Bow hunting has numerous advantages. The seasons are often longer, you’re outdoors when the weather is often preferential, and it provides much more of a challenge over using a rifle. You’ve got to get close to your target, make sure your scent isn’t distracting, and be well-versed in archery best practices to avoid injuring yourself while you make a straight shot.
Now the average hunter doesn’t need to be Robin Hood in order to find success at bow hunting. Some jurisdictions have even opened up bow hunting seasons to crossbows. There is something quite satisfactory about using your skills with a compound or recurve bow to fill your permits and not every area allows for a crossbow, so learning how to bow hunt the old-fashioned way can open up a number of additional hunting possibilities every year for you.
With the right setup, even a beginner can have a good first season even if they’ve never shot with a bow before now. This beginner’s guide to bow hunting will take you through the basics so you know what you’re going to need to get started.
What Bow Should You Use to Get Started?
If you’ve never shot a bow before, then a compound bow is probably your best choice. With a peep sight included with most designs, the main advantage is actually the let-off, or the amount of weight that must be used to maintain a full draw. Most compound bows have a let-off that is at least 50% and may be as high as 80%. This makes it a lot easier to maintain your draw as you’re waiting patiently for your target to come back into range.
Recurve bows and longbows work in a similar way, but it takes a bit more practice and strength to make and maintain your draw. You don’t have the same sighting on these bows either, which requires a bit of practice to help your shot stay true.
All bows come with right-handed and left-handed options. Make sure you’re purchasing the correct bow for your dominant hand and double-check your shopping cart for this if you make your purchase online.
Most hunting bows will have a draw weight of 50-70 pounds. You can still hunt at lower weights, but a full draw weight will give your arrow a flatter trajectory to the target at its best speed. This makes you more accurate with your shot. Many bows allow for an adjustable maximum weight, so make sure you have someone set this up for you if you’re new to bow hunting. You will also want to check on the location of your arrow rest, set your knocking point, and set your top pin.
After that? It’s practice, practice, practice. Work on targets that are set about 10 yards away to start. Move them back as you become more accurate at the shorter ranges.
How to Find the Right Arrows for Bow Hunting
Arrows come in four different types today: carbon, aluminum, hybrid, or natural. Hybrid arrows may include wood and metal components, though many have an aluminum core with a carbon coating. Natural arrows may be made of several different types of wood. Each arrow is graded on its straightness and how effectively it can be matched to your draw weight.
It is important to inspect each arrow before shooting it to maintain a maximum level of safety. Even arrows made from aluminum can splinter when damaged thanks to the stress that shooting places on it. Never shoot an arrow that has been damaged because it will increase your risks of injury.
Arrows also have what are called “fletchings” on them. These are the feathers that you’ll find at the back of the arrow. Some arrows have replaced natural feathers with plastic casings. The size of the fletching will affect the trajectory, speed, and accuracy of the shot. They’re also designed to spin the arrow somewhat, so long-distance hunters may wish to look at the canting of the fletching to make sure it can meet their needs.
Most arrows for hunting come without points or a generic point that won’t hold up well to repeated shots. You’ll want to invest into points that are designed to work with your preferred arrows and fit within the diameter of the arrow. When a point is larger than the arrow shank, it can be difficult to remove.
So what type of arrow is the best type to purchase? Carbon arrows are durable. Aluminum arrows are lightweight. Natural arrows are more expensive, but tend to offer a true trajectory. Hybrid arrows allow you to put your personal touch on bow hunting. There really isn’t a best answer here. Just make sure that your selected arrows work with your preferred draw weight to avoid injury or malfunction.
Do I Need Any Other Gear to Get Started?
If you’ve got your bow and arrows or bolts sorted, you might think you’re ready to go hunting. You’re not quite there yet. Let’s talk about the heads that are going to be on your arrows/bolts. This might be your single most important piece of equipment if you want to have a successful hunt.
Heads can generally be separated into two primary categories: fixed or mechanical. Fixed heads are pretty much what you’d expect. They have blades that stay in place when fired and create an impact point on your target that does damage from start to finish. Mechanical heads are a little more sinister as they only open up after impact, doing internal damage, but leaving the hide relatively intact.
Don’t underestimate the effect on accuracy that the wrong heads can have for your shot. Although every head has some level of accuracy to it, the weight and shape of the head can affect its flight and cause you to alter your shot. And of course you want a head that is sharp since a dull blade isn’t even good for shaving, much less being successful while hunting.
