Bowhunting Basics: Information to Know Before Stepping Afield

Familiarize yourself with the rules and regulations of bowhunting. 

By Trent Jonas

Bowhunting Basics: Information to Know Before Stepping Afield
Photo Couresty of © Koerper

Before you take your bow and quiver to head out into the field, you need to make sure that you are prepared to legally hunt your target species. Familiarize yourself with your state’s hunting regulations and especially those rules that are specific to bowhunting. When are the bow-specific hunting seasons, what can you hunt, and do you have the right gear? You’ll also need to have a hunting license, as well as any additional tags or endorsements for the game you intend to hunt. Make sure that you’ve completed all the safety and education courses required by your state. Then, you can get started. 

Happy hunting!

Know the rules and regulations

Like all laws, bowhunting rules and regulations vary from state to state, and in some cases, they are extremely detailed and specific. Montana, along with North and South Dakota have stringent bowhunting regulations, including minimum lengths for both bows and arrows. By contrast, in Arizona and Michigan, bowhunting is legal regardless of the equipment you choose to use.

Clearly, it’s important to know what equipment you can or can’t use before you head out into the field. As noted above, in some states, laws are a little more lax. In Nebraska, spear hunting certain game is legal. But in other states, you may not be able to use a crossbow or a compound bow. Many states require minimum draw weights for bows and require that arrows and points meet certain specifications. This helps to ensure that animals are not needlessly wounded by an arrow that lodges in but neither kills the animal nor falls from its body. In several states, scopes, along with guiding or lighting devices are also illegal.

Most every state has separate, designated bow seasons. The reason for this is to prevent bowhunters from being in the field and endangering themselves during firearm hunting seasons. In addition, many states restrict the types of game you can take with a bow and arrow/bolt. Deer and turkey are the most common species that have designated bowhunting seasons. But depending on your state, you may be able to hunt anything from waterfowl to elk and bear with a bow.

For more information on state-specific regulations, visit our hunting regulations FAQ page

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Get your bowhunting license

All states require hunters to obtain a license. Most states do not require a separate license for bowhunters. On the other hand, most states do require a hunter to have reached a minimum age before applying for a hunting license. The minimum ages for hunting licenses range between 10 and 16, depending on where you live. Many states will grant young hunters a limited license—after they take an education course—that allows them to go out in the field with another licensed hunter. In some cases, a state will have no age or education requirements for young hunters, but generally an unlicensed young or apprentice hunter must be accompanied by a licensed, adult hunter.

A vast majority of states require prospective licensees to complete a hunter safety course as a requirement for a license. Other requirements that are common from state to state are proof of residency—to demonstrate that you qualify for a resident license—and, not unexpectedly, payment of a licensing fee. Most states also require you to purchase a separate endorsement, stamp, or tag if you want to hunt certain species or types of animals, like deer or migratory waterfowl. In same cases, large game tags may be distributed by lottery.

For more local information on where to buy a bowhunting license, visit our hunting license FAQ page

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Educate yourself and stay safe!

As noted above, most—if not all—states require some form of hunter education before they will issue a license to an individual. Such courses often consist of some form of classroom training combined with an in-the-field component. In most states, the hunter education courses focus primarily on firearms and hunting safety regulations specific to the state. Such courses frequently may be completed online. 

More than a dozen states require a bowhunter education certificate for anyone wishing to hunt with bow and arrow. This requirement applies even to nonresident hunters whose home states have no such regulations. So, if you intend to travel to another state to bow hunt, be sure that you familiarize yourself not only with the local hunting regulations but also with the hunter education requirements.

For more information on local safety and hunting education courses, visit our hunter education FAQ page

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