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How To Have Your First Successful Bow Hunt

By Zack Petersen May 08, 2019

Bowhunting Tips For Beginners

For all the new bowhunters out there - bowhunting is one of the most exciting and challenging types of hunting you can face, but also the most rewarding. You’ll make lifelong memories and learn how to become a better overall hunter with the skills from a more traditional approach. So if you’re new to the sport, welcome! Let’s go over the best ways to improve your game and get you started strong.

Table Of Contents

  • Learn From Experience
  • The Right Bow Setup
  • How To Shoot
  • Practice
  • Prepare
  • Be An Ethical Hunter
  • Learn from experience

    Go with someone

    If you’re new to bowhunting (or hunting at all) learning from someone with experience is by far the best way to get familiar and confident. Learning from the experience of an expert will make your progression go 10x quicker and probably be more enjoyable too. Like learning any new skill, having someone teach you is going to be the most productive way to progress.


    My older brothers taught me almost everything I know about hunting. Ever since I was a kid, they always took me out with them and taught me their ways. Not only was it incredible quality time with them, but I was able to learn so much and harvest my first few animals too. I may have never become a serious hunter without them to show me the way.

    Read/learn online

    If you don’t have a mentor to teach you the basics, there are a ton of resources online that can give you a head start (hopefully this article helps too!). A quick google search should give you access to almost everything you need - just check out the thousands of articles and videos of professionals sharing their secrets.

    Get the right setup

    Before you can take your first shot, you’ve got to have the right setup to shoot with! If you’re new, I highly recommend starting small and trying out a few different bows or crossbows before you invest. Once you find something you like, consider buying used gear or gear from previous years. I’ve made the mistake of going all in too quickly, and I was disappointed at how little I used some really expensive gear.


    I’ve been on the other side too, where I used hand-me-down gear that was still in great shape and used for a really long time. Once I was fully addicted, I went out and got the expensive gear I really wanted and never regretted it.

    Compound bow

    When looking to buy your first bow, my experience has always been best when you go for something inexpensive but functional. A really high-end bow alone doesn’t make anyone a great shot, and practicing with something older & used gives less to worry about when it comes to damaging the bow and learning how to shoot.


    Some things to think about when buying a bow are:

    • Draw weight - If you’re hunting elk, you should be using a bow that draws to 40#-45# minimum. Check your individual state laws, but in order to make an ethical shot on an animal that big, you’ve gotta put enough force behind the arrow to do real damage without just injuring it. Practice will help you to draw back that much weight, and using a compound bow makes a huge difference here. If you struggle with it, start lower and build up the strength to be in the right range.
    • Draw length - It’s important to use a bow that fits you correctly. You’ll want one long enough that you can fully draw, but not so long that you can’t get it there. There are videos online to help with this, or you can go to your local archery shop and the experts there will be happy to help you figure this out. If you aren’t confident, find someone who knows what they are doing to help you out, as this is a vital part of your setup.

    Release

    The next thing to think about with your bow setup is a good release. This doesn’t have to be super expensive, but I would recommend finding something at least in the middle. If you go too cheap, they aren’t very reliable and can cause injuries when your bow fires early.


    There are two types of releases: Thumb Trigger Releases and Index Trigger Releases. Let’s go over the main differences.

    Thumb Trigger Release

    Thumb Trigger Release - A handheld release that you hold in your fingers and ultimately trigger with your thumb. This is becoming more and more common, and what I use personally. I like the freedom I have by not having a strap around my wrist, and I prefer the way it shoots. I am much more consistent with my anchor point, and overall I have better accuracy.

    Pros:

    • Easy to hold
    • Stays out of the way
    • Increased accuracy (personally)
    • More ergonomic and feels good to hold

    Cons:

    • Not strapped to your hand/wrist, can be difficult to always have ready
    • Easier to drop or lose than an index finger release

    Tru Ball eXecute Release

    Index Trigger Release - The most common type of release, with a strap that goes around your wrist and down your hand to a trigger that you pull to fire with your index finger. Many prefer this because when it’s on your hand, you can quickly hook it to your d-loop and be ready to shoot. It’s also harder to lose and almost impossible to accidentally release without touching the trigger (compared to a thumb release that could potentially slip out of your hand full draw).


    Pros:

    • Stays on your hand
    • Similar to a gun trigger
    • Weight is pulled in wrist, not fingers
    • Quick to attach and pull back bow

    Cons:

    • Can get in the way if trying to do other things with your hands
    • Possible to move on your wrist, causing your anchor point to be inconsistent
    • Gets uncomfortable

    Sights

    Trophy Ridge React Sight

    There are a ton of options for bowhunting sights, but if you’re new to the sport, go with something used or inexpensive. Most of the name brand sights you’ll find are reliable and will get you through your first few hunts. With that being said, beginners tend to go for 5 pin, micro-adjustable sights as their starting point. This will give you a lot of flexibility and are really easy to use and sight in.

    Arrow Rest

    Most beginners prefer to go with a containment rest - commonly known as whisker biscuits. These are easy to use and very reliable. Many experienced archers will go for a drop away rest, but they are complicated and a lot more can go wrong. Whisker biscuits are plenty accurate and very reliable - a great place to start for a beginner.

