Bowhunting 101: How To Start Bowhunting

bowhunter at sunset

Can you feel it?

The primal instinct that served our predecessors so well in providing for their sustenance with little more than a spear, knife, and a trusty bow and arrow combo.

This instinct and connection to the past are part of why bow and arrow hunting is so fulfilling.

If you feel the urge to learn bow hunting for whatever reason, you’re taking the first steps of a journey that will likely last a lifetime. There’s so much to learn in bow hunting for beginners, but this guide will equip you with the necessary knowledge to get you started. 

We will give you the score on everything about bow hunting, including its definition, some information about the equipment used, useful tips and tactics, as well as how you can make your own bow and arrows if need be.

There’s a lot to learn, so let’s get started. 

What is Bow Hunting?

guide to bowhunting

Bowhunting is defined as the practice of hunting game using archery, that is, a bow of some form and arrows.

While there are many modern variations based on the techniques and equipment used, it is still the same old method practiced by indigenous inhabitants of the land long ago. 

Bowhunting is much more than shooting game with arrows. It compasses the whole practice of finding the game, stalking them, running them down or waiting them out, and making the shot. It also involves the skills used in field dressing and trophy harvesting. 

Many animals can be hunted with a bow and arrow, but the most common game for bow hunting is whitetail and mule deer, and sometimes elk or moose. Expert bowhunters can also target birds such as ducks, pheasants, grouse, and quail.

Today, bowhunting has evolved into a sport that most people can participate in, no matter where they are from. 

Bowhunting for Beginners: Getting Started

There are two ways to master bowhunting—one is by taking courses taught by veterans in the field, through self-practice and consuming materials such as books, magazines, and the internet.

Some also learn directly from experts as apprentices by being taught by their family or friends.

Learning From Professional Courses

girl with bowhunting mentor

Bowhunting courses are usually offered by your local wildlife agency and teach topics such as basic archery, hunter safety, ethical hunting, gear selection, survival, hunting techniques, and wildlife conservation.

These courses are great for beginners because they cover everything you need for successful bowhunting, even things you don’t think are necessary. Usually, even experienced bowhunters take certification courses and to advance their knowledge.

There are currently 11 states that mandate every bowhunter to be adequately trained and certified, including Maine, Montana, Alaska, Connecticut, Idaho, New York, Vermont, Nebraska, New Jersey Rhode Island, and New Hampshire. Alaska also requires a proficiency test for all bowhunters.

Even in states that don’t require you to take a professional course, it is highly recommended to take one because you learn about hunting in your state, wildlife conservation, safety, survival, and other essential things.

Bowhunting for beginners courses are also available online with at least one field day. They are designed to make bowhunting safer, more ethical, and more sustainable for everyone. 

Self-Learning

It is relatively easy to learn bowhunting— at least the basics. What it takes is practice —lots and lots of practice. You first need to learn basic archery skills and be able to shoot accurately and consistently for at least 30 minutes. You also need to learn how to estimate distance to the target and place your shot perfectly for a lethal kill.

Practicing is a must because it helps you learn muscle memory; it becomes second nature to notch, draw, and release with perfect accuracy. However, if you learn bad habits from the start, they become ingrained and will become much harder to change later.

That is why it is crucial to have an expert offer advice and guidance until you learn the basics. Apart from archery and “shoot to kill” placement, there is a lot more you need to learn. 

Skills essential to bowhunting include:

  • Scouting skills to find and track your game
  • Understanding your game by what they need: food, drink, shelter, and mating
  • Map reading and interpreting satellite imagery, including using GPS
  • Survival skills in various terrain such as forest, grassland, etc
  • Identifying floral and fauna in nature
  • Conservation skills
  • Tracking and recovering wounded game
  • Field dressing

Bowhunting for beginners must include all these lessons, whether self-taught or learned. Constant practice is still emphasized by both types of bowhunting learning techniques. 

Learn Your Bows: Types of Hunting Bows

different hunting bow types

No lesson in bowhunting for beginners would be complete without bows. A bow is the primary tool in the business of bowhunting. 

Bows are meant to fit your draw length and draw weight, and eventually, the right bow should feel like an extension of your arm. But first, do some measurements.

Draw length

the measure of how far back you can draw, that is, pull the string of a bow. It is measured in inches, and your local archery shop or bowhunting teacher will help you do that. 

Draw weight

Also known as poundage, it’s how much force ou take to draw a bow fully. It’s measured in pounds, and the more draw weight a bow has, the faster it can shoot arrows.

Types of Bow

Longbow 

It was invented by the Celts for use in warfare and is the “typical” shape of bow most people think of. It consists of a robust and slender piece of wood bent and strung for shooting. They are (in)famous for their long draw weights, but can shoot arrows much farther.

