By Allen Bolen
One of the bowhunting’s biggest challenges is range estimation. The depressing truth is, if you’re off by 10 yards, you will miss.
You may say, “Just use a rangefinder!” And, you would be right–when the animal is not moving and is unaware of your presence. However, a very common situation in bowhunting occurs when you are in the red zone–let’s define it as under 35 yards–and you’re pegged in the open because the animal either sees you or will see you if you move.
In this situation, you might get away with quickly drawing your bow and shooting; but dinking around with your rangefinder could totally screw up your golden opportunity.
This is where my “red zone pin” comes in very handy.
Bowhunting is not target archery. In bowhunting, I don’t care if my shot is perfect; I only care if my shot is deadly. As long as my arrow hits somewhere in the vital zone, the result is the same: the antlers end up in my hands.
With this concept in mind, I developed a shooting system that allows me to aim, shoot and kill with one pin, anywhere inside of 35 yards. I call this my red zone pin. It’s based on the concept that if I aim at the center of the vitals, I’m fine with the arrow impacting 2 to 3 inches high of center or 4 to 5 inches low of center. (I don’t error too much on the high side because high shots can produce difficult blood trails.) In my experience, these are deadly shots. Your own personal tolerances for high and low hits may be more or less than mine, but the concept can be applied to your preferences.
Here’s how to set up a red zone pin:
- At 20 yards, I sight-in my top pin so that the arrow impact is 2.5 inches high when I aim dead-on the bullseye. Once I’ve achieved this, I double-check my setup by shooting one arrow at each one-yard-increment from 10 to 25 yards. I am verifying that my arrow never hits more than 2.5 inches high of the bullseye. If it does, I make adjustments so that my highest shots are exactly 2.5 inches high.
- Once I’ve sighted my top pin as described, I start walking back further and find the yardage where my arrow hits 4 inches below the bullseye while using this same top pin. With last year’s Hoyt Ventum, shooting 298 fps, this occurred at 35 yards. If you are shooting a slower bow, you may not get quite 35 yards out of your red zone pin, while some long-draw and heavy poundage guys may get a bit more.
- Then, for reference, I find the place where this pin hits dead-on. With my Ventum this was at 28 yards.
- I shoot a 3 pin Axcel Landslyde. I sight in my second and third pins at 40 and 50. So my 3 home position pins are set at 28, 40, and 50.
Since I started using this system 10 years ago, the red zone pin has been a game-changer for me. Simply stated, if I believe an animal is within 35 yards I draw and shoot without touching my rangefinder. I shoot with confidence, knowing that if I do my part, the arrow will strike the vitals somewhere between 2.5 inches high and 4 inches low of center.
In fact, just last spring on Kodiak Island, as I was stalking a big brown bear he unexpectedly emerged from the brush and looked straight at me. Though I did not know the exact yardage, I confidently drew and pounded an arrow through the center of his chest. The ability to act decisively when the bear was close made all the difference.
*Advanced cheat-code: If I estimate the animal is at the upper end of the red zone, say between 30 and 35 yards, I aim at the top of the vitals knowing that the arrow will hit a little low. That way if I’ve misjudged and the animal is a little farther than I thought, say 38-40 yards, I’m still good. The same goes with shots that I’m sure are very close: in these cases, I aim for the heart.