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How to Get Into Bow Hunting: A Guide for Your First Kill

How to Get Into Bow Hunting

Want to get into bow hunting? Are you looking to experience the THRILL of directly going up against your prey?

Bowhunting can be intimidating if you’re new. There’s a lot of terminology and gear to learn about. DON’T WORRY! We’ll help you!

We’ll give you a rundown of all the basics you need as a new bowhunter just starting out.

By the end of this post, you’ll surely be ONE STEP AHEAD of other beginners!

Why the Interest in Bowhunting?

Let’s answer a few questions before going through our guide. One way to answer the first one above is by asking a bowhunter.

The common answer you’re going to get is “the challenge”. Bowhunting requires A LOT of practice and time. You need to UNDERSTAND the animal you hunt too.

Bowhunting is the fastest-growing shooting and hunting sport in fact.

It also has a number of benefits. It’s an ACCESSIBLE way to hunt and also has a LONGER SEASON than those who hunt using guns.

Hint: Often, there’s a season before and after firearms season.

Bowhunting is good for your health which is something to consider too! Here are some of its health benefits:

  • You work muscles all over your upper body.
  • You increase hand-eye coordination.
  • It increases strength and flexibility.
  • Practicing for just half an hour burns about 140 calories!

What Can You Hunt with Your Bow?

The answer to this is simple. What you can hunt using a gun, you can hunt with a bow and arrows.

The main differences are ACCURACY and RANGE. Your bow is normally accurate up to 50 yards only. Despite that short-range, it’s still easy to miss your shot in bowhunting.

If you’re looking for a specific animal though, here are some lists below.

Large Game

Large Game

Deer is the usual form of large game. But before going through other examples, here are some things to note about them:

  • They have shorter hunting seasons.
  • They’re hunted as trophies.
  • They have more meat.

Here’s a list of big game animals:

  • Deer
  • Moose
  • Elk
  • Caribou
  • Bear
  • Boar
  • Bison
  • Goat
  • Sheep

Small Game

Small Game

As for small game, these are what you need to remember:

  • They are usually in the below-40-lbs. weight range 
  • They have longer hunting seasons
  • They have higher daily limits or less hunting restrictions
  • They are more challenging targets

Here are some examples of them:

  • Squirrels
  • Groundhogs
  • Rabbits
  • Skunks
  • Pheasants
  • Geese
  • Coyote
  • Turkey
  • Frogs
  • Fish

Your First Task: Selecting Your Bow

Now that we’ve answered some questions about stuff you need to know first, we’ll help you select your bow. Here are the different types.

Compound Bow

Compound Bow

This one is the most commonly used bow type. You actually get a number of benefits from using a compound bow:

  • You can hold more weight. Hint: The pulleys reduce the strain on your shoulder once you get to your full draw length.
  • You have more time to aim accurately.
  • You can hold your draw for several minutes. Hint: This allows you to wait for your target animal to shift positions or move into a shooting lane.
  • Compound bows also have more room for mounting accessories such as a bow fishing rig.

A DRAWBACK however is shooting moving targets can be difficult. If you’re new or inexperienced, there’s a learning curve too. People transitioning from a traditional bow experience this.

Crossbow

Crossbow

The crossbow type is as old as the recurve at least. Think of it like a small bow mounted to a gunstock. You get a number of benefits since it operates like a firearm:

  • It’s the simplest to use and the easiest one to shoot. Just cock the bow and pull the trigger to fire your arrow!
  • It also PACKS A PUNCH. Crossbows normally have draw weights ranging from 150 to 200 pounds and can shoot bolts at speeds of up to 380 feet per second!
  • A crossbow is the most accurate bow you can purchase! Attaining proficiency REQUIRES LESS TIME AND PRACTICE. A few hours of practicing with a crossbow allows a hunter to shoot as accurately as a proficient bowhunter using traditional or compound bows!
  • A crossbow is an alternative for people that can’t use other bow types because of INJURY or PHYSICAL LIMITATIONS.
  • You’re less likely to spook your game too because a crossbow requires the least movement!

