By Dr Adrian de Villiers
There comes a time when you may be forced to take a very long shot because you only have one chance which may not come again…
Extremely long shots in archery are not recommended under normal conditions, and they are not recommended for beginners. I have been teaching bowhunting techniques for 35 years, and I have always taught hunters to stay within their limitations with respect to the range at which they are prepared to take a shot. This range should be determined not only by how accurately you can shoot at said distance, but by the momentum of the arrow at that distance, and the use of laser range-finding equipment to get the exact range.
An arrow shot into the air at a 45 degree angle from an 80 lb bow should travel between 400 and 900 metres, depending on the make of the bow, the draw weight and the weight of the arrow, and the draw length of the archer. With a razor-sharp cut on impact, that broadhead arrow will kill almost anything it hits, including humans. So it must be treated with care and respect like any other deadly weapon.
There are two ways to determine your hunting distance limit. The first – knowing your accuracy at that distance. Old archery videos and books say it is at the distance you can regularly hit a paper pie plate or about an eight-inch circle. I disagree. I would rather say a tennis ball-sized object.
Also, if you have the training and genetic ability to shoot very far and the correct equipment to do so, you’ll be limited by your archery sight, and I’ll explain why. The archery sight has a fibre optic pin that you use to place on the target that you wish to shoot. You will either have five or six pins set up for each distance, or one floating pin that you can set for an exact distance given to you by your laser range-finder. As you shoot further and further out, your pin will drop lower and lower within the sight to allow the bow to be angled higher and higher for the shot.
Depending on a number of factors, your sight will eventually drop to a point where the arrow will hit it, and beyond that you cannot shoot. Obviously, the heavier the arrow, the shorter the draw length and the slower the bow, so the sight will hit the arrow much sooner. I have some very similar bows with a limitation of 75 m and another at 120 m, so that would be their natural distance limitation. By moving the peep sight you could get the bow to shoot further, too, but we won’t go into that now.
At my home I can only shoot 30 m in my driveway, so that is my regular practise distance, but as soon as I get to the farm I practise at 70m. I also walk in the bush and shoot at anthills, usually restricting myself to 90m.
When I teach bowhunting, I tell clients to practise the very long shots – not to hunt at that distance, but to use it when an animal is accidentally wounded and requires a second shot. Often when it is wounded and alert, it’s not easy to get as close as you want for the second shot.
If you have been walking and “Stump shooting” – picking spots on sand mounds, anthills and river banks to keep in tune with your equipment -and you get an opportunity to shoot one of those crazy long shots, you might feel comfortable to do just that. But you must still choose your shot with great care. Make sure the animal or animals have no idea you are there, and that they are relaxed and grazing calmly or snoozing in the shade. If there is a slight rustle in the leaves or a background noise like running water, all the better.
Don’t aim at a small target like the heart – it’s too low down and near the edge of the body, and a near miss could hit a leg or hit too low. I advocate shooting in the middle of the chest where you have the greatest margin for error. I have a crosshair sight, and I place the vertical axis up the front leg and the horizontal axis through the middle of the body. When I’m shooting longer shots I am a lot calmer than when on very close shots.
My statistically proven, most successful bowhunting distance is between 50 and 60 m (55 and 66 yards). At this range, with the arrow traveling at 280 fps (93 yards per second), the animal has less than one second to lift its head, realise the sound was abnormal, and engage four-leg-drive. They usually take .5 sec to register an abnormal sound, and have less than .5 seconds to move enough to escape the deadly projectile. It’s called “String jumping”.
Early one morning I was taking a leisurely walk through fairly open country when I saw a movement through the thick buffalo thorn bush in front of me. The sun was already up and I was trying my best to stay in the shadowy areas. Skirting around the darker side of the tree, I saw 13 gemsbok grazing peacefully, all broadside and all relaxed. Knowing one of them would definitely look up at any second; I took a range as quickly as I could and nocked an arrow. It was 73 m (80 yards). I had been practising 70 m daily all week, and was hitting a small rubber half-size pig at that distance.
