Bowhunting Basics

The beginner’s guide to archery hunting.

  • A bow hunter glasses a field at sunrise.
    Photo by Getty Images/twildlife
  • Be sure to practice plenty with your bow and arrow.
    Photo by Getty Images/Koerpers
  • There is no way around it. In order to become a proficient bow hunter, you must practice regularly, even daily as the season nears.
    Photo by David Hart
  • There is no way around it. In order to become a proficient bow hunter, you must practice regularly, even daily as the season nears.
    Photo by David Hart
  • The best practice simulates real hunting situations. A lifesize deer target is one of the best practice tools you can own. Get one and use it regularly.
    Photo by David Hart
  • Archery hunting is a rewarding way of harvesting your own meat.
    Photo by David Hart

It’s not that Curt Lytle has anything against hunting deer and other game with a firearm — he grew up doing that. These days, he simply wants something more, something that gives him a stronger connection to the natural world and a greater challenge. That’s why Lytle made the decision to give up gun hunting in 2007 in favor of bowhunting.

“I feel like I am participating in nature instead of observing it when I hunt with a bow,” says Lytle. “I can walk over a hill and see an animal, and shoot it from 300 yards away with a rifle, but with a bow, I have to get in its personal space. That’s not easy. Carrying a handmade bow through the woods is very fulfilling, and having a successful hunt is even more rewarding.”

There’s another reason the 48-year-old Suffolk, Virginia, resident traded in his gun for a bow: Most states offer separate archery seasons that start before general firearms seasons. That means he gets a few weeks or even a month or more to hunt before countless other hunters descend upon the woods. Deer and other game are more likely to follow a routine and move during daylight hours. Bowhunters also have a better chance of drawing a limited big-game tag in states that restrict non-resident hunters.

“I’ve hunted elk in places that a non-resident gun hunter may never get to hunt, because the tags are so hard to get. Not as many people bowhunt, so the odds of drawing an elk tag in some parts of Colorado or New Mexico are much better,” he says.

Be warned, though. Hunting deer, elk, feral hogs, or any other game with a bow is arguably the most challenging type of hunting you can do. If your only goal is to fill your freezer with meat, bowhunting may not be the best method. Success requires getting close to the animal, and hunters occasionally leave tags unfilled.

Practice, practice, practice

Getting close is just part of it. The most important part of a bowhunt is making a good shot. Arrows kill quickly by hitting a vital organ. Miss by a fraction of an inch, and you could wound the animal in a non-fatal way. No one wants that to happen. In order to avoid it, you must practice, and practice often. Shooting a compound or traditional bow is as simple as drawing back the string and releasing it. Actually hitting a target the size of a small paper plate, or better, consistently? There is no substitute for practice. The most successful bowhunters aren’t just skilled hunters, they are excellent shooters, too. They practice daily in the months leading up to hunting season. They even shoot during the season itself to stay consistent and ensure proper form.

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