Archers: How Far Should You Shoot?

Fifteen-year-old Randy W. from Virginia writes to ask how far he should shoot at a deer with his bow.

Randy, there are many factors that enter into a bowshot. You should ask yourself: what’s the position of the deer? Is he/she alert or feeding? Is the deer in thick or open cover? What experience do I have at taking deer with the bow? Is my bow loud or quiet at the shot? And how well can I judge distance?

Dr. Dave Samuel

In other words, every shot and every bowhunter is different. Only the individual can determine when to shoot. However, most bow-harvested whitetails are shot between 10 yards and 19 yards.

In fact, of all the entries into the Pope and Young Record Book (for archery) over the past two years (and there were 4,331 entered) 40 percent were taken between 10 yards and 19 yards, and another 30 percent between 20 yards and 29 yards. Less than 15 percent were shot over 30 yards. This should tell you something.

Mule deer are found in a bit more open country, so the shots there are longer, with the record book stating 18 percent shot at between 40 yards and 49 yards, and 16 percent shot at over 50 yards.

So, a good answer to how far you should shoot at whitetails is probably less than 30 yards, and less than 20 is even better.

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Dr. Dave writes a weekly column for If you have a question for Dr. Dave, e-mail your question to Dr. Dave in care of Tom Kacheroski, senior editor of‘s content at Dr. Dave studied deer for 30 years as a wildlife management professor at West Virginia University. In addition he has been a bowhunter for over 40 years, with deer being his main prey. He’s also an outdoor writer and has been with “Bowhunter” magazine for 31 years.

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