    Stabilizer

    Stabilizers help an archer keep the bow stable (well-chosen name) while drawing back and releasing. When in full draw, it isn’t uncommon to pull the bow up, and a stabilizer helps to keep it level. They also reduce the torque on the bow after the release due to the slight increase in weight. On top of that, having a stabilizer can reduce noise and vibration caused by your shot, which can be a big deal for bowhunters.

    Quiver

    Quivers are, in my opinion, the only optional accessory for a hunting compound bow. The type that attaches to your bow, at least. They make it much easier to access your arrows and keep movement minimal when you need to knock and pull back. The downside is the added weight to your bow, but try one out and see what you prefer.

    How to shoot

    If you have a well set up bow and a little bit of help in the right direction, it’s not uncommon to be shooting consistently after only a few trips to the range. With that in mind, however, there are some fundamentals that are very important having a great shot with a bow.

    Stance

    Take a wide stance, about shoulder width apart. You’ll want to take your bow hand (the hand that will hold the bow during the shot, not pulling back the string) and point that side of your body towards the target. You should be standing at a 90-degree angle to the target, with your shoulder pointing to it.

    Grip

    gripping a bow

    Hold the bow fairly loosely in the web of your hand. A really important part of this is to make sure that you’re not so much gripping the bow, but rather using your hand to push against it while drawing back. Gripping it too tightly can cause you to “pull it” in either direction and throw off your shots during the release.

    Many pro archers will hold their bows loosely with their fingers, or even with their fingers open (arrow tip permitting).

    Draw

    compound bow draw

    Using your grip hand (or bow hand, mentioned above), hold the bow with your arm extended - but not fully locked out. Pull the string across your chest (not into it) until the majority of the tension is held by the bow. From here, you’ll want to make sure that you’re elbow is pointed back and up towards the ceiling. When pulling the string back, be sure to use a combination of back and shoulder muscles.

    Anchor

    compound bow anchor

    Now that you’re in full draw, it’s time to get locked into your anchor point. Many archers choose to pull the string up to their face, resting it at the corner of their mouth or jaw. This should feel natural and easy to get to as it will need to be repeated with every shot to ensure accuracy. You’ll also want to make sure that your eye is lined up with the peephole on the string so you’re ready to aim.

    Aim

    Keeping both eyes open, line up the hole in your peep to the top pin on your sight - this is the pin you’ll use for your close shots, usually up to 20 yards. Now, look through both the peep and the pin to the target in the background (looking at the target instead of the pin will help to stay steady and reduce flinching on the release).

    Release

    Now that you’re all lined up and ready, it’s time for the follow through. Take a deep breath, and during the exhale gently squeeze the trigger (thumb or index finger) and let the arrow fly. You don’t want to anticipate this shot, just hold the bow steady and let the arrow go. Bows are much quieter and have much less recoil than guns. There’s nothing to be afraid of when shooting one.


    Some things to keep in mind while shooting:

    • It may be a good idea for beginning archers to use an armguard as they are learning. Even though compound bows are less likely than recurves, releasing the string can still graze your arm and leave a mark. Take the armguard off once you’ve shot a little bit and have more confidence.
    • Once you start shooting broadheads, watch out for your fingers. Although you want a loose grip on the bow, if you’re fingers are too out of control they can get in the way of a razor sharp tip. Just be mindful of where the arrow will pass through.
    • Never, ever dry shoot your bow. By this I mean shoot the bow without an arrow knocked. This puts excess stress on the bow and can cause real damage.

    Practice, practice, practice

    Now that you’re comfortable with your shot, it’s time to build some muscle memory and build up your skills. Consistent practice will make a difference in your ability and confidence more than anything else. So break out the target, and let’s get shooting!

    Field points

    It’s common to learn shooting with field point arrowheads. These are cheap, durable, and they can be used on almost any archery target. They don’t do a ton of damage, but shoot well and are pretty reliable for learning and practice. If you miss and hit a rock or something else hard that ruins the tip, no big deal. Do most of your shooting while learning and in the offseason with these.

    Broadheads

    As stated above, field point tips are great - but they don’t fly exactly as broadheads will. Even mechanical broadheads advertised as being similar to field tips can’t be trusted to fly exactly the same - the aerodynamics and weight are different. This is why you’ll need to practice with broadheads before your hunt.


    The problem with shooting hunting broadheads at a target is that they won’t be useful for hunting afterward. Broadheads aren’t reusable like field points. This gives us a couple of options:

    • Sacrifice one of your broadheads to be used for the target

    Sacrificing a broadhead is a pretty easy way to go. Plus it’s reliable because you’re shooting exactly the same tip. The problem is how expensive they are and how easily they break if you miss.

    • Buy a broadhead built for a target

    Many broadheads have the option to buy practice tips as well. These are useful because they will fly exactly the same, but are made for targets and can resist better if you miss. They are usually cheaper too. This is a great option if your chosen broadhead has practice tips to offer.

