Whitetail Deer Bowhunting Basics

What is it about pursuing wild animals with a bow that really gets my adrenaline rushing?

I’m not sure I can answer that question with a concrete explanation. There is just something mysterious about the inner drive that keeps bowhunters hungry for that next hunt, as if life depended on it. Whether I got this intractable passion through heredity or conditioning, one thing is for certain, I have the fever!

Though the passion may not be explainable, there are some obvious reasons as to why a hunter may decide to take up archery hunting. As a teenager my father introduced me to hunting deer and turkey. Within a few years I realized that I could no longer stand the overwhelming desire for the seasons to roll back around. It was then that I discovered that if I take up bowhunting I could pursue big game for nearly one third of the year. Anything that could put me in the woods that often was definitely worth looking into. Generous hunting seasons were my main motive to take up the sport. If you like a challenge and enjoy the outdoors, bowhunting has just what you need. Most serious bow hunters are competitive in nature and thrive on the chore of outwitting their prey on its own turf. Bowhunting is not for everyone, but if you can handle some frustration and you are willing to invest some time and energy towards achieving a tremendously rewarding task, then you may have found your niche.

Once you have decided that you are up to the challenge of bowhunting, it is time to invest in some equipment. The amount of money you will need to spend will greatly depend on your personal preference and personality. Some archers keep things very simple and still achieve great success while others find the need to have the most updated and sophisticated equipment no matter the cost. Most bowhunters find a happy medium somewhere in between. There are items that are essential to having success and others that are basically just bells and whistles. Assuming you are just getting into the sport, lets cover some basics that you will require.

The bow: There are so many quality bows to choose from, the decision will really just come down to personal preference. There are five characteristics that archers look for when deciding what is right for them. What is top priority to you may not be top priority to the next hunter. These characteristics are:


Quality – Is the bow going to endure the abuse often associated with bowhunting? Lets face it, the tactics necessary to take game with a bow does not allow the hunter to pamper his weapon. A bow hunter will be traveling through thick cover, climbing to elevated tree stands and often putting the bow through potentially rigorous conditions. Are the manufacturers reputable and do they stand behind their product? Is the bow quiet, yet efficient? Ask these questions to fellow bowhunters. The best quality bows will have proven themselves.

Speed – To many archers this is a top priority. To others it is just one more variable to consider. There is no question that speed has many advantages. A blistering arrow flies with less trajectory for longer distance allowing the hunter more room for error in judging distance. However, speed does come with a price. Some degree of accuracy and consistency is often sacrificed to achieve greater velocity.

Accuracy – Plain and simple, accuracy is critical. When a hunter feels confident in his shot placement, success usually follows. To be accurate it takes a well tuned bow and a great deal of practice. To achieve accuracy, a hunter needs a bow that feels comfortable and fits properly. Before deciding on a particular bow, I would encourage any bowhunter to become familiar with the many styles and types available.

Forgiveness – Of the five characteristics listed, this may be the most beneficial to a less experienced bowhunter. Forgiveness is the measure of the amount of error in the archers form, grip, anchor and release a bow will allow when achieving an accurate shot. As a general rule, bows with a longer brace height of close to 8 inches will have more forgiveness than those with shorter brace heights. Brace height is the distance from the bow handle to the string of an undrawn bow. Larger brace height comes with the price of a degree of speed loss, though many bows with large brace heights today are still producing remarkable speeds.

Aesthetics – It would be naive to say that looks do not matter to most hunters. Some will claim it is not important, and to some it is really low on the priority list. However, break out a bow in a crowd of bowhunters and the first thing commented on will be its looks.

The best advise I can give it to look at all five characteristics and make sure the bow you choose is a good mixture of each. Usually one of these characteristics will stand out a little more than the others and that is where personal preference comes in to play.

Once you have chosen a bow with the characteristic that you desire, it is time to decide on the essential accessories required for your set up. These are:

Arrow Rest
Wrist strap

Arrow Rest – The rest is the accessory that supports the arrow during the shot process. There are many types of rests to choose from. Personal preference will come into play when choosing a good rest. Through the year, many changes have been made to make rests more practical and efficient for the bowhunter. There are rests available that secure the arrow, eliminating the chance that the arrow could fall off the rest at a critical moment. To many bowhunters this feature is invaluable. Another feature on some of the latest designed rests are the ability for the support arm of the rest to actually drop out of the way as the string is released, eliminating all contact with the arrow. By doing this, the possibilities of unwanted interference and noise made from arrow friction with the rest are a thing of the past. My recommendations are to find a rest that is easy to adjust while tuning and accommodates what you feel will be most beneficial for your hunting style.

Sights – Sights act as an aiming point of reference on your target to aid you in making an accurate shot. Multiple sight pins allow a hunter to set a reference at several yardages, eliminating the need to aim high or low on a target after judging the distance of the shot. Many hunters are shooting high speed bows that produce very flat trajectory and prefer to use just a single pin. With a little practice you may find that this helps to keep things simple. Some states allow the use of electronically lighted pins which could come in handy at dusk and dawn. Check the game laws in the areas you will be hunting to see if this option is available to you. Decide what you want out of your sight before making a purchase.

Stabilizer – This is a weighted extension that protrudes from the front of the bow to help the hunter with balanced form while shooting. Most stabilizers are efficient so there is no need to get real technical when choosing one. I suggest that you find one that also serves the purpose of eliminating unwanted vibration allowing a smoother, quieter shot. Less recoil means less noise and less hand shock.

Wrist Strap – Any wrist strap that is comfortable to you will do the job. It is simply there to assure that the bow will not leave your hand during recoil. The last thing you will want to see is your bow plummeting to the ground from an elevated tree stand.

