hanback w Milk River buck

I had a fascinating conversation with Andy Pedersen, a retired engineer and hard-core bowhunter who for more than 20 years was deeply involved with a deer management program on the Naval facility where he worked and hunted (and still hunts today).

From 1989 to 2006, 161 bowhunters participated in the tightly controlled program on 3,000 acres of great whitetail habitat near the Potomac River. Pedersen’s records show that 104 of them (65%) hit 908 deer and recovered 746 of the animals within 24 hours for a recovery rate of 82 percent (+- 2.5%). From 2007-2012, hunters stuck another 388 deer and found 337 of them. Add the numbers and you get a recovery rate of 83.6% over the 24-year span. The hunters were able to recover 1 deer for every 1.4 shots.

“Those are real-world numbers,” says Pedersen, who blood-trailed many of those deer.

To me, the most telling number is found inside the reams of data. The hunters were advised by Pedersen and others to hunt ethically and show restraint, and they did by keeping their shots at deer close. Shots averaged 17.6 yards for compound hunters (longest successful shot on record was 40 yards and the rest were closer, often much closer). There is no doubt in my mind that this statistic drives the impressive 83 percent recovery rate.

Just 10 years ago, if you wrote a blog about shooting at a buck more than 40 yards away, hunters would scream and call for your head. Today, you routinely read about 50-, 60- and even 70-yard shots, and see it more than you should on TV.

I don’t get that. As this 24-year study reaffirms to me, if you want to find most every incredibly fast, string-jumping whitetail you shoot at, show some restraint and keep your shots close!

Read my entire account of this landmark study in the August 2014 issue of Bowhunting World magazine.