Pro Tip: If you want a TRUE BOWHUNTING JOURNEY though, choose one of the more traditional bow designs.

Traditional Bows

Traditional Bows

Unlike compound bows, a traditional bow requires you to pull back and hold the full weight needed to draw the bowstring.

As a result, you won’t be able to pull as much weight as a compound bow and hold your draw as long.

Pro Tip: Traditional bow types require practice and time to build up your muscles. Beginners should start with a lighter bow and work their way up to heavier draw weights.

Longbow

Longbows use OLDER TECHNOLOGY than compound bows. Its traditional form is just a straight length of wood. In general, longbows have these characteristics:

  • Longbows can be COMPACT, being only a few feet long, or can even be TALLER than their archers!
  • They only CURVE when their STRINGS are ATTACHED.
  • They can either be a single piece of LAMINATE or WOOD.
  • Some “traditional” bows today are actually made from COMPOSITE materials. Fun fact: Fiberglass is a part of that mix.

Recurve Bow

This type of bow is the EVOLUTION of the longbow. A recurve bow, as its name implies, has curves at each end.

It’s usually made from wood, but newer models incorporate carbon materials and fiberglass. It’s for greater strength and durability.

Here are a few things to note when using a recurve bow:

  • It’s designed for a quick draw and release.
  • It works fine for big game.
  • It’s perfect for wing shooting or hunting small game animals. Hint: Some examples are rabbits and squirrels.

Most bowhunters love the simplicity and heritage of a recurve bow. Add the fact that they’re quite deadly with practice, it doesn’t matter if it’s not as powerful as a compound bow or a crossbow.

A Quick Detour: Other Useful Equipment

A Quick Detour

Of course, there’s other stuff you’ll need. We’ll take you through some accessories and other gear to help you prepare for your first bow hunt.

Bow Sight

Some hunters prefer aiming at a target using their carbon arrows and instincts. Honestly, most experienced hunters use a bow sight. It helps you fire a more accurate shot.

They even vary from simple fixed pins mounted on your bow to sophisticated models that have built-in rangefinders!

Pro Tip: If you’re a beginner, simpler is better. It’s cheaper too!

Peep Sight

You might be asking “How’s this different from a bow sight?”

Well, a peep sight is a small aperture inserted into the bowstring. You can look through it when at your full draw. Generally, some say a peep sight is easier, faster, and more accurate to use.

The peep sight allows you to align the string, the fore-sight, and the target. This one also helps you take a more accurate shot.

Arrow Rest

This is the part of your bow that supports your arrow during its draw and release.

It used to be just a padded shelf built into the bow. Sometimes it was simply a small plastic arm holding the arrow shaft. Thanks to technology, there are now sophisticated varieties available for a bowhunter.

Pro Tip: Choosing is a matter of how you shoot, your right equipment, and your hunting style. Do some proper research before choosing which arrow rest fits you best.

An example that’s ideal for a bowhunter is the Whisker Biscuit by Trophy Ridge. Some arrow rest types however are better for target shooters.

Release Aid

What is a release aid?

It’s a device that helps you fire carbon arrows more precisely by using a TRIGGER to release the bowstring instead of your fingers.

They are mainly for providing a consistent arrow release. You use this on your dominant hand.

Pro Tip: If you’re still learning about bowhunting, go with a caliper wrist strap release. It also would be a good idea to read up on how to properly cut your arrows for proper usage and maintenance.

Field Points

These are arrow points that you use for target practice. Just screw a field point into your arrow and it’s good to go!

You can match your field points to the weight of the broadheads you use for hunting or practice purposes too!

Their NARROW BOW DESIGN provides true arrow flight. It makes them ideal for tuning bows, practice, and archery competitions.

You can use some types for hunting small game like rabbits and squirrels, even for bow fishing!

Warning: They’re not good for large game though.

