In Blog, Bowhunting

I’m not alone in being a poor judge of distance, but I’m more willing to admit it than are most bowhunters.  We all practice with our bow, but we don’t practice distance judging.

Byron Ferguson with a fat six-pointer taken in northern Alabama.

I cannot judge distance well.  I’m not alone in being a poor judge of distance, but I’m more willing to admit it than are most bowhunters.  We all practice with our bow, but we don’t practice distance judging.  That’s too boring.

A few years ago, we attended an eastern state bowhunting association’s fall shoot.  They had a distance judging contest as sort of a novelty event, “test yourself” and all that.  The 10 targets included two rabbits, two turkeys, three whitetail deer, two raccoons and one black bear.  The cardboard targets were life-size and lifelike.  They weren’t 3D, but still…

Target distances were typical, ranging from 18 feet to 75 feet.  The 10 target distances added up to 384 feet.  Participants estimated the distance in feet from marker stakes to the targets, with a different stake for each target.  Accuracy was determined by adding their 10 estimates and seeing how close they were to the actual total of the 10 distances.

Keep in mind that the participants were experienced bow shots, some more and some less.  At least, though, they already were interested enough in shooting the bow and in bowhunting that they were aware of the association and its fall event, and they were interested enough in the activity to attend and then participate in the distance judging.  You would naturally conclude, then, that they were more attuned to distance judging simply because they most likely practiced it more often than the average bow shooter.

If that is so, then the results show just how far off the person who DOESN’T shoot much probably will be.  For these people didn’t do all that wonderfully, either.

Here’s the distance estimate list of 26 people who tried their skills at distance judging.  These are totals, in feet, of their estimates for the 10 targets:

284, 297, 304, 344, 364. 365. 369, 377, 393. 395, 402, 407, 410, 416, 423, 432, 441, 444, 450, 456, 457, 460, 468, 501, 537, 543.

Remember that the actual total was 384 feet.

Only seven were within 20 feet, plus or minus, of the actual total.  That’s only two feet off per target, yet sometimes that little bit can mean a lot of difference.  Average target distance was 38.4 feet.  Dividing the two-foot average estimating error by 38.4 gives a 5.21 percentage error.

When you’re picking aiming spot, pick the smallest spot possible, such as a light hair on the topline of the cluster of lighter toned hairs just behind this buck’s elbow, maybe five inches up from the bottom line of its body. This extra concentration and smallest spot will help your aim if you haven’t exactly judged distance.

The bow is a slow hunting tool.  The arrow has more arc in the trajectory than we often realize.  There just isn’t much margin for error regarding distance judging when we use the bow.

It’s interesting that eight people judged short and 18 judged long.  In fact, the longest estimate was more than five yards off, on average, per target.  That wouldn’t have been the case on the shorter shots at rabbits, so you can imagine how far off the long-distance estimates would be.  All estimates were made from the ground.

We all know the general mistake is to shoot high on game, either because we get excited and just don’t concentrate enough, or we overestimate the distance.  It’s been proven time and again that deer aren’t as large in body size as we generally believe they are.  so when that factor is combined with what appears to be a distance judging problem, it’s easy to see why we shoot high frequently.  It may be painful to admit that we aren’t always that good at judging distances, but we are not that good.  Especially when you ad factors such as the excitement of the hunt, and approaching animal (maybe of large size or with large antlers), combinations of shadows and light which intensify or decrease light, the relatively unfamiliar setting and related lack of confirmed reference points and the somewhat unfamiliar perspective of the view from a treestand.

Several Army studies of gunnery and infantry personnel have confirmed that the human-animal is nowhere near as good a judge of distance as he thinks he is.

BECOME THE ARROW            (Paperback, 5-1/2″ x 8-1/2″, 110 pages)

by Byron Ferguson, archery trick shot and veteran bowhunter

Byron Ferguson — archery trick shot, veteran bowhunter, longbow manufacturer, a regular on cable television ‘amazing shots’ programs, and a long-time performer at deer-and-turkey hunting expos and other outdoor shows — developed a modern barebow aiming and shooting system called ‘become the arrow’ for longbow and recurve shooters.  It is easy to learn, reliable and puts your mental and physical focus where it belongs – on the target.

He says, “The arrow is the only thing that extends from shooter to target; it is the only projection of yourself, of your concentration and focus.  So why shouldn’t you ‘become the arrow’.”

A veteran and skilled bowhunter, Ferguson has tagged more than 300(!) whitetail deer, plus moose, pronghorn, mule deer, and a record-book black bear. In the book, he gives you the benefit of his hunting experience in sections on tidal charts and moon phases, scouting for treestand placement, funneling deer, how to handle the moment of truth, hunting from the ground, hunting from a creek, deer body language, scouting a new area, finding lost blood trails, the five priorities of bowhunting and the 10 most-frequent mistakes.

To order BECOME THE ARROW, go to