 A longbow has a useful range of up to 200 yards, although, in times past, yardages of more than 700 were common. These require a lot of training and practice to master but are very effective.

Recurve Bow 

These are also highly popular bows due to their simplicity and ease of use. They are similar to longbows but have ends which curve away from each other (hence the name.) Recurves are lightweight, easy to handle, and can accommodate any type of shooter in various conditions.

Compound Bow 

training with compound bow

This is the most popular type of bow among bowhunters. They are more complex in that the string goes through a series of pulley wheels before joining the end of the bow itself.

Compound bows are technologically more advanced and are made from material such as fiberglass and resin, and accommodate sights and other accessories. 

The wheels (called cams) of a compound bow rotate when you draw and help to reduce the force required to pull back the string. They are very efficient, easy to use, and commonly used in bowhunting. 

Crossbow 

These bows resemble compound bows mounted on a stock and equipped with a trigger and a cocking device to help draw the string. They are a very controversial topic in bow hunting and aren’t used as much.

Finding the Right Bow

As a beginner, the best option for you is probably the recurve bow or the compound bow. The best way to find the right one for you is to visit an archery shop, have them measure your numbers, and try out the various options.

Once you have the right bow in your hands, you will know. It feels just right—balanced, easy to draw, sits comfortably in your hands, and probably lies within your budget as well.

Understanding Bow Ranges

The range of a bow is how far it can shoot an arrow. Generally, bows with a heavier draw weight can shoot arrows faster, longer, and more accurately. It also depends on the archer’s strength and skill, modifications to the bow, type of arrow used, and shooting conditions.

Typically, any bow can shoot the required distance of about 30-60yards in bowhunting. In hunting conditions, recurves and longbows can reach 70 yards or more. Compounds can exceed 100 yards, and crossbows many times that.

In archery and practice shots, these bows can reach many hundreds of yards. The current records stand at 310yd for a recurve, 345yd for a longbow, 310yd for a compound, and 680yd for a crossbow under the same archery conditions.

Types of Arrows Used in Bowhunting

different arrow tips

An arrow consists of a shaft, nock (groove), fletchings (vanes), and the point. They come in all types of material, design, and point variety. Some can be repurposed by changing out the heads. 

Different Arrows Types by Material

There are five main types of materials used to make arrows, referring to the main body or shaft. 

Wooden arrows

The traditional favorite, these arrows are affordable, easy to DIY, and have excellent performance if you use the right wood and treatment. However, they can break or warp, and are only used on recurves and longbows.

Fiberglass arrows

Beginners usually use these arrows in training because they are cheap and perform consistently. However, they are heavy and are prone to dangerous splintering.

Aluminum arrows

These form the bridge between affordability and high performance. Aluminum arrows are durable, offer consistent quality, and are quite strong. They are also very uniform and can be customized easily.

Carbon arrows

These are high-end, high-performance arrows loved by compound bow archers and hunters. They are uniform, offer increased accuracy and uniformity, and are available at a wide range of prices.

Also, they are usually used for long-distance archery.

Composite arrows

They are reserved for only the most competitive archery. Composite arrows are hardly the right kind of arrow for a hunter in the woods. They are the straightest, consistent, high-quality arrows but come at a price. 

In bowhunting as a beginner, wooden arrows offer all the performance and accuracy you need. We will look at how you can make good arrows yourself in a short while.

Different Arrows Types by Heads

arrow heads

The type of point an arrow determines many factors, such as how well it flies, the type of injury it inflicts on the animal, and many other factors. 

Bullet point

Shaped like a bullet, mainly used in target archery

Field point

These are tapered arrowheads useful in both target and game shooting

Blunt point

These have a blunt end and are used in small game hunting and are designed to kill by blunt force

Grabbing

Also called Judo points, these have hooks that snag onto the target instead of burying into it. Used for practice shooting to help locate the arrows later.

Fishing point

Used in bow fishing, they have a barbed tip to help in snagging and catching the fish.

Broadhead

These are points with flat blades designed to inflict maximum, lethal damage and are only used in hunting. They are probably the only arrows you will use, if legal. 

Arrows can also be categorized by the type of fletch

  • 3 or 4 fletch arrows, where the extra fletch can help with accuracy but has more drag
  • Feather or plastic vanes, where plastic vanes are more durable in the outdoors and thus better for hunting
  • Shaped or fin vanes, which are only used in competitive archery

Best Arrow Heads for Hunting

In hunting, the goal is to kill the animal as ethically as possible. That means killing it the quickest way possible, which is why in big game hunting the only acceptable arrow is a razor-sharp, solid broadhead. Check your local regulations regarding this.

How to Painlessly Hunt Animals with A Bow 

launched arrow

Although you deliberately shoot animals as a hunter, you don’t want them to suffer too long before dying.

