I absolutely love September and October because bow season starts for deer hunting. The weather is cool, but not cold. The forest is still full of life and greenery. It is actually pleasant to be in a tree stand even if I do not see any deer. It is very different from gun season, and I love it.
However, I did not always feel this way. When I was new to bow hunting, I had several situations in which I spooked deer while trying to shoot. There were also scenarios in which I missed my shot. While I enjoyed being out in nature, I started to despise bow hunting because of my frustration. My father, my uncle, and my cousins would always get a deer, and I would get nothing. Eventually, I stopped bow hunting altogether.
My issues were not due to a lack of general bow skills.
I was introduced to a bow at a very young age. My father had both a compound bow and a recurve bow and spent a great deal of time practicing. He had hay bales set up in the back yard with a paper plate for a target. It always amazed me to see the arrows all end up in a tight grouping. I had no idea how he did it.
I was immediately in love. I enjoyed how relaxing the process seemed. I liked the concentration involved. I was even hooked on the sounds of the string and of the arrow hitting the target. I asked my dad to teach me, and soon I had a beginner’s bow. After practice and more practice, I started competing and winning in archery competitions. Even on my first day of bow hunting, I had the general bow skills needed. I had given up because of a lack of skills specific to hunting with a bow.
Then, several years later I decided I was not going to accept defeat. I started practicing again, talking to other bow hunters, and doing my research. I spent a great deal of time online and reading books on the subject. As a young man I had expected bow hunting to be just as easy as gun hunting. When I picked up a bow again, I realized how little I really knew.
After learning a great deal more about bow hunting, I finally started to fill the freezer with meat. I learned all the little nuances of how to hunt with a bow. Year after year I now have success, and I am so glad that I took the time to learn the bow hunting tips needed for success. In this article we will cover the tips I can pass on to help you have similar success.
Stick with a Bow You Know
If you plan to be successful with bow hunting, you first must hone your general bow skills. This means lots and lots of target practice. Before my first deer hunting season I practiced for 30 to 60 minutes nearly every day from April until September.
That’s roughly 70 hours of practice before I ever hit a tree stand.
This does not count the previous years of target practice. By the time deer season rolled around, I was consistently shooting a three-inch grouping from 40 yards.
Part of the reason for this practice is muscle memory, but a great deal of it is getting familiar with your bow. Every bow is a little different. They all have different weights, different lengths, different accessories, different draw weights, and different draw lengths. If you want to be consistent in the stand, you must learn your bow and stick with it.
One common mistake that many deer hunters make is burying a fancy new top-of-the-line bow two weeks before deer season. Bad idea. Your old, out of date bow from the stone age will always be better because you are used to it. The most advanced bow on the market will not help if you do not have time to get used to it. If you are going to get a new bow, do it in the off season. That gives you all spring and summer to practice and become accustomed to it. However, do not feel bad about using your old classic. I typically buy a new bow about every five to ten years. I stick with what I know.
Practice in Various Positions
Many hunters do all of their practice from a normal standing position. This is great for tournament archery, but not great for hunting deer.
The reality is that you will almost never shoot from a normal standing position when hunting.
You do want to start with a normal stance to develop a baseline and develop basic skills. However, if you want to have a good hunt you must change it up.
First, it is not uncommon to shoot from a seated position in a deer stand or ground blind. When you hunt deer, motion is your enemy. Often it is better to take an unconventional seated shot versus trying to stand up. Take a chair out to your range and get comfortable shooting from it. Depending on the type of hunting you are doing, you may even want to practice shooting from a kneeling position. It just gives you one more option to take that perfect shot.
Next, realize that you will not always be shooting from a standard angle. Sometimes an animal will sneak up on you from a weird angle. Sometimes your foot space will not allow you to rotate to a standard angle. To accommodate this, you need to change your angle when you target practice. Start at a standard angle and then gradually rotate as far as you can and still draw and aim your bow. This will also establish your limitations on angle, so you know your options when you get ready to kill your prey.
Finally, you need to practice from your stand. If you are using a ground blind, set up targets around the blind in every direction at various distances. Sit or stand in your blind and fire at as many targets as you can. Being in a blind, you really do not need to worry about movement. Because of this, you can move around to whatever positions give you the best shots. If you hunt wild game from a tree stand, get up there. Set up targets all around the tree at various distances. Shoot from both standing and seated positions. You will find that your foot space is limited, so you may have a narrower stance than you are used to. In addition, this will give you practice shooting at a downward angle. Your target may be 30 yards from your tree, but your shooting distance is actually further because of the downward angle.
Buy Good Boots
You may not think your boots are a big deal, but you would be wrong. For years I hunted with cheapo duck boots. I had little ankle support, my feet sometimes got wet, I slipped on slopes, my feet hurt most of the time, and in cold weather my toes were frozen. I just never saw the difference between $30 boots and $300 boots.
However, there is a huge difference. When I went back to bow hunting, I did my research and found out what is really important in a boot. I was able to find a pair for around $150 that had good tread, good ankle support, 1500 grams of Thinsulate insulation, and were waterproof up to 9 inches.
What this means for my bow hunting is that I can get a comfortable stance. I am not thinking about my feet instead of thinking about my draw, my aim, and my release. My feet stay warm, stay dry, and are never in pain. I use these boots in the summer and in the winter. I have to say that it was the best hunting investment that I ever made.
Give Yourself Distance Markers
One of the most important factors in a good bow shot is judging distance properly. Any bow sights are going to have hash marks or pins set for different distance. You use these pins when you target practice. Start at 10 yards and set a pin. Move to 20 yards and set a pin. Continue this out as far as you can accurately hit your target. Once these pins or hash marks are set, you will use them every time you practice. You will also use these when you hunt.
