From the stand high in a tree, the hunter watches as two does break from the line of brush and thicket, their ears swiveling in search of danger. The hunter waits patiently, hardly moving and barely breathing. From the far side of the clearing, the buck emerges. The hunter has stalked the buck for weeks on his trail cameras, anticipating this day.
The buck's rack glistens in the misty air as the sun begins to warm the Eastern sky. He moves with confidence into the clearing. His head drops as he ruts through the melting snow in search of grasses. Still, the hunter waits for the right moment. One step at a time, the buck moves farther into the open hunting area, unaware of the danger lurking in the tree stand.
The hunter draws back the bowstring, delicately raising the bow in anticipation. The buck lifts his head and turns slightly at some sound in the woods. The hunters cramping fingers desperately want to release the bowstring, but the buck is turning away from the shooting lane. Seconds tick by as the weight of the string in the hunter's fingers grows heavier. The hunter will have to take the shot or relax the string soon if the buck continues moving.
Now settled again, the buck turns back to his search for food, slowly stepping further into the clearing and presenting the shot the hunter has dreamed of for months. The arrow leaps from the bow, plowing through the frigid air on its way to the target, hardly making a sound on its lethal course.
Why Should I Bow Hunt?
If the intro to this article gets you excited, you should be bow hunting. Your first bow hunt will be a success if you take the time to get the right equipment, practice your skills, and prepare for the hunt. Bow hunting can be a rewarding experience for new hunters and those with lots of experience.
Bow hunting is unlike rifle and shotgun hunting in almost every way. It is a much more intimate form of hunting that requires high-level skills and accuracy. Distances that are simple shots for inexperienced rifle hunters are nearly impossible for even the most experienced bow hunters. A successful hunt depends on practice, patience, and timing as much as on the weapon the hunter wields.
Bow hunting exposes hunters to hunting the way our ancient ancestors did it and provides an awesome opportunity to experience nature while pursuing game animals.
We have also found that the bow-hunting community is one of the more open and accessible to beginners. Quite a few experienced bow hunters we know are more than happy to take a newbie into the woods or fields and help them learn what it takes to make the perfect shot.
Learning to Shoot a Compound Bow
A compound bow is a newer design that compounds the amount of energy applied to the arrow through a cable and pulley system. Compound bows have a point known as the break over or valley in which the cams take the weight off the string to allow the shooter a more comfortable position without having to exert energy holding the arrow in the shooting position. This allows for a more precise aim and a more accurate bow-hunting experience.
Compound bows are often easier for beginners to pick up and begin shooting due to the cam system, but the convenience comes with a price – namely, an introductory sticker price that is three or four times that of a similar entry-level recurve bow.
Investing in a compound bow as a first bow makes sense when your plan is to hunt with it eventually. Many compound bows make it simple to increase or decrease the draw weight to transition from practice to the field easily, and the higher pull weight of the bow makes compound bows more appropriate for hunting.
Learning to Shoot a Traditional Bow
Traditional bows are either a longbow design with the tips of the arms trailing toward the shooter or are recurve bows in which the limbs point forward. A recurve bow can produce more power in a shorter bow versus a longbow. A popular version of the recurve bow is a takedown recurve design that allows the limbs to be quickly swapped. Archers can replace the arms to increase or decrease the draw weight.
Recurve bows are excellent for practice and help build strong arms, shoulders, and back muscles while also helping teach archers to shoot precisely. The nature of a recurve makes it essential that archers use a stable shooting posture and handle the bow throughout the shot correctly in order to be accurate.
Recurve bows are popular for hunting and can be found on deer, elk, and hog hunts. They are also popular on turkey hunts and other small game expeditions. The low cost and simple ability to replace or upgrade parts makes recurves one of the more popular "starter" bow options for bow hunting.
How to Pick the Right Bow
We recommend that you visit a local bow shop to help find the perfect bow. Bows come in different heights, draw weights, and can be designed for right or left-handed shooters. Working with an expert at your local archery shop will help you find the right bow for you.
If you don't have a local expert to go to, you can at least start out on the right foot by understanding what the measurements mean and how they will guide you to find the right first bow.
Figuring the Calculated Draw Length
Recurve bows are measured in length, which refers to the overall height of the bow. The height determines how far the string will pull back in order to hit the appropriate draw weight. The basic rule of thumb for a recurve bow is that the bow height should be figured by measuring your arm span and dividing by 2.5. This number is known as the calculated draw length, and it is the simplest way for a new hunter to find the right size bow.
