By Cassie Gasaway
Readers who visit Bowhunting 360 often ask, “How do I start bowhunting?” Some of them are archers seeking something new, and some are newcomers to archery and bowhunting. Either way, bowhunting is fun, gratifying and rewarding. It’s also a great way to exercise, support conservation, connect with nature, and secure lean protein. If all that interests you, start preparing for the fall’s hunting seasons, which usually open in August or September.
Follow these steps so you’re ready to bowhunt white-tailed deer come fall.
If you’re already an archer, skip to Step 2. If you’ve never shot a bow or practiced regularly, take lessons or an introductory class to see if you like it or need to get reacquainted with the equipment. Either way, you’ll likely get hooked, so start saving to buy gear and equipment, which we’ll soon discuss.
Classes or lessons taught by certified instructors ensure you’ll learn to shoot safely and correctly. These teachers explain the step-by-step shooting process to make it easy and enjoyable. Don’t be nervous. Every archer and bowhunter had a first day, and a helpful pro will start you on the right track.
Meanwhile, enroll in a hunter-education course. State wildlife agencies require license buyers to first earn a hunter-education certificate. You must pass the course to bowhunt. These informative classes teach safety, hunting ethics, wildlife management, conservation values, hunting tactics, hunting laws, shot placement, blood trailing, field care, and equipment needs.
Wildlife agencies enforce rules and requirements unique to their state, which you’ll learn while earning your hunter-education certificate. Some states let students take the course entirely online, while others combine online instruction with in-person work. Wildlife agency websites provide the state’s hunter-education requirements. To learn more about these courses, click here. Some states also offer bowhunter-education courses to consider.
Teaching yourself to bowhunt takes time. Books, articles and how-to videos help, but nothing beats hands-on guidance and practical advice from longtime hunters to speed the process. Click here for three tips for finding a mentor.
If you can’t find a mentor or you want to participate in a bowhunting program, check the wildlife agency’s website to see if it offers “Field to Fork,” “Learn to Hunt,” “Gourmet Gone Wild,” or “Hunt. Fish. Eat.” programs. You’ll learn basic hunting skills from experienced instructors while meeting like-minded beginners.
The hunting market offers infinite products, but you only need about 10 items to start bowhunting. If you hunt off the ground, a bare-minimum gear list includes a bow (and accessories), arrows, quiver, target, flashlight, release aid, bow case, broadheads, sharp knife, and camouflage clothing. You’ll accumulate other gear along the way. If you don’t want to hunt from the ground, you’ll also need a treestand, safety harness, pull rope and bow hanger. At some point you’ll also consider a range-finder, waterproof boots, and scent-free laundry detergent.
Your most significant purchase — and likely your biggest — will be your bow and accessories. Top-end compound bows cost over $1,000 and don’t include a sight, stabilizer, wrist strap or arrow rest. You can, however, find good ready-to-shoot bow packages with everything for $500 or less. Bows come in different sizes to fit different people. To get what you need, visit an archery shop to work with a professional. Before going, read Bowhunting 360’s article “A Buyer’s Guide to Compound Bows” to learn tips and terminology.
After you buy a bow and the shop sets it up, you must practice to become consistently accurate for bowhunting. Responsible hunters strive to make quick, humane harvests. If you can shoot safely in your backyard, set up your target and get to it. If not, check for archery ranges at nearby pro shops, or consult your city or county’s recreation department. Archery retailers might also host leagues, tournaments or other competitions, all of which help you practice and track your progress. Read Bowhunting 360’s article “8 Ways to Improve your Shot” for more ideas. If you’re too busy to practice regularly, try one of these routines.
To stay sharp, practice as often as possible year-round, including throughout the bowhunting season.
Do you have a place to bowhunt? If you own or have access to private land, great. If not, you must find public lands open to hunting, or ask landowners for access. To hunt private property, you can request access in person or by writing a compelling letter. If you’re granted permission, discuss rules, schedules, logistics and property boundaries with the landowner.