It’s possible for the arrow to just pass right through a buck due to a field point’s design. It will cause so little damage that you merely wound the animal and make it suffer. That’s UNETHICAL!

Arm Guard

This protects your bow arm from getting slapped by your bowstring when released.

When doing any archery, using an arm guard for your less dominant arm is a good idea.

Hunting Boots

A VITAL ACCESSORY is a good pair of hunting boots. 

Why is that?

You don’t want to experience the misery of getting numb toes because your boots aren’t warm enough or because your feet got wet. Here are some things to look at when looking for a good pair of boots:

  • Your boots must be waterproof. About nine inches up your ankle is ideal.
  • They should also have a good amount of insulation. They’ll keep you warm even in the coldest conditions.
  • Good ankle support for rough terrain is a must.
  • A rugged tread pattern to keep you from slipping is also important.

Tree Stand and Safety Harness

You’ll need these two if you plan to hunt from a tree. You might also need a PULL-UP ROPE to hoist your bow into the tree stand with you.

Tree stands and safety harnesses have different varieties available to experienced bowhunters today. Choosing the right safety harness is just a matter of personal preference, location, and situation you are hunting in.

Pro Tip: Consider comfort when choosing. You’ll be sitting in it for long periods. Also, make sure it allows enough movement for setting up shots and silent entries and exits.

Archery Targets

For routine practice, traditional targets are great.

If you want to realistically simulate whatever animal you’ll be hunting, however, invest in some 3D TARGETS. Hint: Deer, turkey, or elk are examples of 3D targets.

Your Next Stop: A Visit to the Local Bow Shop

Your Next Stop

It’s always best to visit your local archery shop. We advise against buying it from another source if you’re a beginner.

Here’s a couple of things we want you to remember:

  • Most pros at archery shops would be happy to help you. Always be honest with them. It’s okay if you’re a total beginner.
  • It’s important to tell them you want to get measured and look around. Keep in mind that they also want to sell you a bow.
  • Try a few bows to find the best fit and feel. You don’t need to feel obligated to buy one until going to another shop and trying some of their brands.
  • Consider buying from them if they provide good service. That’s how it normally works.

Keeping the above points in mind, this is how your first archery shop visit would usually go:

  • They’ll measure your draw length first.
  • After draw length, they’ll find your draw weight by having you pull a few bows.

You’ll also find out what arrow length will be ideal for your draw length.

Pro Tip: Choose a bow with a draw force that you can handle easily, but make sure the bow isn’t “maxed out” for you.

Why is that?

  • It’s because you can quickly BUILD your muscles up through PRACTICE. Cool, right?
  • Increasing the poundage little by little is possible as you develop your strength and technique.

Just a side note, bows typically come in 10-pound increments. The number listed is usually its maximum.

Here’s an example. A “60-pound” bow needs 60 pounds of draw force to pull it back. You can adjust it down to 50 though.

Pro Tip: Bowhunting ethically would require many hunters to have a draw weight of 40 pounds at least.

You probably have enough knowledge about gear at this point. Next, we’ll teach you how to properly shoot.

How to Shoot Your Bow: Fundamental Knowledge

How to Shoot

Knowing how to shoot properly is the most important thing to learn before you go bowhunting.

Plus there’s something CRITICAL to know before learning how to shoot.

Never dry-fire your bow.

What do we mean by that?

Never draw and release your bow without an arrow “nocked” on the string. This can damage or destroy it.

Now that you’ve got that in mind, work on the following fundamentals after you’re all set up.

1. The Right Stance

This is CRITICAL to accurate shooting. To have the proper shooting stance, remember to:

  • Stand with your body SIDEWAYS to the target.
  • Your feet should be about SHOULDER-WIDTH APART and PERPENDICULAR to the target.
  • Make sure your weight is EVENLY DISTRIBUTED between your feet.
  • Stand ERECT with your back and legs STRAIGHT, shoulders SQUARED, and don’t lean over when you draw.
  • The ONLY thing facing the target should be your head.
  • Your arms should be the ONLY thing that moves.

