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Judging Distance

Spending some quality time at home before your trip can pay off big dividends for your Colorado bow hunt.

Bill Phillips offers pointers to Bow Hunters

Many bow hunters spend a lot of time, effort, and money preparing for hunting season, but overlook practicing the vital skill of judging the distance to the target. A golden opportunity for the trophy of a lifetime can turn into nothing but a bad memory if you’re unable to properly judge the distance. What could be more heartbreaking than missing that target by a fraction of an inch? The truth in the matter is that there just is no substitute for practice.

Methods of Determining Distance

There are several methods for estimating the distance to the target. The first method for judging distance is simply to take a guess. Over short distances, most people can guess the right distance accurately enough. However, the guesses become less and less accurate over longer distances. Typically 40 yards is the maximum distance that people can judge accurately. The value of guessing will come as you gain experience, and if it’s verified with other ways of approximating distance.

If you’re in a stationary position, you can determine the distance to several landmarks, such as trees or boulders. To determine the distance, you can use a range finder, or simply pace off the distance. The time to use the range finder has passed when the game is within range. There just isn’t enough time to determine the distance with a range finder, and also get a shot off successfully.

A similar method that can be used is to set up markers or decoys at specific distances. Rather than relying on the natural landmarks in the area, set up your own markers every ten yards or so. For instance when turkey hunting, if you set up a decoy at 20 yards away from your position, and a turkey nears your decoy, it’s very easy to estimate the distance accurately enough to get a good shot off. Of course, one limitation of these methods is that the animal won’t always come waltzing through the area that you have marked off.

Another method is to get a good idea of what a certain distance looks like, such as 10 yards or 20 yards, and then you can determine how many increments of that distance are required to reach the target. If your basis is 10 yards, and you can tell that there are four increments required to span the distance to the target, then you know the distance is approximately 40 yards. Combining two or more of these methods will provide the most reliable results.

Practice Makes Perfect

Whichever method you decide you like, it’s important to practice before going out hunting. If you have a new range finder, it’s not a good idea to figure out how to use it out in the woods. You should familiarize yourself with it, so that there are no complications at the wrong time. Another way to practice is have a friend place a decoy at various distances and practice determining the distance. It’s good to practice under varying lighting, and terrain conditions. Be sure to sit down while determining the distance if that’s how you’re going to be hunting.

Ranges that have 3D targets are probably the best way to practice. Some ranges offer life-size targets of various animals, such as deer, turkey, moose, elk, and mountain goats. If these targets are placed in open areas and among trees and on varied terrain, this can be one of the best ways to practice all of your skills, including judging distance.

All of the variables that can come up in real world situations should be prepared for in practice. Oftentimes, steep slopes can make it hard to judge distance. If you’re used to hunting big game in wooded areas, going hunting on the prairie can make things look farther away.

The difference between a failed hunt and a successful hunt is all too often decided by the skill of judging the distance to the target. A little preparation can go a long way toward your success.

About the Author

Bill Phillips is the publisher of, a website devoted to airsoftsoft guns.  

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