If you hunt public lands, look online for state, county and national forests; or wildlife management areas, national wildlife refuges, and Bureau of Land Management properties. You can also look for special hunts through wildlife agencies, military bases and conservation trusts. Many areas hold unique quota hunts, lottery hunts, and cull hunts; or hunts restricted to youths, military veterans or people with disabilities. Click here to learn more, and then check out other possibilities on wildlife agency websites. Your strategies will vary by whether you bowhunt rural or urban areas.
After determining where to hunt, you must learn the regulations for that area. Many private properties and public lands, such as wildlife-management areas, have their own regulations. Those rules protect wildlife and ensure safety, so hunters must learn and follow them.
For example, can you bowhunt over bait, shoot less than a 30-pound draw weight, or forgo blaze-orange clothing if archery season overlaps gun season? Hunters must also know season dates, harvest limits, legal weapons, shooting hours, and other regulations. Those who don’t comply could face fines, suspended licenses or even jail.
In other words, “Know before you go.” The wildlife agency’s website provides links to rulebooks and other laws and regulations.
Also take time to study your quarry’s anatomy so you know where to aim. Read Bowhunting 360’s article “Deer Anatomy: What Makes a Lethal Shot” before bowhunting whitetails. These shot-placement articles and videos will help:
Scouting is vital to success. That includes studying hunting areas on foot, and from home with aerial photos and topographical maps. The sooner you start scouting, the better. Hit the woods in winter and spring to find sign, identify potential hotspots, and launch land- and habitat-management projects if you own the property or its landowner requests help. Scouting in winter and spring also doubles as an opportunity to shed hunt.
While you’re at it, learn to scout with Google Earth and Google Maps. You’ll save steps by identifying habitat features like forest openings, clear-cuts, creek beds and recent burns. With practice you’ll even learn to identify oaks, pines or aspens to pinpoint potential deer hangouts. When you go afield, confirm your findings and look for deer rubs, scrapes, bedding areas, food sources and trails. Deer sign helps you pick potential stand sites. Read the following articles to learn more, and then take our deer-sign quiz to prepare for your first scouting mission.
Choose your hunting sites based on fresh sign at hotspots like habitat edges, feeding areas, terrain funnels, and bedding areas. Set up your ground blind or treestand so you can intercept deer on their way to eat, drink or bed. Setting up on well-used trails or intersections boosts your odds of seeing deer.
Weather affects deer behavior, too, so hunt your spots only when the wind direction favors you. Place your stand or blind downwind of where you expect deer to approach. If deer follow a north-south trail from a bedding area to feeding site, place your stand east or west of the trail. Hunt that stand when the wind blows toward it from the trail. Forecasts reveal when the wind should favor you, but winds often vary by terrain and cover. Always carry and use a compass when bowhunting. Also, plan your approach to ensure you reach your stand undetected. You must be stealthy when bowhunting.
Deer habits change throughout autumn, so you must change hunting spots along with them. These Bowhunting 360 articles will help:
Be cautious and use safety gear when hanging a stand, using a climbing stand, and hunting from treestands. Going aloft requires strength and coordination. Try practicing near the ground until you’re comfortable. Or hunt from the ground. Either way, practice how you’ll hunt, and practice shooting from your blind or treestand in full gear to anticipate and avoid problems.
No matter your quarry, the law requires you own a bowhunting license. Those who kill game without a license are poachers and should be prosecuted. A bowhunting license is your ticket to obtaining healthy, organic meat while making memories.
Pull out your hunter-education certificate and visit your wildlife agency’s website to buy a license that best suits your hunting goals. Then pay the bill and print your license so it’s handy should you get checked by a conservation officer. Read Bowhunting 360’s article “How To Buy a Hunting License in 4 Steps” for guidance. If you’re uncertain which license you need, call the agency’s help line first.
Phew! You made it! Celebrate your efforts and accomplishments, and then start bowhunting when your season opens. You’ll keep learning more from experiences in the field, but it’s now time to start testing all your skills and knowledge. If you arrow a deer, you’ll blood-trail and clean it. You’ll find the following resources helpful for those tasks:
We’d love to hear your story! Please share the steps you took to start bowhunting. If you haven’t started, tell us why you’re waiting! Drop a comment below!