So you want to bow hunt…. Really? Think about this.
A sport that is based on learning your animals, patience, time spent afield, ancient technology, filled with lunatics, saints, and sinners…
In all honesty let me say this. I’ve spent the majority of my life (40 years) as a bowhunter to some degree or another. I’ve killed in that time unknown amounts of hogs and more than a few deer. Never a Pope Young buck but a lot of does mind you which has always been my key to getting invited to hunt all kinds of places. In that time a number of my best friends and closest hunting buddies have come from this group of nuts. More so than rifle or even pistol hunters. It has been a great time. A wonderful ride and full of adventures. If you choose to join us I can promise you this. It is worth it.
This will be a multi part series that will give you an idea of what it takes from gear to a game plan.
First let’s look at some gear and types of bows and accessories:
Your bow… Now when you come into this sport you are going to be absolutely OVERWHELMED with the choices. Not only brands like Bear, Hoyt, PSE, Mathews, BowTech, G3, Obsession, Elite, and that’s just the best sellers in the COMPOUND world much less the traditional archery world with names like Black Widow, Stalker, Northern Mist, Bama, Bear, Hoyt, Palmer… In regards to the bow the truth is this… Shoot what you like. If you are interested in archery look around. Go to sites like archerytalk.com, tradgang.com, Leatherwall, forum.gon.com look at the stories, view the harvest pictures, think about what interests YOU the most.
Do this because your vision of a hunt is what you must live up to. Not mine. Not Bill Jordan’s. If you look at Cameron Hanes with his workout and running routine, his 160 yard shooting with a new Hoyt carbon, and Underarmour clothing and you want to do that… Then you go do it. However if you look at Tradgang and see a man with a Bear Recurve or Hill style long bow in flannel, wearing a fedora, hanging out with buddies stump shooting and you think that looks like fun to you, then you do that! But don’t let the common mass media and market driven conception of a bowhunter define YOU in the beginning. Be original. You define you.
In regards to bows here are the basic differences:
- Compound bow – Introduced basically in the 1970s and early 1980s this is a bow that achieves a higher arrow speed by using a combination of pulleys, wheels and limb flex to propel the arrow. No matter how complicated it may look… That’s what it does. If you watch Michael Waddell, Bill Jordan, Lee and Tiffany, or the rest that is what you see them using.
- Recurve – An older type of bow that was really made famous by Fred Bear in his movies and shooting. A recurve is a wood or laminate bow that the single string actually lays along the limb for a point. These tend to be a unique shooting experience and are always a favorite for hunters. They can be more easily made in smaller overall lengths and thus a lot of people find them easier to use in blinds and tree stands at first. The only major TV personality that I am aware of currently shooting a trad style or recurve bow is Fred Eichler on his show Easton Bowhunting TV and he shoots a Hoyt Buffalo of his design which is a modern recurve.
- Long bow – Think Robin Hood, Howard Hill, Saxon Pope, Art Young… This is the bow that you recognize most. The string only touches the limbs at the point of connection. It does not lay along the limbs at all. Hill Style bows and English long bows or American Style Long bows often look a lot like a capital D. These bows can be slower than recurves yet tend to be more forgiving in form and shootability.
- Self Bow – Ok… Think cowboys and indians here. A self bow is in the most simplest form a bent stick. A non laminated (it may be backed with sinew or horn but not made with laminated woods) bow that is for the most part carved from a stave or stick. If you see people shooting these a lot of times they will have strings made of sinew and be shooting river cane arrows and knapped broad heads (heads made from flint).
One of the great things about all of these bows is that you can almost always find someone to let you shoot them! Archery shops are located all around the country and a good one will have bows set up for you to try. Traditional archery (what the other bow types are classified as) enthusiasts have 3d or field archery shoots all the time and all you need to do is show up! Someone will hand you a bow…
Obviously once you decide on a bow you need to understand the differences in your equipment and how it impacts your hunt. If you shoot a compound you need to know how it shoots from a tree stand or from a ground blind. Can you shoot it sitting down? Leaning over to shoot straight down if a deer or hog is underneath you? Can you kneel and shoot while hiding behind a bush and waiting for a bull elk to pass within range? All of these things need to be practiced while on the range not on live animals.
