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You Can’t Regulate Ethics

You Can’t Regulate Ethics

By Brad Fenson |

Why archery equipment is limited by more than what you can do at the range.

A pair of bucks ran across the rolling sandhills of Nebraska, making their way toward the woodlot I was watching. There had already been an abundance of doe and small buck activity, and as the sun made its way into the western sky, the big boys finally began to show.

The lead buck had my attention with 5 even points stretching off each antler. My heart rate quickened in anticipation at the opportunity to level my crossbow at his big body. The bucks entered the cedars, and deer started moving in every direction. Does were running through the trees, and smaller bucks were getting out of the way, watching the action with interest.

I caught glimpses of antlers moving through the cover and eventually spotted my target buck about 200 yards down the fence line. He was freshening up a scrape and raking the bark off an adjacent tree. The rut had kicked it.

Since the buck had already run through the thicket and checked the does, I worried he would continue on his way to the next block of cover. Then, a commotion caught my attention.

Two bucks were chasing a doe, and they ran right to the edge of the small field where I was situated. The doe kept looking back, and my target buck edged his way up the fence until he was right in front of me. I ranged him at 72 yards and dropped my crossbow to my knee.

You Can’t Regulate EthicsThe buck was perfectly broadside and busy creating a new rub. I had plenty of time to level the crosshair and double-check the range.

But I didn’t shoot; it just wouldn’t have been right. In my book, any archery shot at a whitetail over 50 yards is off limits — literally.

For starters, whitetails are spooky creatures that can jump a string at 20 yards, let alone 72, or even 50.

In this case, the arc on the arrow would have made it more susceptible to the gusting prairie winds. All the deer had to do was take a half step in the time it took for my arrow to get there and my season would be over with no deer to show for it.

I continued to watch, and the buck was soon chasing does and letting every creature in the woods know he was boss. The doe that had drawn his attention tried to sneak back down the tree line, but the buck resumed the chase. This time he passed by me at 61 yards, but he never stopped walking. I reminded myself to be patient.

As the sun started to set, I thought my day was done. I had watched the buck off and on for nearly two hours, and although he was close, he never entered comfortable crossbow range.

I was taking in the pastel-painted skyline when the big buck returned, jumped the fence and focused on his stomach instead of the ladies. I felt like I was in the chess game of my life as the buck would feed toward me only to turn away just before coming into range.

You Can’t Regulate EthicsHe would wander almost out of sight, then tease me by feeding back into the field. With light fading, the buck finally stopped at 46 yards, offering a perfect quartering-away shot. My arrow found its mark, and the buck traveled just 50 yards before piling up.

Patience is a virtue, but ethics help define a hunter. With the long-range crossbow craze getting attention, some good advice would be to know the limits — both yours and that of your equipment.

Never shoot at a live target at yardages you have not practiced and are not comfortable with at the range. If that’s 30 yards for you, that’s ok. Hold out for a shot you know will end with a short blood trail and a filled tag.

From an equipment standpoint, today’s bows, and especially crossbows, are more than capable of shooting tight groups at ranges well beyond ethical hunting situations. For me, the magic number with a crossbow is 50 yards.

Anything beyond that has so many elements of risk that I can’t justify trying it. I owe it to the animals I pursue to make clean, ethical shots every time.

Anyone who thinks it’s ethical to take long-distance archery shots need to take a serious look at the facts and numbers. Set up at the range and shoot your crossbow so you can watch the arrow flight. The arc will astonish you. It’s like looking at a bold rainbow after a heavy rain.

Better yet, video the exercise and play it back in slow motion. Take note of the time it takes for the arrow to get to the target, and it should be clear when you’re flirting with the ethics barrier.

Have fun target shooting at extreme ranges, as it will only make you more accurate at hunting distances — but don’t confuse long-range target shooting with ethical crossbow hunting.

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Copyright 2019 by Buckmasters, Ltd.

Copyright 2017 by Buckmasters, Ltd