Bowhunting is by no means an easy sport, and becoming an expert cannot be done overnight. However, achieving a basic level of skill doesn’t need to be an intimidating prospect. Whether you’re a seasoned expert or have never picked up a bow, few hobbies are as satisfying as learning to bow hunt. At first, you won’t even know how to hold the bow. It will feel awkward and foreign. But soon, you will be able to run through your pre-shot routine without even thinking.
There are many reasons to learn to bow hunt. Some are practical, some are merely fun. Using a bow to hunt is fun, sustainable, cost-effective, and humane. Yet, even if your goal isn’t to feed your family, honing your target skills or simply hunting for sport is an incredibly rewarding pastime. Despite this, the early moments of hunting with bows requires a some basic information, and attempting to teach yourself bow hunting will result in more frustration than fun. What you need is Bowhunting 101. Here’s what you need to know.
Some salespeople will try to convince you that you need a wealth of gear before you can even consider beginning your journey. Don’t be swayed. One of the advantageous aspects of bowhunting is that the gear you need is very minimal. With just a bow and a few arrows you can be well on your way.
What Type of Bow?
While the gear requirements are minimal, you can’t get away without having a bow. Hunting with a bow can be done using two different types of bows. The traditional style of bow – think Robin Hood – is known as a “recurve” bow. Having existed for centuries, these are the utmost in simplicity. Merely two limbs and a string. Of course, modern advances in technology have made these classic bows more effective, lighter, and stronger. However, if your goal is to emulate the most classic form of hunting, a recurve bow is your best bet.
Although many hunters enjoy the minimalistic approach of a recurve bow, they have their disadvantages. The power you can exert is directly limited by your strength to pull the string. Further, you must maintain this force the entire time you aim. For smaller recurve bows this isn’t an issue, but hunting larger game can become difficult for smaller hunters. In light of these limitations, the compound bow was invented.
Hunting with a compound bow can be a significantly more approachable experience. Using a series of cams and pulleys, compound bows provide the hunter with mechanical advantage, making it easier to draw the weapon. Further, compound bows “lock” once fully drawn, relieving you of the need to continue pulling. Although compound bows are a greater initial investment, their increased practicality makes them the better choice for most beginning hunters.
Let’s Get to The Point – What About Arrows?
Arrows, or “bolts” as they are often called in the hobby, are a necessary but inexpensive component. They come in a variety of styles and materials, and the premium options are quite expensive. When you are learning how to bow hunt, don’t start with expensive arrows. When you are just beginning, the chances of bending or losing an arrow are much higher, so stick with a budget option.
Buy a dozen or so cheap arrows and you’ll be set. You’ll also need two different types of tip. For target practice, you need “field points.” These arrow heads are just simple spikes, and are the proper tip for practicing your aim. Once you are ready to hit the trail for actual hunting, you’ll need broad-heads designed to humanely take down your prey.
Set Your Sights
Although some hunters prefer the “classic” approach of shooting without any aids, don’t be bullied into this logic. A basic set of bow sights can vastly improve your technique and make the learning process smoother. Most bows will come with a sight setup already installed. If not, it is worth the investment to add them.
Bow Hunting Technique
The basics of how to hunt with a bow is a fairly straightforward set of techniques. When you are first beginning, take your time and consider the fundamentals. It is far too common for beginners to rush in and learn bad habits.
As with any weaponry, safety is the first priority. Make sure you fully understand safety features and limitations of your bow before you take your first shot. Although you should always research your specific bow, there are some fundamentals that apply across models.
First, never fire your bow without an arrow loaded. Known as “dry firing”, releasing the power of your bow without an arrow puts stress on your bow that it was never designed to withstand. This can harm your bow, or worse, harm you.
Next, always properly “nock” your arrow. When you load an arrow, you will notice a notch on the back of the arrow; this is the nock. As you slide the arrow into the flight rail, you must ensure that the nock properly seats onto the string. Failing to do this can result in a missed shot or in the string coming out of the arrow.
Finally, always be aware of the location of your hands. In the heat of the moment leading up to a shot, it is easy to lose track of your own position. Take stock of your hand placement and make sure your non-dominant hand is underneath the hand guard and well out of the way of the flight path.
Taking the Shot
Surprisingly, there isn’t a “right” method to fire an arrow. Many hunters have vastly different techniques, and your own comfort is more important than emulating another person’s form. When you hold your bow, use whatever grip feels stable and natural.
You will stand 90 degrees from the target, with your feet firmly planted about shoulder-width apart. If you’ve ever golfed, this position will feel very familiar. Rotate the foot nearest the target slightly towards the target. When you aim, take stock of any tension in your body. The most common obstacle faced by someone trying to learn how to bow hunt is being too tense. Tension not only wears you out, but makes you less accurate. Relax your shoulders. Straighten and decompress your back. Breath.
When you have aimed your bow, keep your eyes fixated on the target. Even after you have taken the shot, keep your eyes fixed until well after the arrow has landed. This timing, known as “follow through” is extremely important to avoid a drifting arrow.
Ultimately, bow hunting 101 is just that: an introduction. Learning how to bow hunt takes time, and your patience will be rewarded. Although watching others can be helpful, don’t be afraid to refine your own technique. You will quickly learn what works for you and what doesn’t, and trial and error truly is the best way. You need to learn your own bow hunting techniques, and success will follow.
Finally, don’t rush to start hunting. You want to become confident on the target range before ever taking a shot at an animal. Humane hunting requires precision, so don’t rush to shoot too early.
Whether you’re compound bow deer hunting or traditional archery bow hunting, the old maxim is certainly true: practice makes perfect. Buy yourself some basic equipment and find a local target range. Bow hunters are generally an exceptionally welcoming group, and you won’t have to look long to find someone willing to help. Be patient, observe your flaws, and enjoy your newfound hobby.