Welcome to our “Bow Hunting 101” series. This is part of our overall Bow Hunting Academy and guide series that helps you to get started and establish yourself as a bow hunter. In this article, we address entering the domain of bow hunting for the first time. More specifically, we give you some solid advice on buying that first bow.
Bow Hunting ≠ Gun Hunting
So you want to bow hunt? It’s just like gun hunting, right?…Completely wrong!
As we discussed in our “Buying That First Bow” article, there is a learning curve when just buying a bow, much less hunting with one.
Ok, ok Mr. Wilderness Master… Once I do buy that bow, it’s the same right? Wrongo againo!
The average person can make a 100 yards and under shot with most rifles the first time they pick one up. Most shots on deer (in my home state, for instance) are under 100 yards.
The average person would be hard-pressed to pick up a bow and kill a deer at 20 yards. First of all, bows are sized to each individual (draw length).
So, if you grab someone else’s bow (unless they have the same draw length) you are not going to shoot the bow the same – this ultimately affects accuracy. Secondly, there is a lot more that goes into a bow hunt versus a rifle hunt. You have to work harder in order to get closer. Thirdly, a good bow shooter shoots 2″-4″ at 40 yards. That is 2-4 times the variance than an average rifle shooter. A novice bow hunter’ s shot variance (first time picking up a bow) is way bigger than a typical sized deer’s target area (6″).
Bow hunting is NOT the same as gun hunting!
Getting Going with Bow Hunting
There are two processes involved when “getting going” with bow hunting: an archery mastery process and a bow hunting preparation process. In this article, we will discuss an initial aspect of the archery mastery process – learning how to shoot that first bow for the first time. In later articles, we will share the full processes related to both.
Archery Master – Core Skill to Bow Hunting
Here are the basics steps towards attaining solid archery skills, with the details to each step proceeding the list:
- Decide to.
- Do your research.
- Find resources.
- Determine your regular training range.
- Shop for and buy your 1st bow.
- Shoot and train regularly.
- Add parts to your bow (customize).
- Add shooting scenarios (sitting, kneeling, etc.).
- Practice, practice, practice (and refine).
Make an informed decision – it is not a cheap decision in terms of time and/or money. Depending on your “network” (fellow bow hunting friends), your monetary costs can range between $300 (a used bow and some arrows) – $1000 (used bow, arrows, stands, feeders etc.). Time-wise, depending on your “natural talent”, you need to set aside 3-5 hours a week for at least 3 months before the season to shoot your bow.
Do Your Research
Decide if you want to start “traditional” (recurve bow), compound (compound bow) or easy peasy (cross-bow, air bow, etc.). Then, you need to research and understand the terminology and options for the choice. Every bow style has its own verbiage and “science”. Our “Bow Hunting 101 – Basic Nomenclature” article can help!
Find local bow hunting groups in your area. The best place to start is your local hunting shops, archery shops, etc. Look for Meetup events in your area that may include or focus on archery or bow hunting. Before throwing down $100’s on a bow, spend some time with your bow selection. You may find your recurve choice was not the best choice, especially if you have a shoulder issue. You may find that the easy peasy air bow is too much like shotgun hunting.
Determine Your Regular Training Range
Before you buy, you need to make sure you have a place to train. There is NO sense in buying a bow if you have no place to train. If it is going to be in your “backyard”, set up your training range prior to buying your bow. Otherwise, you will take a bow home and it will just hang on your wall. Trust me, I have seen it happen more often than you can imagine. Get advice on the type of targets you need for the type of bow you are going to shoot. Every archery target is not for every bow/arrow type.
Shop For & Buy Your 1st Bow
Do some online research and narrow your bow selections down to a handful. Find a store that carries them and go get a feel of them in your hand. Like a pistol, the way you hold and balance the bow in your grip hand is critical to the “under stress” accuracy. You will want to feel the weight and balance in your hands. Note, after buying my bow, I will tell you to go as light of a weight as you can with your base bow. Once you start putting the various pieces and parts on your bow, you will find that it gets heavy quickly.
Find an archery shop that will actually let you shoot your selections. Do not buy until you shoot it! Seriously! Bows are like body appendages. Little nuances in each type may become major problems later on, so try shooting your bow selections before you buy.
Initially, purchase ONLY your base bow, peep sight, sight, a quiver and arrows. While some of the package deals do make sense, once you start shooting, you will replace a lot of the package parts with ones that you really want. This eliminates the “sense” in purchasing the package deal. Seriously, just get the basic setup. You will save yourself from having a box full of “extra” parts that you do not use!
Shoot and Train Regularly
Set up a weekly schedule of at least 2x a week. Start slow. Do not try to start slinging 100 arrows at 80 yards. Start with 20 per session at 10-20 yards, then work your way up. It is the only way you will get in-tune with your gear and be able to improve.
Add Parts to Your Bow (Customize)
With a month or more of shooting behind you, consider adding parts to customize your bow. If you do not like your peep sight, then consider your options to upgrade. Pick out a quiver and mount it on your bow and adjust your shooting to the new balance. Also, look at adding vibration minimizers, balancers, etc.
Add Shooting Scenarios
Do not jump into your archery skills doing crazy shooting scenarios. First of all, you will not figure out and learn how to shoot well. Secondly, you will be teaching yourself bad habits. Get comfortable with your core, standing shooting techniques. Once you get these techniques down, then begin to add shooting scenarios. Most bow hunting shots are going to be made sitting or kneeling, so learn how.
Practice, Practice, Practice
The key to getting the core archery part down is practice. After a month or so with your target tips, start using real broadheads. Once you get used to these changes, start narrowing down your arrow set for hunting. Some arrows will not be as consistent as others, so put them off to the side as practice arrows. As you move towards your season window, start using only the arrow setup and actual arrows with which you intend to hunt.
