Hunting with a bow and arrow brings you almost face-to-face with your prey, for a primal, heart-pounding hunt. Even though bowhunting requires you to get into close range to make your shot, it doesn’t necessarily make it easy. Check out the tips below to hone your beginner bow hunting skills.
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Why Bow Hunting?
Many bowhunters are in it for the challenge of the sport. You have to have accomplished archery skills, practice, and an understanding of the animal you hunt.
Bowhunting is the fastest growing of all shooting and hunting sports, especially among women and young people because of its accessibility and longer season. There is often a bowhunting season both before and after the firearms season. There’s also less crowding, and you can hunt in firearm-prohibited areas.
Bowhunting is also an excellent way to exercise. Drawing a bowstring activates countless upper body muscles and aiming a bow requires sharp hand-eye coordination. Practicing for half an hour burns about 140 calories while increasing strength and flexibility.
Choose a Beginner-Friendly Bow
All bows, in their most basic form, are just a spring, a string, and a projectile. The spring is the bow itself, the limbs a handgrip or stock, and the string is how the spring transfers energy to the projectile, which is the arrow or bolt.
There are four types of bows:
A traditional longbow is a straight length of wood, and the only time it curves is when the string is attached. It can be made of a single piece of wood or laminate. The longbow can be small, at only a few feet long, or taller than the archer. Some “traditional” bows today are made from composite materials including fiberglass.
The recurve bow is the evolution of the longbow, and it goes back more than 2500 years. It has curves at each end. Usually made of wood, newer models often incorporate fiberglass and carbon materials for greater durability and strength. Unlike compound bows, traditional bows require the shooter to pull back and hold the full draw weight, or pounds require to draw the bowstring, and hold it while taking aim. This requires time and practice to build up the muscles of the arms and shoulders. Bowhunting beginners should start with a lighter bow and work up to draw heavier weights.
Although not as powerful as compounds or crossbows, many hunters appreciate the simplicity and heritage of a recurve bow, as well as the fact that they’re quite deadly with practice.
The use of crossbows has drastically increased over the past decade, and they are currently legal to hunt within every state but Oregon. The crossbow is at least as old as the recurve and is the easiest of all bows to shoot. It’s basically a small bow mounted to a gunstock.
They require less practice to become proficient in, which is attractive to people with little time to spend on the range. A few hours with a crossbow can enable a hunter to shoot as accurately as someone who has spent weeks or months practicing with traditional or compound bows. They pack intense power, with draw weights usually in the 150-200 pound range and can shoot their small bolts at up to 380 feet per second. Crossbows are a great alternative for people who can’t use other types of bows because of injury or physical limitations.
4. Compound Bow
The compound bow is a newcomer to bowhunting, invented in 1966 by Holless Wilbur Allen Jr. Instead of limb tips, the compound has cams on each of the bow limbs. The cams turn and “break” past a certain point to release pressure, referred to as the back wall. Because of this, an archer with a 70-pound compound at full draw may only be holding 20 pounds instead of the full 70. In a recurve or traditional bow, at full draw, the archer is holding 70 pounds.
The design of compound bows allows the shooter to draw and hold the string at only a fraction of its total draw weight, and they have more power, which means they’ll shoot an arrow at a flatter trajectory, giving better accuracy at longer distances. There’s a bit of a learning curve when starting to use one, especially when transitioning from a traditional bow.
Which Bow Is Best For Beginners?
As a beginner, choosing a bow depends on the type of experience you’re looking for. Compound bows are more compact and have cams so you don’t have to hold the full draw weight. You can also learn to shoot them much quicker.
If you choose a compound bow, choose one with a wide range of adjustability so that the bow can grow with you as you get stronger. There are also single cam and dual cam compound bows. Single cam bows are a great choice for beginners because they’re more forgiving and require less maintenance. Dual cam bows are slightly noisier, require tuning more frequently, and are not as accurate in the hands of a newbie. But dual cams greatly increase speeds.
Crossbows make hunting easier and have seen a huge increase in popularity since they became legal in most states and for good reason. They are the easiest to shoot and the most accurate weapon you can use for bowhunting. They use a scope, just like a rifle, that eliminates a lot of the guesswork associated with bowhunting. With a scope, there’s no movement associated with drawing compound bows or recurves, which is usually when the hunter is spotted by the game and the shot opportunity is over.
Crossbows also increase how far you can shoot, even though the fastest crossbow will still have limitations when hunting live game animals.
The downside to using crossbows is that they are much heavier than other bows and have to be uncocked after every hunt, which can be difficult to do. Also, crossbow maintenance needs to be performed on a regular basis to keep your crossbow safe and accurate.
Traditional bows provide a challenging but rewarding experience. They are closest to ancient weaponry, and with the exception of making the bows and arrows yourself, they are as pure as archery gets.
Longbows and recurve bows are less gear-intensive than crossbows and compound bows—there are no bow sights or arrow rests to worry about.
A take-down bow is a great shooter for a beginner, and the limbs can be removed without the use of an Allen wrench.
The main things to consider when shopping for a trad bow are the bow weight and the bow length. These are synonymous with the compound bow’s draw length and draw weight. You should start with a trad bow that is 15 pounds below your current draw weight.