2. The Correct Grip

The point of a proper grip is to avoid inducing torque and twisting the bow when you release the string. This can ruin accuracy.

The main goal is to have minimal contact with your actual bow. It should be just enough to hold it up and steady it for aiming.

  • Using the web of your hand, support the bow and grip it loosely.
  • While at full draw, wiggle your fingers and make sure they’re relaxed. Some bowhunters let them dangle, others gently place them on the grip. See which works best for you.
  • Let the rearward force of the draw weight hold the bow to your hand and don’t squeeze the grip. Relax your hand and wrist.

3. Drawing Your Bowstring

  • Push your grip hand or bow arm toward the target. Don’t fully lock your elbow and leave some bend.
  • Pull the string back across your chest, not into your chest, using your release hand.  Your elbow should be pointing back and up toward the sky as you draw.
  • Don’t JUST use your shoulder. Use your back muscles to help draw the bow too!

4. Choosing Your Anchor Point

This is where you’ll release your arrow each and every shot. This being the case, your anchor point must be COMFORTABLE and FAMILIAR. Making this consistent is crucial for your accuracy.

Make sure you arrive at a solid and consistent spot on your face that feels natural. This is so you can DUPLICATE that spot each and every time you draw your bow.

Hint: People usually choose the corner of their mouth or the point of their jaw.

5. Aiming Correctly

Aiming can be tricky if you’re a beginner. Here are some tips to make it simpler:

  • First, place the ring of your bow sight inside the ring of your peep sight.
  • Secondly, focus on the sight pin as you see the target in the distance.
  • Lastly, pick an exact, tiny point of aim, rather than the whole target.

On a side note, try to keep both eyes open while doing this.

You’re probably wondering why. Well…

It helps keep your aim accurate, although focusing on the sight pin becomes a bit blurry visually.

As for picking a tiny point, it focuses on your aim.

Imagine you’re bow hunting a deer. Rather than picking a more general aiming point like “behind the shoulder,” aim for a ruffled piece of fur.

Pro Tip: Before taking a shot, think: “Pick a spot, squeeze, follow through.”

6. The Proper Release

Here are a few tips before releasing your arrow:

  • Make sure you’re at full draw.
  • Your hand should be at the proper anchor point.
  • You should be thinking you have good aim at your target.

After making sure you’ve gone through the three tips above, just slowly relax your string fingers until your arrow is loose.

Pro Tip: Having a good mechanical release aid makes this simpler, especially if you’re a beginner.

7. Your Follow-Through

In archery, this just means doing nothing at all for a second after taking your shot.

Just keep your bow as it was when you were aiming. Make sure you don’t drop it until your arrow hits your target.

Tips for Beginners

Tips for Beginners

You now know the basics of shooting properly. We’ll give you some advice about bowhunting next.

1. Practice Makes Perfect

There’s a big difference between archery hunting and hunting using a firearm.

You’ll likely get only one good shot with most types of bow hunting. The margin of error is MUCH GREATER too.

You need to put in a lot of time and target practice in order to become as proficient and accurate as possible. There are also two main reasons to do this:

  • First, you’ll create muscle memory. This will give you a feel of going through the shooting motion. You’ll become consistent too!
  • Secondly, you’ll strengthen your muscles that hold your draw steady. This helps since it can be tough to hold your pin on your target.

Also, Practice for Different Situations

You should also hone your archery skills for various scenarios.

Pro Tip: Your bow’s draw weight determines how far from the target you can accurately shoot.

Here’s some advice from us:

  • For range and accuracy, start at ten yards from your target and then keep moving back in five to ten-yard increments until your bow’s limit.
  • Also, try to practice shooting from other positions. Think shooting while on your knees, while seated, or to your far right.
  • You can also practice shooting from a tree stand. This is to get used to the angle and limited space.
  • Remember to take a few shots with your hunting tips and adjust your sights. Do this as needed before bowhunting. The weight can affect arrow flight.