In bowhunting for beginners, you need to learn your responsibility to the animal, other wildlife, and other hunters to ensure a quick and painless death to the animal. 

Approximately 50% of deer shot are never recovered, and instead go on to live for days in misery until they die of bleeding, wounds, or starvation. This is the suffering that should be avoided at all costs.

Hunting painlessly is to hunt ethically, and this is how you should do it.

Use only the recommended equipment. Use the right bow, arrow, and broadhead tip to ensure a lethal wound as much as you can inflict. Broadheads cause more internal injuries, especially if properly placed, and the animal can succumb within minutes.

Only shoot when you are sure of your shot. That means don’t release until you are sure of your placement (deer moving), the flight path is obscured, or in low light conditions.

Make sure to shoot the vitals. This requires a knowledge of deer anatomy and shooting angles. The best place to aim for is the chest cavity where the heart, lungs, and major arteries are. That way, you also get a much higher success rate— up to 84%.

Don’t aim for a headshot unless you are using a rifle, for three significant reasons:

  • The arrow probably won’t have enough momentum to penetrate the skull
  • The target area is much smaller, offering a lower chance of success
  • If you miss, you risk injuring the animal’s eyes or jaw, which will cause them suffering for months or years.

Safety Precautions to Take When Bow Hunting 

bowhunter standing on high chair

Bowhunting safety is taught in courses for a reason.

Out in the wild, it is relatively easy to fall prey to the wild either from the elements, predators, malfunctioning equipment, dangerous animals, and many other sources of danger. 

Bowhunting safety can be broken into wilderness preparedness and survival, gear usage, tree safety (when tree hunting), shooting safety, and hunting safety. However, these points of protection apply to every bowhunter.

  • Always be sure of what you’re shooting at and what is behind the target.
  • Stay fit and only hunt within your physical limitations.
  • Let others know when you go out and when you will be back.
  • Always dress appropriately in case of the worst weather.
  • Carry essential survival gear every time you are out, including flashbulbs with extra batteries, a source of fire, knife, etc.
  • Place your arrows in a covered quiver whenever you are not shooting
  • Obey field rules and archery rules every time.
  • Maintain situational awareness—you may not be the only person out there either hunting or moving about.

There are many more hunting safety rules. As a beginner, it is advisable to go to the field with an experienced person to help guide you and ingrain these safety rules.

Hunting On A Budget: Can You Make Your Own Bow Or Buy A Used One? 

man practice shooting on haybales

When starting out on a shoestring budget, you can always opt to make your own bow and arrows just like the pioneers used to. It’s also relatively easy to do so.

For the bow

  1. Find a 6-foot long piece of relatively dry hardwood such as oak, lemon tree, hickory, ew, ash, juniper, etc. It should be free of knots and thicker towards the center, but one you can easily wrap your fingers around.
  2. Find the bow’s natural curve by bending it slightly. After that, determine where you want the handhold to be.
  3. Use a knife to shape the limbs of the bow until both are uniform and flexible. Shave only from the belly (inside) of the bow, and leave the outside well alone.
  4. Notch the ends of the limbs towards the end, where you will tie your bowstring. Remember not to cut the back, and don’t make the notches too deep.
  5. Use either a hemp cord, fishing line, ordinary twin, or a thin nylon rope as your string. It should be taut and not stretchy.
  6. To string the bow, make a loose but secure knot at the lower end of the bow while standing it lengthwise, loop it over the top-notch, and slightly flex it downwards to make the second know. The string should be just a little bit short than the unflexed bow’s length so that both are taut.
  7. Tiller the bow by hanging it at an elevated position (e.g., a tree limb) and pull downward slowly, checking that each limb flexes evenly and continue to shave material off the belly until you are satisfied by the way it bends.

For the arrows

  1. Collect the straightest sticks you can find, preferable of dry and dead hardwoods. Each should be about half as long as your bow. Goldenrod and mullen are some great plants for arrow shafts.
  2. Shape the arrowhead by whittling until it sharp and smooth.
  3. Carve a small nock at the back of the arrow where it will hold into the string.
  4. If the shaft is not straight, warm it in the fire and hold it straight as it cools.
  5. Harden the point of the arrow by heating it in the fire but not scorching it.
  6. You can also construct fletchings out of feathers by gluing them onto the arrow, but they take time to perfect. 
  7. If you have sharp metal, stone, or glass on hand, you can also fashion rudimentary arrowheads. For hunting, try to make then in the broadhead shape.

Conclusion

Bow hunting for beginners is not an easy lesson to teach, as there is so much that needs to be learned before you can even step into the wild and start shooting arrows.

To get properly acquainted, its best to take a professional course to learn all the basics.

That being said, bowhunting is a lifelong commitment, and you must be ready to continue learning to the end. Get your bow out, find your arrows, and get practicing!

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