We are often told to get out of our “comfort zone” to make progress in life, but there are also times when we really need to stay in it. Bowhunting is one of those times.
What I’m talking about is knowing your limits, and your equipment’s limits, and not shooting at deer beyond them.
As soon as I started giving this some thought, it occurred to me we actually have to think about it as two zones. One is your comfort zone where you know what you and your equipment are capable of under perfect practice conditions. The other is what we’ll call your “ethical zone,” which is knowing and understanding the limits of you and your equipment under real-world hunting conditions.
First we need to define accuracy for hunting deer with archery equipment. That old “wisdom” of three out of five arrows in a pie plate at 20 yards is good enough to hunt makes me cringe. If you accept 40 percent of your arrows outside of an eight-inch target at 20 yards, you can expect to wound a lot of deer. In this day and age of ultra-precision compound bows, you can and should expect what we’ll call an “archery minute of angle.” This is just a modified version of the firearms minute of angle, accounting for the less powerful, less accurate weapon. Because archery equipment requires hunters to get much closer to the deer, our minute of angle for archery is defined as three arrows in a 1-inch group at 10 yards, 2 inches at 20 yards and 3 inches at 30 yards. It’s hard to maintain this minute of angle much after 40 yards because, unlike a gun on a bench, the human factors become almost insurmountable at these longer yardages. You may not get to this minute-of-angle accuracy with your bow, but it can be done.
By now I’m guessing you are wondering why I’m advocating such fine accuracy in view of the fact that deer in most regions have about 10 inches of vital zone. (Actually, in some regions where whitetails express below-average body size, the vital zone is even smaller).
Here’s the reason. Your accuracy under perfect practice conditions is going to be reduced by some factor when you are out hunting deer in the real world. It’s called the “multiplier effect.” I wish I could give you an absolute formula for this, but I can’t. It is different for each hunter, just as each hunting situation is different. My goal is to help you understand it and believe it.
So what are the multiplier effects? Just about everything involved in hunting. Sure, everything works perfectly once in a while, but we have to be prepared for most of the time, not once in a while. More than likely the wind is blowing, but at different speeds and different directions, and the tree we’re in is swaying. The light is poor. It is raining slightly. And that voice in your head is saying things like:
Oh my God, that buck is huge!
He’s not going to my opening!
I wish I had trimmed that limb.
Is he 20 yards or 25?
Will he stop, will he look my way?
Man, my heart is pounding!
Another deer is coming. Will it spook the first one? Is it a bigger deer?
It’s cold. I can barely feel my fingers.
Sure wish the bugs would stay out of my eyes while I draw.
You get the point. These and a hundred more factors are the multiplier effect. Not that any of us want hunting to be easy. If it was easy, it wouldn’t be hunting. So how do we deal with this multiplier effect? We start by getting our equipment as precise as possible. The more accurate the equipment, the more forgiving it is, plain and simple.
How big is this multiplier effect? Most of the time, a lot bigger than you think. Archery is a little different from firearms in that we don’t sight bows from a bench. The human factor is always there. As I stated earlier, we are asking and expecting less accuracy from our bows and arrows because of it. We are also accepting that we must get much closer to our deer to compensate. From my observations, I would say the multiplier effect is at least five.
What this means is: a 2-inch group in practice multiplied by a factor of five equals 10 inches. This multiplier effect may be greater as distances get beyond the 20-yard mark, and indeed it will be less at closer distances.
If you are shooting an “archery minute of angle” with your bow when practicing under perfect conditions, then expect your groups to open to around 10 inches in the real world of hunting at 20 yards.
If this seems a bit much, just think about the deer you have killed with your bow or other people’s kills you have seen. Did the arrow always hit right where you were aiming, or where the other hunter was aiming? Yes, the deer was recovered, but how long before you hit one poorly and lose it? Hopefully a long time, and maybe never, if you understand and accept the reality of the multiplier effect. Once you do, then you can allow for it and better define your comfort zone and ethical zone for future hunts. If you can only shoot two minutes of angle in practice (a 4-inch group at 20 yards), that’s fine, but understand that you are risking an arrow going outside that 10-inch vital zone if your deer is 20 yards or farther when you shoot. You should be willing to get a little closer before you shoot at a deer with your less-accurate equipment.
This article is about accuracy, and I have not mentioned the reality of physics. You must also consider your arrow’s weight and momentum when determining your comfort/ethical zone. It would be unethical to shoot at a deer at 30 yards with a low-momentum arrow. It simply doesn’t have enough power to penetrate all the way through the deer, especially if you have a marginal hit. Refer to my article “Momentum Beats Speed for Lethal Arrow Hits” for more information about arrow momentum.
Ultimately you will need to define your own comfort zone. Doing the right thing when no one is looking is a good place to start. If you refuse to take a risky shot, I promise the sun will come up the next day. You should never have to convince yourself to take a shot. You should always strive for more accuracy, but understand you will never be as accurate in hunting situations as you are in practice. In a nutshell, draw your limit at the point beyond which you can’t shoot all your arrows into a 10-inch vital zone with the multiplier effect included.
There are people who will continue to wound deer without caring how or why. They are few, we hope, and becoming fewer. The future of hunting belongs to hunters who constantly educate themselves, who are always striving to be better, and who – when it comes to that crucial moment – are willing to stay within their comfort zones.