In addition to setting your sights, you must be able to accurately judge distance from your stand. This is difficult on the ground, but it is even tougher in a tree stand. You can use a rangefinder once your animal is in range, and many people do. However, that is a bunch of additional movement that could spook your animal. It also cuts into time you could be using to draw and aim your bow.
A better option is to set distance markers around your stand. When you first get to your stand, have some hunter orange paracord cut into one-foot pieces. Start at your stand and pace off 20 yards. Then tie your paracord on a branch or plant close by. Do this in three different directions. Then do the same at 30 yards, 40 yards, and out as far as you think you can accurately shoot. When an animal comes into your range, you will know the distance and will know how to accurately aim your bow.
Know Your Prey
One of the biggest mistakes I made as an early bow hunter was that I did not really understand the animal I was hunting. It is easy to sit in a tree with a rifle and scope and pick off a deer from 100 yards. However, shooting a deer at 30 yards is actually much more difficult. The animal is in your personal space, and you are in it’s personal space.
I like to use deer for an example because it is the most common game animal hunted with a bow. Deer have incredible eyesight. It is much better than yours. They have very advanced hearing, and a sense of smell that can give you away nearly a mile from your stand. They are a very qualified adversary. In order to beat these senses, you need to have a strategy.
When it comes to eyesight, understand the limitations of a deer. Their eyesight is not based on color as much as it is movement and silhouette. This is why you can wear a hunter orange hat and vest and never be spotted. Also, while having incredible peripheral vision they have a small blind spot directly behind their head.
To stay hidden you should avoid walking along ridgelines, and break up your silhouette using camouflage or a ground blind. Stay still, but if you do have to move near a deer then wait until they are looking directly away from you or are behind a tree.
This is the perfect time to draw your bow.
When you make movements, make them slow and deliberate. Finally, deer tend to keep their eyesight on ground level. In most areas their food sources and predators are on the ground. They have no reason to look up. This is why a tree stand can help keep you hidden.
To deal with the hearing of a deer, you can simply not make noise. However, if you do need to make noise you must make it natural noise. You may need to walk to change locations. This is fine as long as you walk slowly and deliberately like a deer in the forest. If the deer cannot see you, they will not be scared by slow walking.
Try to avoid stepping on sticks or gravel as your weight and your boots may give you away. Most importantly, do not make any human noises. Avoid talking unless you whisper. Avoid any metallic sounds. Make sure your cell phone does not go off. All of these sounds will be a dead giveaway. Finally, when deer hear your bow string they instantly duck down. This can cause you to miss over their backs. It is called jumping the string. You can add silencing devices to your string, or you can aim a bit low to compensate for this. The longer the shot, the more likely it is that this will be an issue.
There are several ways to combat the sense of smell associated with a deer. I always wash my hunting clothes in earth scent and then keep them in a sealed container. I spray down my clothes and boots with earth scent. I also use a variety of deer scents on myself and in the area near my stand. Do your own research on these as this is a whole other article.
I like to eat apples for a snack as it is a natural scent to which deer are actually attracted.
Start Big with your Prey
Each person needs to make their own choices as to what animals they hunt. However, when you first get started I suggest a large target. As I personally experienced, it is easy to get discouraged when you are new at bow hunting. It is a difficult sport. If you want to ensure some early success, hunting pheasant is probably not a good idea.
Another reason that I use deer as an example is that they are a large target. They are plentiful in most parts of the country. In the Ozark Mountains where I hunt, there is rarely a day where I do not see at least one deer. Some days I see 20. The target area on the deer consisting of the heart and lungs is roughly 18 inches across. This is a perfect target for somebody new to bow hunting.
Judging the Wind
With bow hunting more so than with gun hunting, the wind makes a huge difference. A strong crosswind can throw off a long shot by several feet. In addition, wind direction can greatly affect the deer in your area. If you are upwind from a deer, they will be able to smell you. If you are downwind, they will not.
To judge the strength and direction of the wind, you can use wind gauge powder. This is just a bottle with a fine powder that you spray into the air. The cloud hangs there long enough to show wind direction and strength. You can also hang a thin string near your stand, so you can watch how the wind carries it. Finally, you can use a flag further from your stand to judge the wind in a specific location.
When I first started bowhunting, I assumed that all broadheads were created equal. I also figured you just screw them on before you head to the stand. I was wrong on both. After missing a few deer, I decided to start target practicing with my broadheads. I found that the design I was using was very inconsistent. At 30 yards my grouping was two feet across. This was simply unacceptable. I switched to a different design and was able to get back to my three-inch grouping.
Keep in mind that broadheads may be a different weight than the field heads that you use to practice. This is just another reason to practice with the broadheads. Be aware that they will tear up your target and may be tough to remove. Practicing also will dull your blades.
I like to practice with three broadheads and then have three identical broadheads set aside for hunting.
In some cases, you can purchase a set that has practice field tips of identical weight to the broadheads. This is helpful, but you still need to practice with the broadheads because the blade design (mechanical or fixed) can affect how it flies through the air.
There is something very visceral about taking down an animal with your bow. Gun hunting is very impersonal. You often shoot the deer through a scope from 100 yards away. Bow hunting is a different experience. You can see the deer’s breath in the cold morning air.
You can hear their footsteps. You can sometimes even smell their musk. Then you can watch your arrow fly through the air and take down your target. To truly enjoy your bow hunting experience and have great success, try to start implementing these tips. Hopefully they will give you the same success and enjoyment that I have experienced.