One key piece of advice I always give to new hunters is this: “It’s not about the poundage you draw. It’s about how accurate you can be with it under hunting situations.” In other words if you can sit and draw a 70 lb Mathews compound then you should hunt with it if you like it. If you have to wind up like a scrawny guy on the bench press then it ain’t for you partner. Understand your limitations and work within them not against them. Work to build not get frustrated with what you can or can’t do in the beginning.
Wanna start a brawl? Tell someone Aluminum is better than wood… Or Carbon is the greatest thing ever… Archers are very particular on their arrow choices. Brands, materials, fletchings, everything…
- Carbon- The most common arrow in use today. A carbon weave material arrow that is specifically made for certain pound bows, draw lengths and etc. These arrows are light, resilient, and easy to tune for the most part.
- Aluminum- Aluminum is the standard amongst a few of the archers who started shooting in the 80’s and early 90’s before carbon became affordable and reliable. Aluminum is extremely straight therefor reliable on how they shoot. Easily tunable. Aluminum is available in two basic configurations these days. Inserts and nock inserts (where the broad head screws in and a nock that inserts in the arrow) in a standard 32” arrow or inserts and snap on nocks. These nocks don’t ACTUALLY snap on they are sized according to the arrow circumference. Such as 11/32”, 5/16”.
- Wood- Yes people still shoot wood. Common choices are doug fir and cedar shafts. You will see a lot of references to POC which is just short for Port Orford Cedar. Raw wood shafts are very affordable and are a lot of fun to make into arrows. Completed wood shaft sets are surprisingly not much more than completed good carbon sets and are a beautiful addition to the experience. Honestly wood is a fun choice but is mainly a traditional-only group choice.
- Other materials- some people who are self bow enthusiasts will make arrows out of river cane, bamboo, and other such materials but for all practical purposes Wood, Carbon, and Aluminum are the mainstays.
Back in the early days of the modern archery scene people did shoot sights on all kinds of bows. Long bows and Recurves were commonly seen with simple pin sights on them. Especially at field archery competitions. In the most simple concept a sight is just a visual aid to allow you to easily hold in the same spot to achieve a repeatable shot at known distances. Today sights have become quite complicated and intense. They have levels, retina locks, glow in the dark pins, etc. Whatever you might need to accomplish your shot they have. However they are still in three basic designs.
- multi pin sights- multiple pins in a ocular grouping that are meant to represent the most common ranges you will be shooting such as 10,20,30 yards. Or more likely in a compound these days one pin out to 30 then pins for 40 and 50 and 60.
- Single pin sights- These are in my humble opinion the most useful and easy. A single pin that you can use a lever to move up or down to fit your range. Usually these can be marked out to a LOT greater distance than the multi pin. I used one for instance on my last compound bow to shoot reliably out to 100 yards. Cam Hanes for instance uses the Hog Father sight from Spott Hogg Archery to shoot out to 160+ yards.
- Pendulum sight- these were extremely popular back in the 90s-early 2000s and were made so by a man named Miles Keller. These sights were a tree stand hunters dream come true. They worked without known ranges and from elevated positions quite well. The principle being that you aimed at the deer and the degree of the angle your bow had to take judged the distance for you. The pin swung on a pendulum and settled at the correct yardage. Worked great in a stand. On the ground they had a lock so the pin wouldn’t move at all.
Stabilizers – I had a shooting mentor back in the 90s that simply referred to these as group tighteners. A stabilizer is meant to take out the hand shock and thus make the bow move less when fired. This allows you to more easily repeat the shot time after time. Also in long range shooting and competition it is meant to add weight to the front of the bow to make it balance easier which aids again in making the shots more repeatable. These range from 2” to several feet. Can be light and made of stuff like rubber and carbon to long metal ones made to balance the bow better with weight on the ends. These are more common on compounds and olympic style archery set ups for the recurve.
Quivers – You’ve got to have some way to carry your arrows… Besides your pocket. Your quiver choice will be one that really reflects your bow and shooting style. Quivers are broken down into a few basic categories.
