By Jackie Holbrook
Bowhunters can use the most modern sights, rangefinders and release-aids, but bowhunting’s basics are forever tied to the Stone Age. Likewise, the fundamentals of stealth, stalking and concealment never change.
Bowhunting’s rich history weaves throughout many regions, including Asia, Europe and North America. Let’s review how various countries embrace bowhunting’s traditions, even though bowhunting experiences vary across the globe.
Bowhunter education programs teach bowhunting’s history in North America. After Europeans immigrated into North America, these new arrivals combined Old World and Native American archery techniques and technology. America’s first archery club, United Bowmen of Philadelphia, was established in 1828.
Over 130 years later, the Pope & Young Club was created, taking its name from Dr. Saxton Pope and Arthur Young. These men, widely considered the “fathers of bowhunting,” learned their skills from Ishi, a lone survivor of California’s Yana tribal group. Ishi taught Pope and Young how to use his bowhunting equipment to stalk and arrow wild game. They eventually used Ishi’s knowledge as the foundation of “Hunting with the Bow and Arrow,” a book that introduced many Americans to bowhunting. The Pope & Young Club remains North America’s leading bowhunting organization.
Bowhunting is legal in all 50 states, but rules, season dates, and equipment regulations enforced by state wildlife agencies differ greatly. Even so, most American hunters can start bowhunting after learning archery’s basic skills and completing a hunter-education course. Many states and Canadian provinces also require certification from a bowhunter education program, but the general hunter-education certificate is required by Mexico, all 50 states, 10 Canadian provinces, and three Northwest Territories.
England held the first known archery tournament, according to World Archery. The 1583 event took place in Finsbury, England, and attracted 3,000 people. European countries have vastly different bowhunting regulations. The European Bowhunting Federation, a resource for bowhunting information in Europe, was founded in 2003 as a six-nation cooperative for bowhunting organizations. The EBF’s bowhunters work with governing agencies on bowhunting-related issues. The EBF also publishes the latest bowhunting rules for each European country to keep residents and international visitors informed.
Let’s look at some examples of European hunting rules and traditions.
France legalized bowhunting in 1995, according to EBF. Unfortunately, bowhunters looking to book hunts in France should expect mountains of paperwork. Outfitters who offer hunting packages are the best resource to help visiting hunters get the necessary paperwork. All of France’s game animals can be bowhunted, and the most popular quarry are chamois and mouflon sheep. Bowhunter education is required, and foreign bowhunters must buy a 10-day license.
Spain’s hunting heritage includes bowhunting, which was unregulated until Spain legalized it in 1985, according to EBF. Each region of Spain has its own hunting license and different rules, including some that vary by weapon choice and season length. Hunters who hope to hunt several places need multiple licenses, so the paperwork can be complicated. Spain also requires hunters to carry insurance that covers injuries sustained while hunting.
Danish bowhunters must pass an education course and a shooting proficiency test. Bowhunters must shoot six arrows from distances of 5 to 25 meters. To pass the test, at least five arrows must hit the vitals of a roe deer on a paper target. Foreign hunters must prove they held a bowhunting license in their home country, and that they passed a similar proficiency test.
Russia’s hunting rights have a complex history. Every class could hunt, but rules imposed by the Soviets changed the structure of hunting clubs during much of the 1900s, giving more access to wealthy people. Bowhunting was illegal until 2020 in Russia, which allowed only “hunting weapons” specified by law. Until the law changed in 2019, Russia defined archery gear as “sport,” restricting it to athletic competitions. The 2020 classification allows hunting with bows and crossbows.
Organized bowhunting began in New Zealand in the 1940s. Bowhunters can only target introduced species. Native species can’t be hunted. New Zealand is popular with foreign visitors who hunt on private land, usually with outfitters and guides to hunt tahr, chamois, red stag and fallow deer. Private-land hunts require the landowner’s permission. To hunt “crown” land, aka public land, bowhunters must get a license from the Department of Conservation.
It’s also tough to find crown land to hunt in Australia and, much like New Zealand, only nonnative species are legal game. Native game is usually only legal during government cull hunts. Bowhunting isn’t regulated in parts of Australia. Those duties are held by the Australian Bowhunters Association.
Victoria and New South Wales regulate bowhunting and each has its own licensing requirements. Further, the Australian Bowhunters Association requires hunters to earn a Bowhunter Proficiency Certificate, which includes a written and shooting test. Most bowhunting in Australia occurs on private land by obtaining the landowner’s permission. Foreign hunters hoping to hunt Australia will find the ABA their best resource.
The world’s bowhunting community is vibrant because of its many cultures, and varying regulations and experiences. Before hunting new places, even in your own area, review the regulations. Wildlife agencies and outfitters are great information sources for foreign hunts, as are local clubs and archery shops.