, and a bush at 15 yards. If your target is between those landmarks, it’s easy to judge accurately how far away the target is. You might also want to set up your own landmarks. If you’re turkey hunting, you could set up a decoy at twenty yards. You could tie ribbons to the branches of trees at thirty yards away, or place rocks every ten yards.
There are several good ways to practice these skills, and they definitely require practice. It’s often beneficial to practice with the same circumstances under which you’ll be hunting. If you know it will be cold, and you’ll be wearing a coat when hunting, it’s good to practice while wearing the same coat.
Sometimes the terrain, or light and shadows, and slopes can distort your ability to judge distance. A 3-D archery range is a good place to practice. The goal of a 3-D archery range is to provide realistic experience and target practice in real terrain, and with life-size targets. Such ranges provide excellent opportunities to practice judging distance, and other archery skills at the same time. Be sure to take your shot before checking your distance determination. If you’re with friends, everyone should have a chance to shoot before anyone checks the distance.
Go For a Walk
Another good way to practice is to go out with your range finder, and practice determining the distance to trees or other landmarks, and then verify your determination with a range finder. This is the kind of practice that you can do year round.
Make Practice into a Game
Have a friend set up decoys or targets at varying distances, and practice judging the distance to the targets. Be sure that if you hunt sitting down, that you practice sitting down. If you hunt from a tree stand, practice from a similar height by leaning a ladder up against the house or shed. Keep score by adding up the error for each target, and dividing it by the sum of all of the distances to each target. This will give you the percentage of error. Expert hunters will have less than 10% error. Good hunters will have 10-20% error. Average hunters will have 20-30% error. And If you have more than 30% error, you should keep practicing.
With all of the time, money and effort spent to go hunting, it doesn’t make any sense to be unprepared in this vital skill. People have a tendency to overlook practicing judging distance, which inevitably leads to heartbreaking misses
Bill Phillips has written articles on many recreational activities.