You may find that most of the recurve bows our other are sold in lengths from 50 to 62 inches –appropriate for beginners or youth shooters but too short for most adults who are bow hunting. Modern bows are forgiving of too long or too short of a draw length, but you should shoot several bow lengths to find what is most comfortable.
Draw weight is the amount of effort (measured in lbs) required to draw the bowstring fully. The heavier the draw weight, the more difficult the bow will be to draw but it will also result in faster arrow speeds. For archery hunting for beginners, a practice bow should be in the range of 20-30 lbs. A bow for hunting should be a minimum of 40 lb draw weight, with 45-60 lbs representing a better choice.
One of the reasons that compound bows and takedown recurve bows are popular is because the draw weight can be adjusted rather than having to buy a bow for practice and a bow hunting season. Compound bows also tend to offer a higher draw weight and are more popular for big game hunting.
Shooting Stance Tips
Shooting a bow is much like shooting a hunting rifle – the more you practice shooting form, the better shot you are. Just like learning to accurately shoot a hunting rifle, learning to shoot a bow accurately requires developing muscle memory. One word of caution, never dry-fire a bow – the result can cause the bow to explode.
The basic shooting stance for bow hunting begins with placing your feet in a line with the target. Right-handed hunters will place their left foot forward. The left arm will hold the bow and you don't want the elbow to bend. The shoulders and left arm should be in a line. The right hand will grasp the D-loop or the string if using a release aid with the elbow above or even with the right shoulder. Your right hand should touch your cheek or jaw (a spot known as the anchor point) which will help you train your body to shoot accurately.
When grasping the bow, do not squeeze the grip. The grip should rest against the palm of the hand between the thumb and fingers gently. This position will minimize felt recoil and gives you an accurate shot. Bow sights can be a simple sight pin or a complex bow sight that helps the beginner or the experienced hunter determine range.
Vital Bow Hunting Gear for the Beginning Bowhunter
Purchasing the right bow for hunting is a process that you'll want to do right the first time because the wrong bow will not be enjoyable. Once you have the right bow, it is time to get the archery equipment and gear you'll need.
The first thing you'll need will be arrows. Arrows are available with shafts made from aluminum, carbon fiber, and wood. There are several variables to arrows that determine the correct arrows for the bow you are shooting. This includes things like the length of the arrow, the weight and thickness of the shaft, and the material. Compound bows and recurve bows use different arrows.
Arrow points also come in a variety of designs. Target arrows have a blunt tip that makes removing the arrow from a target easy. Hunting broadheads are either fixed-blade or mechanical. Generally, fixed-blade broadheads and carbon arrows are a better choice for traditional bows, and mechanical or expandable designs work best with a compound bow.
A traditional bow should not be stored with the string attached. A stringer will be necessary to install and remove the string safely. Compound bows do not need to have the string removed when stored.
A bow will have an arrow rest near the handle that keeps the front of the arrow in place when shooting. Arrow rests come in different designs that include stick-on types, drop-away rests, and whisker biscuit styles. Picking the correct rest depends on the type of bow you are shooting.
An arm guard will protect the forearm of your bow hand from the bowstring when it snaps forward. These are inexpensive accessories that will save you lots of pain. Many archers also like to use a wrist strap release on their shooting hand to aid in the smooth release of the bow string. Many bow packages include basic guards and straps.
You will also want a quiver to hold your arrows. Bow-mounted quivers are typically reserved for compound bows, while most recurve shooters use a belt quiver. Regardless of the type of bow you shoot, you should also have a bow case to transport and store your bow. Soft cases and hard cases are available for recurve, longbow, and compound styles.
Are You Ready for the Challenge?
Bow hunting is one of the most enjoyable ways to experience the various hunting areas of the U.S. While many hunters focus on big game like deer and elk, small game hunting with a bow is making a resurgence. Shooting a bow well requires lots of time spent at target practice as the new hunter learns to master the unique tools and techniques of bow hunting.
We think that legendary bowhunter Fred Bear said it best:
"Not only is bowhunting fun and a real challenge, but it's good for you," Bear was quoted as saying. "The exercise in the fresh air, the chance to get away from everyday pressures and problems, a return to the basic relationships between man and his environment."