2. Hunt Bigger Game First

Going after attainable targets like deer is key if you want to enjoy bowhunting early on.

You want to have more opportunities to take a perfect shot and land it, right? Then take note of these points:

  • Your target animal must be plentiful enough. More targets, more opportunities to take a shot!
  • Make sure your target animal is large enough. Hitting it with your arrow will be easier!

Hunting for game like big horned sheep isn’t good. It’s highly likely that you’ll hike for hours and not spot anything.

Going after SMALL GAME like squirrels on your first hunt is NOT ADVISABLE. You’ll probably miss your shot and get frustrated!

Pro Tip: Some of the best game animals to hunt when you’re new to bowhunting are Whitetail deer and wild hogs.

Simply put, picking the right spot is important.

You’ll probably see your target animal and have better chances of bringing meat home.

3. Research is Important

In bowhunting, understanding the animal you’re after is important.

For bow hunting, you will need to get an animal you’re after to come WITHIN 40 YARDS of your spot.

Taking a longer shot is possible, but the ideal shot is around 30 yards. Anything beyond or below 30 yards will be different. 20 yards will be a unique experience.

Different variables like SCENT, STAND LOCATION, CAMOUFLAGE, MOVEMENT, and SOUNDS greatly affect your success as a hunter.

Here’s some advice:

  • Learn about the best place to set up your stand and scout your hunting area.
  • Pay attention to wind direction. Hint: A wind indicator will be helpful.
  • Choose a cover scent or attractant that’s effective for whatever animal you’re hunting.
  • Learn the local regulations of states you choose to go hunting.
  • Use as much camouflage as you can. Hint: Hide your face and hands first and foremost. Most animals easily see the exposed skin of these body parts.
  • Learn about calls for your target animal.

4. Have an Experienced Hunter Tag Along

Having an expert hunter with you is one way to ensure success on your early hunts.

It could be a friend with bowhunting experience or just a professional guide. They’ll know where to place your stand and make sure the game you’re hunting, like deer, is within range.

Hint: Making the shot count is on you. They won’t take it for you.

One more way it’s helpful to have an expert is deciding where to hunt becomes easier. It’s normally the toughest part of bowhunting.

In general, hunting with an experienced hunter ensures the odds are in your favor.

Was This Article Helpful?

Was This Article Helpful-

We hope it was!

Just to wrap this guide up, we’ll highlight the most important points for you.

  • Bowhunting has multiple BENEFITS. It’s even good for your HEALTH!
  • Whatever game you can hunt with a FIREARM, you can also shoot with your BOW.
  • Select the weapon type that fits you BEST.
  • Always be WELL-EQUIPPED.
  • Visit your local ARCHERY SHOPS! It’s the BEST way to start getting fitted for bowhunting.
  • Remember the FUNDAMENTALS! Always follow them when shooting.
  • PRACTICE, PRACTICE, PRACTICE! You’ll get better over time.
  • Start with ATTAINABLE targets! Do this to avoid frustration.
  • Don’t forget to do your RESEARCH!
  • Don’t be afraid to ASK FOR HELP from someone with experience.

You should be all set at this point.

Now you can start your bowhunting journey confidently! We wish you a happy and successful hunt.

FINAL TIP: Restringing your bow is also something all bowhunters should know about. We have a guide about how much it would cost to restring a bowstring if you’re interested to learn more.

 

CHANGELOG:

September 9, 2021 - Reviewed and updated article links

About the author

Christopher Wade

Christopher Wade is a true outdoorsman. After spending most of his career as a firearms expert and instructor in Nebraska, he retreated to the great outdoors to enjoy retirement.

Christopher’s expertise in handling firearms and hunting gear are what propelled him to create the Shooting Mystery blog. He hopes for all readers to gain useful and practical knowledge for enjoying their time outdoors.