You may also wish to consider a trigger release for your bow, especially if you are transitioning over from gun hunting seasons. This type of aid will give you a little more control over your shot, especially as a beginner, and can lead to a first season success. Just be careful that your release can’t accidentally operate on its own to create an unexpected firing situation.
You’ll also want to practice some with your bow so you get to know it before hunting season starts. There are a wide variety of targets available today, though most are filled with either foam or a canvas material so the arrow can be stopped. Bag-style targets tend to be the most affordable, but they also don’t stop an arrow that is equipped with a hunting head. Layered targets are the best solution for the chance to practice for real.
Do I Need a License to Own a Bow and Arrow?
In the United States, the only license that you’ll typically need to carry a bow is the hunting license for your preferred game. Many cities in the US, however, consider a bow and arrow to be a firearm. Whether one agrees with that or not, this typically makes it illegal to fire an arrow within city limits. This includes backyard shooting.
If you can legally shoot your bow, then make sure you only do so when there is a proper archery backstop in place. You never know when a surprise sneeze or slip in your grip could alter your shot. Without the proper safety equipment, you could face severe penalties for an inaccurate shot that injures someone or causes damage to your neighbor’s property.
You may also be required to store your bow in an unstrung fashion. Check local laws for your jurisdiction to know what to do.
Crossbows are an exception to this rule. Pistol crossbows especially have a fairly complicated legal status from a global perspective. In Australia, for example, some crossbows are strictly controlled with special licensing. In Canada, only crossbows that are designed to be fired with one hand or measuring less than 500mm in length or prohibited and all others may be purchased without a license.
In the United States, it is legal to own a crossbow in every jurisdiction. Firing the crossbow or hunting with it varies. Check on your local crossbow hunting regulations before taking it out.
9 Tips to Help Improve Your Bow Hunting Skills
- Form is incredibly important. Most shooting problems with a bow come from bad form. The most common issue is a poor grip, but locking the arm while shooting or an improper draw length are also seen pretty often. If your shots are going everywhere, then look to improve your form first.
- Think forward. Hitting a stationary target is very different from hitting a target that could move at any time. Evaluate your situation. Are you being quiet? Are you anticipating movement when there is none? Practice your strategies as often as you practice hitting the center of a target.
- Perfect practice makes perfect. There are several organizations that offer 3D hunting courses for beginning bow hunters. This is a good way to start getting the feel of firing a bow while on the move at different shot lengths.
- Become a scout. If you wait until the day you go out hunting to look for good spots, then you’ll alert the game in the area to your intent and you’ll get nothing. Give yourself a 2-3 week head start and scout out some solid spots. Consider installing the best trail camera for hunting or other monitoring equipment to help you understand local movement patterns.
- Know the environment. Hunting with your scent heading downwind to your game is a sure way to come home without anything. Deer have millions of scent receptors, so you will never fool them if you’re hunting in the wrong wind.
- Go in the afternoon. Many hunters tend to focus on early morning or late evening hours for hunting. This is actually the time your prize targets are likely sleeping, especially in times of rutting. You’ll see a big difference if you hunt early in the afternoon.
- Keep a log of each hunting season. Even if you’ve only gone gun hunting in the past, the logs of your past experiences can help you locate the areas that will give you the most potential action. Did you have one tree stand in particular that saw a lot of activity? Then that’s a great place to take your bow this season.
- Consider the use of an attractant. Not every hunter likes using an attractant, but there is no denying the effectiveness of one. Whether you use sprays, plant a food plot, or have been stocking one of the best deer feeders on your property, an attractant is an easy way to get your season started on the right foot if you don’t mind their use.
- Use technology to your advantage. Think about the closest patch of meadow to your property. Now look up the satellite images on Google of that area and any surrounding fields. If you zoom in enough, you can actually see the deer trails in the grass so you can know where a good spot to setup will be.
Bow hunting can be a lot of fun. It’s a challenging experience compared to other hunting seasons because there is less forgiveness with each shot. You must become one with nature in order to be successful with this type of hunting, but a successful outcome feels incredible and is something that everyone should experience.
You’ll need a reliable bow to go hunting. You’ll need arrows or bolts that respond in a predictable way. You’ll need heads that will make the impact you want. When you combine your skills with this equipment, you’ll be able to have a great time and have a good chance of getting the most value from your first hunting license.