Start With Big Game
To enjoy bowhunting early on, you should go after large, attainable targets. You want your target animal to be plentiful enough that you’ll likely be able to take a shot, and big enough that you have a good chance of hitting it with your arrow.
For example, if you go after big-horned sheep, you probably won’t see one even after hiking for hours. Whitetail deer and wild hogs are some of the best game animals to hunt when you’re new to bowhunting.
You may have extensive experience hunting with firearms, but archery is an entirely different ballgame. With most types of bowhunting, you only get one shot. And the margin of error is much greater with a bow.
To have the most accurate shot, you’ll want to practice as often as possible. If you do so, you’ll create muscle memory as you get into the rhythm of nocking your arrow, drawing, aiming, and releasing. Even with a compound bow, it can be difficult to hold your pin on your target without strengthening the proper muscles, which involve your back, shoulders, biceps, triceps, forearms, grip, and legs. With consistent practice, you’ll strengthen the muscles that hold your draw steady.
Practice should test your accuracy in a variety of different scenarios. You can start at 10 yards to warm up, but you should move back in five to 10-yard increments until you’ve reached the limit of your bow. The draw weight of your bow will determine how far from the target you can accurately shoot. You should also periodically practice shooting from unusual positions, like on your knees, from a seated position, to your far right, and even on a tree stand to get used to it.
Before you hunt, you should always take a few shots with your hunting tips to adjust your sights if needed. The weight can sometimes change the flight of the arrow.
Start Scouting Early
Finding the places where the game is moving, feeding, and sleeping, and where the best spots to set up stands are, is a vital part of preseason preparation. You should know the land you’re hunting on, and making use of topographical maps and Google Earth can be a great help in learning the terrain. If you can use them, trail cameras can be set up in different areas to give you an idea of when and where the game is moving.
Early season for archery hunting starts in the late summer when the grass is still green. During this time, deer are focused on eating, which makes them easier to ambush. Get in early during this season to learn the deer feeding and movement patterns.
There are two very important things to remember when bow hunting:
- Always use a pull-up rope to pull up your bow into a tree stand—never try to climb with your bow in your hand.
- Never climb a tree or enter and exit a tree stand without wearing a high-quality safety harness.
You should wear a fall arrest system, including a full-body harness, tree tether, and suspension relief strap, when:
- Climbing a tree (or anything, really)
- Hanging a tree stand using climbing aids
- Entering and exiting a tree stand
- Hunting from a tree stand
Find a Bowhunting Buddy
For success on your first hunt, it’s a good idea to bring an expert with you, whether they are a friend with bowhunting experience or a professional guide. A bowhunting expert will know the best place to put your tree stand so you’re sure to have game animals in bow range. Deciding where to hunt can be the toughest part of bow hunting, so going with someone who’s done it before can greatly increase the chance of a successful hunt.
Consider Your Clothing & Camouflage
Your clothing must be comfortable: You have to remain as still as possible when waiting for the game to arrive, which is much easier to do when you’re comfortable. Consider wearing a quality base layer of clothing to wick moisture and aid with comfort.
Your clothing must be quiet: You’re going to be drawing your bow while the game is very close to you, and if your clothing rustles when you do it, your quarry will hear it, and your position will be busted.
High-quality hunting clothes are best for these purposes. Consider the environment you will be hunting in and choose an effective camouflage pattern that will help you stay concealed from your prey. A moisture-wicking base layer like FORLOH’s Deep Space Half Zip Long Sleeve Top will help you to stay dry. Layer up with the AllClima Soft Shell Jacket and AllClima Stretch Woven Pants with knee pads and hip ventilation for a quiet, water-resistant bow hunting outfit.
Control Your Scent
Practicing good scent control is a must, especially when hunting mature bucks. You should pay attention to wind direction because your scent can be carried even when you’re high up in a tree stand. Never start a stalk when the wind direction is moving from you to toward the deer.
When washing hunting clothes, opt for an unscented detergent with no additive brighteners to maintain the scent control and camouflage of your outfits. Rubber boots are a good choice because rubber doesn’t hold and transfer leather and other materials, and full scent control clothing is a great option to thoroughly conceal your human scent.
FORLOH offers hunting clothing with built-in scent control, featuring Polygiene® Odor Crunch technology. Cover your scent from head to toe with the Insect Shield UPF Hooded Long Sleeve Shirt and Deep Space Base Layer Bottom.
Essential Bowhunting Gear
Here are some key hunting accessories to store in your pack:
- Safety Harness
- Bow Holder
- Compound Bow Release Aid
- Bow Sight
- Arrow Rest
- Tree Stands
- Ground Blinds
- Binoculars & Bino Harness
- Rangefinder & Holster
- Field Knife
Enjoy the Outdoors
Bowhunting offers an opportunity to get outside, connect with nature, and engage with your primal instincts. You can breathe in the fresh air and watch the movement of the clouds, trees, and wildlife all around you. It’s a highly rewarding experience to learn archery starting with a beginner bow and eventually become an excellent hunter, and you can share this experience with your fellow hunters.