I chose the gemsbok offering me the best shot and started to aim, but one of the herd spotted the movement and looked up. I knew one warning blast from that nose, and they would all run.
This was the moment of truth – I needed to shoot quickly and accurately, without rushing it too much or taking too long. The shot went off, and I watched the arrow arcing in the sky. As my gemsbok looked up, I saw a crimson patch develop just behind the front leg. Though the razor-sharp Slick Trick Broadhead had passed through the animal, it stampeded off with the rest of the herd, and 60m from where I had shot, they crossed a road.
The adrenalin rush kicked in and I started to shake, but I knew the shot was perfect. I immediately went to look for blood, and found a huge splash of it on the road, and not 20 m further on lay my trophy.
None of my animals go to waste: they are turned into biltong, T bones, and breakfast sausage. At home we almost exclusively eat low cholesterol, hormone- and antibiotic-free meat.
Another time, a waterbuck had been wounded accidentally when a very close frontal shot was deflected by an unseen branch. The animal was shot very close to a game fence and it had stampeded straight into the fence, and the trackers and I had thought that the animal had gone over the fence. On the dry hard ground no blood was seen beyond the point of impact with the fence. We alerted the neighbour to watch out for a wounded waterbuck, but it was soon forgotten.
Over a week later my head tracker told me saw at the river a waterbuck bull that appeared to be stumbling occasionally, and he wondered if it was the one that was wounded the previous week. I decided to look for it.
On the main road to the river I found fresh waterbuck tracks, and every fourth step showed that the right rear leg had slipped. I tracked him for a few kilometres quite easily.
The river road was almost four kilometres long with 200 m straight sections, and it was difficult to get really close. That day my bow was my 78# Elite “Ritual”, so I needed to be at least 70 m from the animal to get a shot. Finally, along a stretch where there was good shade cover along the bank, I spotted a huge waterbuck bull. Concealing myself in the brush I took out my trusty Leica 10 by 40 range-finding binoculars and watched him. He had no obvious injury and looked perfectly healthy from where I was 180 m away. I watched him for a good 15 minutes till he turned and started walking away from me.
Suddenly, at about the fourth step he seemed to stumble and catch himself. It was him, and I now knew I had to try and get him while I had him in my sights. As he rounded a bend, I sprinted to the next corner. Knowing that he would be watching his back, I dropped to the ground and crawled out to see where he was.
Humans have a very distinct shape from animals. To avoid detection, you need to change that shape, and a flat, crawling “animal” does the trick really well.
I was hoping he would stop and lie down somewhere where I could get closer than 70 m, but he just kept on walking and stumbling, though still very alert to his surroundings. I was about to run out of options as he was nearing the end of the river fence that now took a sudden right hand turn. If he walked back into the bush, I could lose him.
I was 140 m away with a 70 m pin, but decided to take a shot, knowing that it could be highly unlikely that I would hit him. My other option was to leave him, run back 4 km to the house, get my rifle and then try and find him again – not a feasible plan. So my move was out of desperation and not a decision I took lightly.
As he looked up the road away from me, I aimed about 6 m above him and released an arrow. The bright fletches, clearly visible, dropped well short, and the arrow slithered under his belly into the brush on the other side of the fence. He heard it, and turned to look into the brush behind him, where he had heard the arrow, thinking that was where the danger was.
I knew the next shoot would be ….“Last chance!” I doubled the elevation and concentrated on keeping the line on the shoulder. With a huge share of luck, the arrow struck the shoulder and the waterbuck was down. Strangely enough, when I examined him, I could not see what had caused him to stumble – there were no visible defects to his limbs.
That phenomenal shot was my best 140 m 0r 154 yards, and I don’t plan to try and break it any time soon! For all the critics out there who will be appalled by the chance must understand, I did not think I would be able to find him again if he walked into 600 hectares of thick bush and I did not want it to die a protracted death from a wound. Whenever a dominant waterbuck bull his injured other big bulls take advantage and often kill the wounded one.