    Dress rehearsal

    Another important step to preparing your shot is to dress in your camo like you would if you were actually hunting and shoot your bow. This is useful because you will quickly find any areas of discomfort or struggle BEFORE your hunt.


    Maybe your gloves make it hard to release the trigger or your jacket is too tight and you can’t pull back into full draw. Whatever the issue (if any) may be, it’s not a bad idea to try and figure it out before the elk of your dreams is standing broadside at 20 yards on opening morning. Also, try shooting down from a treestand to get a good feel for different angles.

    Preparation

    While you’re getting comfortable with your shot, it’s time to start prepping to find an animal to shoot at. You hopefully know your area and are at least somewhat familiar with where animals are and where they might be hanging out. If not, check out this article on summer scouting to get started with it.

    Scouting & Trail Cams

    I won’t go too in depth here, so check out the link above on scouting if you’d like to learn more. The basics include studying your area on a map, checking everything out from vantage points with binoculars and spotting scopes, and setting up trail cameras to find & pattern animals. Be sure to not do too much hiking while still trying to locate the animals, but instead stick to high points where you can see well in many directions. Use your binoculars to scan the areas around you and find the wildlife. Once you have an idea where they are at, hike in (carefully) and set up your trail cams.

    Get hidden, stay hidden

    In my experience, it’s been really important that I be cautious of my scent and where I am hiking - even in the early season. It’s pretty easy to scare animals out of an area they would have otherwise stayed because people have been passing through too often. Try out the tips below to minimize your impact on those animals.

    Camo

    Camo is worn by hunters because it works well to hide you from the wildlife. Even though animals’ eyes don’t work the same as ours, good camo will still make it more difficult to get spotted - especially when you’re not moving. Utilize this - even when scouting - and you’ll likely see more animals to get excited about.

    Scent killer/wind

    Human smells are a dead giveaway during a hunt, and even the best scent killers don’t completely eliminate them. Even more important than eliminating your smell (which is nearly impossible to do with a deer or elk), you can make sure to play the wind properly. To do this, make sure you are always downwind from the deer or elk, so their smell comes to you instead of the other way around. There are a ton of good wind checkers to help with this.

    Treestands

    Treestands are common for bowhunters because they help you to get really close for your shot. Paired with scent killer and camo, putting yourself above the field of vision can be a game changer. The only downside is that you’ve got to pick a good spot and make the animals come to you.

    Only take the shots you can finish

    If you’ve prepared properly, and maybe with a little luck, you’ll get a chance to take a shot this season. When that time comes, there are some things to consider before you release.

    Ethical shots

    If there is a deer standing at 60 yards, and you’ve only practiced up to 50, you probably shouldn’t take the shot. Without practicing at that range and having your pin set up properly, it’s likely that you’re going to miss or just injure the animal. Neither of these situations is good, and injuring an animal without being able to recover it is not a great situation. Everyone makes mistakes, but it’s our responsibility as hunters to make sure we can make clean and ethical kills.

    Rangefinder

    Using a tool like a rangefinder can significantly increase your accuracy when shooting. If you know the exact yardage, and you’ve prepped for that range, then the shot you’re about to take isn’t much different than what you’ve already been shooting during practice (except for the buck-fever, of course). This is an awesome gadget to have with you and gives you a lot more confidence when you draw back.

    Shoot for the exit hole - understand the anatomy

    An ideal shot with a bow is when the deer or elk is standing broadside. You can aim right behind the shoulder and you’ve got a good shot at hitting the vitals. But what about when they’re facing away from you? What if you can’t aim right behind the shoulder? This is where the exit hole comes in.


    Here’s a video that explains what I mean by this, but I’ll go over the general idea. Basically, think of where your arrow will exit the animal when you take the shot. If they are broadside, then it will come out on the other side in about the same area - easy. But if they are facing away from you, aim a little farther back, so that if the arrow is to go all the way through, it would hit the vitals on the way.

    anatomy of an elk

    Patience

    After you’ve taken the shot, try to figure out where you hit. If they jumped and kicked, you probably hit the vitals and they’ll go down soon. They will almost always run a little bit and be able to get some space from the adrenaline.

    After the shot

    After taking the shot, it’s really important to give the animal some time for the adrenaline to fade so they can lay down. If you jump up and immediately start chasing them, the adrenaline will continue and they will just keep running (most of the time). Give them 30 minutes minimum, so you can both calm down and you can actually recover the animal. You shouldn’t lose the blood trail or anything, and they won’t go nearly as far if you let them be for a while.

    Recovery

    If it’s been some time and you’re confident you had a good shot, go to the spot where the animal was shot and look for signs of blood and tracks. Follow it to the best of your ability and you’ll find them soon enough. If you didn’t have a great shot, you might have some work to do before you find it. Either way, use your tracking abilities and find your kill!

    Conclusion

    We’ve been over a lot, but hopefully, some of the tips above will help you to have an exciting and successful hunt! If you’re looking for some new gear for the season, come check out our deals and products to get prepared!


    Here’s an overview of some tips for beginning bowhunters.

    • Learn from someone with experience
    • Get the right bow setup
    • Practice your shot
    • Prepare for the hunt
    • Only take an ethical shot
    • Take home your trophy!

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