Bow Hunting Preparation
Overall, “bow hunting” requires additional skills above and beyond the archery baseline skills. Here is how you start to develop those skills to ensure your overall bow hunting success (details for each step below):
- Go to a hunter safety and bow hunting course.
- Find a bow hunting mentor.
- Find your hunting grounds.
- Develop your kit.
- Scout and locate stands.
- Develop your stand surroundings.
- Begin your pre-hunt preparation.
- Develop your zen.
- Track blood signs.
Go to a Hunter Safety and Bow Hunting Course
These days, a lot of states are requiring that even experienced hunters take hunter and bow safety courses. For some odd reason, I got routed through both of these courses in my home state. Though I whined about it, truth be told (after the fact), I was happy that I did. I was able to get connected with some good resources and I met some good mentors.
Find a Bow Hunting Mentor
I did not do this at first and it took me a LOT longer to get any pleasure from my bow hunting. Again, hunting clubs, Meetup events and archery shops can all be good places to find a mentor. There is a lot more that goes into bow hunting than traditional gun hunting.
Find your Hunting Grounds
You are going to need a place to hunt. Finding regular hunting grounds are becoming harder and harder. That said, a lot more places are open to bow and primitive hunting than for gun hunting. Scout out places, talk to land owners and talk to other bow hunters. Do not forget that you can do paid hunts or join a club. Paid hunts solve two problems: a place and a mentor.
Develop Your Kit
Bow hunting is a different “season” than gun hunting. Typically, it opens earlier and in many places the cold weather kit you have for rifle hunting may not work for bow hunting. You will need to plan on more spot ambush hunting. If you are a “spot and stalk” or a still gun hunter, you may need additional gear. Before you go buy $1000’s of gear, see if you can borrow some gear for your first season. If not, look for used gear on Craigslist and other places. Remember, a LOT of people want to learn to bow hunt, a LOT of people gear up for bow hunting, but a LOT of people are not out there actually bow hunting!
Scout and Locate Stands
Early to mid-summer, you need to go into the areas where you intend to hunt. Start looking for the signs of animal activity and begin to identify good stand locations. Bow hunting is an “ambush” hunting style (it has to be to get the close distances). You need to look for good points of convergence around or between breeding, feeding and bedding areas. Most animals you hunt are driven by these basic 3 activities.
This will be where you want to consider locating stands or blinds.
Also, you need to identify multiple tracks into/from these areas. Aside from breed/feed/bed, most animals you will bow hunt are highly predator aware and their behavior can be changed radically by this awareness. REMEMBER you are a predator to them.
Develop Stand Surroundings
After locating the potential stand areas you want, consider developing the surrounding areas. This could be as simple as cutting down or thinning out the vegetation. It could be as complex as creating and growing food plots that will hold the animals closer and longer to your ambush zones. The basic things you need to consider are:
- easy ingress/egress
- good, clear shot lanes
- shot lane distractions
The shot land distractions are a complex subject, but the goal is pretty simple. You do not want the animals to run through your ambush zone at a trot. That will not work. You want the animals to “mosey”, if not pause and spend some time in your shot lanes. The most common way bow hunters create this is with food or food supplement stations (mineral licks, feeders, food plots, etc.).
Personally, I never thought of using scent and camouflage that much when I deer hunted with guns. To me, using camouflage was a bit of joke. Most states require that you wear a big orange sign that screams “here I am”- so what’s the real value? Similarly, since a lot of shots on deer are well beyond 60 yards, why worry about scent?
Do not think this way with bow hunting!
Both play a critical role in your bow hunting success. Buy regional camouflage that matches your surroundings and do some scent management. A recent podcast we had with Dr Marcus Lashley highlighted extensive sense abilities of most prey type animals with scent. If you can only do one or the other, then do scent.
Develop Your Zen
Talk to bow hunter after bow hunter. All of them will tell you that, until you get a few kills under your belt (and sometimes long afterwards), the biggest failing point in a bow hunter is the moment they draw on a live target. The adrenaline rush of being 20 yards from your potential kill, well, is a killer. It can kill your accuracy and it can kill your stealth.
Spend some time developing your meditative and calming skills. If you do not, plan on loosing a few arrows that you shot at live targets and not taking home the animals. Develop your zen.
Tracking Blood Signs
The final, critical skill you need to develop is your blood tracking skills. Unlike gun hunting where you often anchor your animal in place (if not there is a massive blood trail to follow), a good shot with an arrow requires you to track a fairly limited blood trail. How much and how hard the post shot tracking will be largely based on two things… A good shot with a good arrow and most importantly…Your patience. When you make a good shot, do not jump down off of your stand and go chasing the animal right away. Sit tight, be still, don’t move, listen and watch for at least 30 minutes!
By doing this, you increase the chances that your animal moves off less than a 100 yards, lays down and ultimately dies. That is the best tracking scenario that you can ask for. If you sit still and watch and listen, you may even be able to know exactly where they are located.
However, if you have ants in your pants and whoop and holler or go running after it, then you may be on a long, long, long (did I say long enough) tracking odyssey.
Learning to track blood signs is a learned skill. This is where a good mentor can take you to the woods and lay some fake trails for you to follow. There are also tons of videos online that discuss and show blood trail and tracking techniques (look for some upcoming on WildernessMaster.com as well).
Truth be told, this article just gets you started. One of the pleasures of bow hunting is in deepening and broadening your animal, weapon and outdoorsman skills. If you do it right and apply yourself to learning, then you will become a much better outdoorsman.
Read these other Bow Hunting 101 articles: