Two mature 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 moved toward the western sky, the bigger boys were starting to move.
The lead 5×5 buck had my attention. 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. I caught glimpses of antlers moving through the dense cover, and eventually spotted my target buck 200 yards down the fence line. He was working a scrape and rubbing an adjacent tree. The rut had obviously kicked it.
I worried the buck would continue away from me to the next block of cover when a commotion caught my attention. The two biggest bucks were chasing a doe, and they ran right to the edge of the small field in front of me. The doe kept looking back, and my target buck edged his way up the fence in my direction. I ranged him at 72 yards, then settled my scoped crossbow on my knee.
The buck was perfectly broadside and busy working on a new rub. I had plenty of time to level my crosshair, double check the range, and let an arrow fly, but it didn’t seem right. Any shot of 50 yards or more at a whitetail is risky business. For starters, they are spooky creatures that can jump a string at 20 yards, let alone 72. The arc on the arrow would make it more susceptible to the gusting prairie winds, and all the 5×5 had to do was take a half step in the time it took for my arrow to get there and . . . well, I don’t want to think about the terrible result.
I let the buck carry on, and he was soon chasing does and letting every creature in the woods know he was boss. The doe that had drawn his attention early tried to sneak back down the tree line, and the buck resumed his chase. This time he passed in front of me at 61 yards; I reminded myself to be patient.
As the buck headed away in thick cover, I figured he was finally leaving. I’d watched him off and on for nearly 2 hours — awesome! — and although he was “ballpark” close twice, he hadn’t been inside my comfortable crossbow range.
Suddenly, I couldn’t believe my eyes when the 5×5 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 and not offer a shot. He would wander too far away, then tease me by feeding back into the field. The buck finally stopped at 46 yards, offering a perfect quartering-away shot. My arrow found its mark and the buck (below) traveled only 50 yards before piling up.
Targets Are NOT Wild Game
Patience is a virtue, but ethics help define a hunter. With the long-range crossbow craze getting attention, it’s time for a reality check. My 50-yard maximum forced me to pass a big buck I hoped to harvest. 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 single time.
Anyone who thinks they can make a 100-yard shot when hunting needs to run some tests. Set up at the range and shoot your crossbow so you can see the actual arrow flight. It should astonish you how big the arc is, looking like a bold rainbow after a good rain. Video the exercise and then play it back in slow motion. The time it takes for the arrow to get to the target should make it clear that it isn’t an ethical hunting shot.
By all means, have fun target shooting at extreme ranges; it will make you more accurate at distances you intend to hunt. But don’t confuse long-range target shooting with how far to push a crossbow when hunting. Crossbows are NOT rifles.
Images courtesy of TenPoint and Wicked Ridge Crossbows