How Far Should You Shoot?

posted on September 16, 2017

Many hunters go to great lengths shooting groups from the bench at the range. But how well can you place an ethical shot on your quarry in the field when a bench isn’t available? The answer is simple to find.

First, determine the size of the heart/lung area of the animal to be hunted. For instance, the heart/lung area on a mature whitetail buck is very close to 8 inches. In some parts of the country where the deer are smaller, 6 inches may be more realistic.

In either case, pick up some paper plates of the appropriate size at the local grocery store and head for the range. Hang several plates at a distance you anticipate to take a shot at game while hunting. For example, if your stand is 60 yards from a well-used deer trail, hang the plates at that distance. If you expect to shoot across a draw to a ridge 170 yards away, make that the range to the plates.

Next, decide what position you are likely to be in when taking a shot in the field. If you’re going to hunt from a treestand or blind, you’ll most likely be seated. Still-hunters will probably shoot from standing or perhaps kneeling when the moment of truth arrives. A Western spot-and-stalk hunt may afford you a shot from prone. Settle into the appropriate position and fire five shots at a plate.

All five shots need to be within the diameter of the plate in order to validate the distance, position, equipment and your ability to ethically take that shot. If all five aren’t in the plate you will either have to find a way to get closer, change positions or practice to improve your marksmanship ability until you can consistently put five shots in a row on the target.

Try multiple positions with the same goal of five consecutive shots (no misses) on the plate. Incorporate shooting sticks or other improvised rests like a pack if they will be available in the field when hunting. With each position start at a distance that ensures success (hopefully the range to game you first anticipated) and move back from the target in 10-yard increments. When you miss, you have exceeded your ethical shooting distance with that particular firearm in that position. You have determined your limit for taking game cleanly.


Mainmossy Oak Gamekeeper Tractor
Mainmossy Oak Gamekeeper Tractor

First Look: Mossy Oak Gamekeeper LS Tractor

LS Tractor and Mossy Oak Gamekeepers have introduced the companies' first-ever, limited-edition camouflage tractor.

First Look: Federal 28-Gauge Black Cloud

Federal Ammunition has addedtwo 28-gauge, 3-inch, ¾-ounce loads in shot size No. 3 or 4 to its Black Cloud product lineup. 

#SundayGunday: Stag Arms Stag 10 Pursuit

Get a closer look at the Stag Arms Stag 10 Pursuit, the latest addition to our #SundayGunday series.

How to Hunt Silent Elk

To hunt elk that give you the silent treatment, you must focus on necessities they need all year: water, food and refuge from predators.

NRA to Celebrate “Wild Game Meat Donation Month” in November

This November, the NRA and its members will celebrate the first-ever “Wild Game Meat Donation Month” to encourage all hunters to donate extra venison or other game meat to help provide meals for those in need.

Longtime NRA Supporter Michael Fuljenz Honored With American Numismatic Association’s Highest Award

NRA Golden Ring of Freedom member Michael Fuljenz, is the 2023 recipient of the highest honor bestowed by the Congressionally-chartered American Numismatic Association.


Get the best of American Hunter delivered to your inbox.