Back quiver- Again think Robin Hood. A leather quiver typically seen with trad shooters. But these days a lot of compound shooters have starter using back quivers made from corder covered PVC and etc made by companies like Palmer Bow Works or a number of others. These are typically camo and completely cover the arrows protecting the fletching and hiding it at the same time.
Bow mounted quiver- The most common choice amongst compound shooters. Typically they hold somewhere between 4-8 arrows and are screwed to the bow riser (main frame). A lot of these today integrate sound dampening material and act much like a stabilizer. Your bow whether it is a recurve, long bow, or compound will shoot different (even if it is only a little bit) with your quiver on vs bare.
Side quivers- Really these are regulated to competition archers. Typically they hang off your belt or a gunslinger style belt. Great for 3D shooting and indoor ranges. These along with open back quivers are never my favorite for hunting. They tend to rattle and make noise but a lot of people use them and love them.
Arrow rests – your arrow will rest on something while it is on the bow. What that is today is determined by how the bow is designed. Compounds and modern recurves are designed around center shot. Where the arrow is literally passing thru the center of the bow. Long bows and older recurves are usually designed and cut to be short of that mark. So different rests are needed for each type.
Drop away rests- Some of the most common rests today. These are designed for the newest compound bows and literally drop away on arrow release so that the arrow is not touching the bow as it leaves the string. For todays compounds these are extremely accurate and easy to use. Most famous these days is the Drop Tine rest.
Shoot thru rests- The most recognizable is the Whisker Biscuit. Quite frankly to me on a compound this is the deal. I like to lay my bow across my stand or in my lap for the most part during a hunt and this allows me to never have to worry about it falling out. These rests simply use “whiskers” or bristles to encompass the arrow. They according to the experts shoot best with vane fletchings (although I’ve never noticed a difference and have for the most part always shot feathers).
Fixed rests- Really these could be divided into a few categories but they are all simply the same. Whether they are prong rests, plunger rests, or a shelf rest these are simply devices made to raise the arrow off the bow shelf and create less contact with the surface of the bow.
Shelf- A lot of trad shooters simply shoot off the shelf. They use mohair or leather or velcro to keep the noise down and traditional bows such as the Bear Grizzly or Hill style long bows have a radiused shelf (kind of a hump in the middle of the shelf) that allows the arrow to ride across a small portion instead of the whole shelf.
I’m going to include a basic description of these but this is an area that is wide and deep and will be an entire article by itself.
- Field points- Practice heads. Simply a pointed piece of steel or brass that is meant for practice or “field” archery.
- Fixed blade broad heads- Whether they have 2-4 blades these heads are of a find design. Nothing deploys or opens or springs. They are simply blades. Some states regulate the minimum weight and cutting diameter on hunting heads so make sure to check before deciding on what you want to shoot.
- Mechanical broad heads- May have 2-4 blades typically and have a number of ways to open on contact or upon entering an animal. These have become very popular especially with the advent of the Rage Broad head. They can provide a very wide cutting diameter and thus really big blood trails if the hit is right on a big game animal. These may be restricted in some states and you need to make sure what you are shooting is legal where you hunt.
Keep in mind yes there is a lot I have not covered here but there is a lot to archery. We will be building on this as we go thru this 101 series. When asked to write this I got excited then immediately overwhelmed. There are so many parts to this sport that mean so much to everyone in it. I do not want to minimize the compound shooters or make the trad guys look like traditionalist nuts…
Whether you hunt or just target shoot, archery is a fun sport. One for the whole family. I have 4 children ages 4 to 13 and they all shoot with me and on their own. We enjoy going to 3d shoots, hunting together and just roaming the woods, shooting at stumps and leaves and “monsters”. So when you think this is for you… Think of your family. From my girls loving Katniss to my son shooting dragons… To me pursuing pigs and whitetails from my red clay hills in GA to the giant whitetails on the plains of Kansas, bowhunting and archery is as important to my life as how I make a living and my DNA.
Next time we will go over some of the references I use, tuning tips for all the bow types, and some common archery terms.
Here’s to straight arrows and fast friends!