Even the best sportsmen find bowhunting a challenging, but enormously rewarding, way to hunt. Get started bowhunting, or improve your game, with these tips on bow hunting to hone your skills and make sure you're prepared.
Before you hunt solo, learn in the field. “If possible, go alongside an experienced bowhunter to help you your first few times.” They have the tools and techniques for safe, effective hunting.
State game officers and officials can request licenses, permits and stamps at any time.
Licensing requirements and hunting rules are different in each state. Be sure you know the laws and regulations for where you will be hunting—for your own safety and the safety of others.
Bows are not one-size-fits-all. Your bow should suit your body according to:
Check your bow’s fit: You should be able to hold the bow at target level, point at the target, and draw without much movement.
There are minimum weight limits for hunting bows, so find out what that limit is in your state. Jeff Danker says, “I shoot a 70-pound bow, but in most states even a 40-pound hunting bow is legal to harvest elk.” Choose the right game for your hunting bow.If you are only comfortable with a lighter bow, look for seasons for fowl or small mammals. Work up to bigger animals and heavier hunting bows.
Read more on How to Choose a Bow
There are two ways to release a bow: traditional “shooting fingers” and mechanical releases.
Traditional release of a bow relies on your ‘shooting fingers.’ This means that your fingers remain on the bowstring until you are ready to shoot. Take aim. Be sure and still. Then relax your fingers so that the bowstring slides off them, releasing the arrow.
“You have a trigger in your hand and when you’re ready to release, your index finger pulls the trigger. That makes it easier to make a smooth release,” – Jeff Danker
Mechanical bow release aids use a trigger to release the bowstring. Today, most bowhunters, especially with a compound hunting bow, use a mechanical release, or release aid. Releases increase accuracy. They are held in your hand, attaching to the bowstring until triggered This makes it easier and allows more time to aim and deliver a steady shot.
Relax, regardless of release. Some hunters hold their breath, exhale on release, or use techniques to remain still for the truest shot in order to avoid trajectory-ruining jitters.
There are numerous release types that help tailor the shot to your body. Each bowhunter needs to choose the most comfortable style.
“Move your sight to chase your arrow” – Jeff Danker
Every new bowhunter needs to learn how to sight their bow in. This takes discipline and practice before hunting. You will need to adjust your sight to your own shooting.
How to sight your bow in: When shooting at a bullseye or target, look for patterns. For example, four arrows you shoot all land 4 inches right of the bullseye. Use that to adjust the sight. Move it up or sideways to compensate for your patterns. You will want to “chase” your arrow with sight adjustments until you can hit multiple bullseyes.
The type of bow and arrows you use changes with the target.
Practicing: You’ll use field point arrowheads. Field points are shaped like small bullets. Do NOT use these hunting. These are not only unethical and unsportsmanlike to hunt with, but illegal for large game. Field points are likely to pass right through an animal, which will cause little immediate damage. The wounded animal could survive for days, enduring an agonizing death.
Hunting: Change from field points to broadhead arrowheads. Broadheads are similar to razor blades, allowing a broader cut.
Stay safe from the moment you step off the ground until you come down.When hunting from a tree stand, wear a safety harness. If you are hunting with children, be doubly sure everyone is wearing safety gear.
You cannot hold your bow the entire time you’re in a tree stand. Plan ahead and be prepared. Strategically screw a bow hanger in the tree for a safe, convenient place to rest your hunting bow. You could be there for hours waiting for the perfect moment.
It’s tough not to spook an animal when you’re shooting from only 20 to 30 yards away.
Mask your odor. Use field spray and scent-eliminators. A deer can smell you from 400 yards away. Consider adding scent-control hunting gear to your wardrobe. Add cover scents to pump up the concealment. And be careful to stay downwind. “If you don’t learn to play the wind, you won’t even see a deer.”
“Aim small, miss small. That’s a phrase every new bowhunter needs to learn” – Jeff Danker
Choose a spot on the animal, where the vital organs are, and aim for it. If you shoot at the animal as a whole, you’re going to miss. This strategy can make or break a bowhunter.
Only take a shot when the animal is broadside, meaning sideways to you or angled slightly quartered away. This makes the sight area larger. Never aim for the head, neck or rear.
“Those are the two positions that give you the best opportunity to hit the animal’s vital organs (lungs and heart), which is an ethical shot. If you shoot two lungs, the deer is dead with no pain as soon as the arrow hits it. If the animal has turned toward you even a quarter, your opportunity to hit the vitals has shrunk.”
Patience is the name of the game. After a successful shot, don’t chase down the animal right away. “You need to give it some time or you’ll push the animal to run away and you might never recover it.”
How much waiting time depends on the shot. Give the animal at least an hour, which should be enough for a double-lung shot. If you missed its lungs, you may need up to 12 hours, depending on where the animal was hit.
Enjoy the Journey
Bowhunting is “so gratifying because it’s so difficult.” Not everyone is cut out for it, but with practice and discipline it is a true sportsman’s hunt.