Are You a Good Judge of Distance?
Written by Bill Phillips

Beginners often underestimate the importance of the skill of judging distance. This problem is usually cured the first time they miss the target simply because their distance estimate was off. Many people think that a laser range finder is a substitute for the skill of judging distance, but a range finder may cost you an opportunity to get a shot off, because of the extra time and movement required to use the range finder. The bottom line is that the ability to judge distance is a required skill for bow hunters, and there is no substitute for practice.

There are several good ways to practice. You can take a walk through the woods, and practice determining the distance to trees. Then, with your range finder, you can determine the actual distance. Another good way to practice is to go to a 3-D archery range, and practice. That way you can practice both judging distance, and your target shooting. Such ranges are valuable because they provide a variety of situations to practice in, such as up or down a slope, or through various lighting conditions (such as shade) that can impact your perception of distance.

Here’s a way to turn practicing into a game. It gives you a way to measure yourself and your improvement in this important skill. Get a friend to set out several decoys, and measure the distance from the observation point to each target. Then, determine the distance to each target, and write it down.

Subtract each determination from the actual distance and total it up. Add up the total of the actual distance to all the targets. Divide the total error by the total distance, and multiply by 100. This will give you the percent error. Finally subtract your percent error from 100. That final number is your score. Most beginners will not be able to score over 75%, and most good bow hunters are over 90%. Here’s an example:

Actual Distance to Target

Distance Determination

















Total 152



Now, take the total error, 22, and divide by the total distance, 152 (22 / 152 = 0.14). The percentage of error is 14%. Just subtract 14 from 100, and your final accuracy score is 86%. An excellent score is over 90%. A good score is 80-89%. A fair score is 70-79%. If you get under 70%, keep practicing, and don’t tell anyone your score. Be sure to stagger your distances out to about 50 yards. A good way to artificially inflate your score is to skew the results by not challenging yourself adequately.

Whatever method you choose to use to practice with, be sure to practice under many different conditions. There are several factors that can hinder people from accurately determining distance.

  • A severe slope, regardless of whether the animal is above or below you
  • Whether the animal is among trees or in a clearing
  • Variations in lighting
  • If you’re used to hunting one type of animal and switch to a different size animal

This is one of the reasons why 3-D ranges are one of the best places to practice judging distance. Many ranges offer a variety of target sizes and terrain to practice with. That kind of practice can prove invaluable.

Accurately judging distance is an ability that oftentimes makes the difference between an average bow hunter, and a good one. Many overlook this skill until they experience that heartbreaking miss caused by an error in distance determination. When you think about all of the time, money and effort spent to go out hunting, it would be a mistake to not take some time to practice this important skill.

Bill Phillips has written articles on many recreational activities. He’s currently working on an airsoft guns website, which offers a wealth of information and advice about selecting and using airsoft guns, including ww2 airsoft guns, airsoft gun cheap m16, metal electric airsoft gun and more.