Other items you may want to consider for your bow are:

String and limb silencers
String loop (for use with a release aide)
Arrow quiver

The biggest decision you will have to make about arrow selection is whether to use aluminum or carbon arrows. Aluminum arrows have been a proven asset to bowhunters for many years. They provide stable and consistent flight with a surplus of penetration. Aluminum arrows tend to be heavier than carbons which teamed with speed can produce unmatched penetration. Carbons on the other hand are very durable and dependable in maintaining straightness. Because they are lighter and often more narrow, they offer the bowhunter faster arrow speed and flatter trajectory. Most arrow manufacturers have an arrow shaft selection chart to aid you in choosing the right arrow for your set up. Another minor decision to make will be choosing between feather or plastic veins to stabilize the arrow in flight. The average fletching is around 4 inches in length but can be larger or smaller depending if you are looking for more stability or speed.

Now for the business end of the arrow! After practicing with field points and maintaining a respectable grouping out to at least 20 yards, you will become more confident in making a clean shot on an animal. One of the most important variables in making a clean kill will be the amount of penetration the arrow gets and damage done to the vital organs as the arrow passes through. A top quality broadhead will be a determining factor in getting this job done effectively. Do not cut corners in choosing a broadhead.

Fixed blade heads and mechanical heads are the two main types of broadheads being used by the majority of bowhunters. A strong case could be made for choosing either style of broadhead, and you will find advocates of both throughout the bowhunting population. Fixed blade heads have no moving parts and tend to be very durable and reliable. Mechanical heads have floating blades that open on impact and tend to be easily transitioned from field points with little or no difference in flight. Try both and see what works for you. Confidence in your broadhead will go a long way in feeling good about your shot.

Optional Equipment for Hunting
Once you have your bow and arrows ready to go, there are some optional equipment to consider to make your hunts successful. I find that for bowhunting a lightweight, easy to set up and take down treestand is almost a necessity. Climbing treestands work great if there are trees available with little or no limbs up to twenty feet from the base. Hang-on treestands work just about anywhere there is a tree and are quite handy teamed with the right steps or ladder.

Ground blinds seem to be becoming increasingly popular with bowhunters. Most serious bowhunters have a good quality blind in their arsenal for those times when treestands are not a good option. If you plan to hunt turkeys with your bow, a good blind will be invaluable.

Camouflage clothing for all weather conditions is a must. Bow seasons across North America tend to be quite liberal in length. Count on hunting in just about any and all types of weather conditions. Staying comfortable will keep you in the field. Success in bowhunting is usually teamed with long hours of relentless pursuit. You have to be out there to be successful. A nice roomy backpack to hold additional clothing and food will aid you in preparing for weather changes and temperature fluctuations.

Long hours in boots that are too hot in early season will lead to shortened hunts and undesirable excess odor. On the flip side, nothing will send a hunter back to camp quicker than cold feet. There are too many quality footwear products available these days for a hunter to allow this to happen.

As a bowhunter, you will find that hours can be spent looking through catalogues and surfing the Internet looking at all of the latest gadgets and equipment available to make your hunt more enjoyable. Nothing beats trial and error and seeking advice from fellow bowhunters to find what all you will feel is necessary for your hunting experiences.

Now that you have the equipment necessary to start hunting, how can you put yourself within bow range of your game? Obviously, your strategy and the degree of difficulty will vary from animal-to-animal. There are two key ingredients to harvesting an animal with a bow and arrow. These are preparation and fortune. Preparation begins with knowing your equipment and your personal limitations. It is not necessary to mimic the skills of Robin Hood in order to make a clean shot on your prey. What it takes is substantial practice and recognition of your effective range. I have found that 3-D targets are one of the best ways to sharpen these skills. Most 3-D targets come with an outline of the vital section of a life size animal. Visualize different scenarios as you draw back and focus on the target. Nothing builds confidence more than walking up to a 3D target with 3 or 4 well placed arrows protruding from the boiler room. Don’t forget to practice from various elevations. Shot placement can change with changing angles. Keep working yourself farther and farther from the target until you start noticing marginal shot placement consistency. Once you establish this marginal distance, work your way back towards the target until you find yourself drilling the kill zone with tight arrow groups. Make note of this distance and discipline yourself not to take shots at live animals beyond this distance. You have established your “effective range.”

Once you become comfortable with your shooting ability, it is time to focus on how to put yourself within effective range of a live animal. Whitetail deer are the most popular game animal bowhunted in North America and thought by many to be the most challenging. Bowhunting expert Chuck Adams claims that if you can take a whitetail deer with a bow then you can feel confident that you have the skills to take any huntible game animal in North America. There are an endless number of resources available such as magazines, books, and videos pertaining to hunting deer. One topic that always surfaces in achieving success is “scouting.” Many deer hunters will make their first trip into the woods on opening day of rifle season and harvest a deer. Not to take away from the challenge of rifle hunting, but that kind of fortune just does not happen often for bowhunters. To get within range of deer on a consistent basis takes a respectable amount of scouting. Its is critical to understand the purpose of deer movement in your area and gain knowledge of the routes they will take to get from bedding areas to feeding areas and vise versa. The movements will change as the season progresses due to changes in the availability of preferred food sources. Changes will also occur with even more severity as the mating or “rutting” period occurs. Catching a deer in a vulnerable state of mind is a big key to success. The best way to accomplish this is to not educate the deer. A deer sensing “pressure” is very difficult to catch off guard. Once you establish good stand sites, stay away from the areas you are intending to hunt. The most important key to fooling a whitetail is not allowing him to get a whiff of human scent. Deer rely heavily on their nose as their main source of defense. Staying undetected in close range can be quite a task. There are many scent eliminating products available and they certainly help, but nothing beats paying attention to wind direction. If you keep the wind direction in your favor you will drastically improve you odds of arrowing a deer. I mentioned “fortune” as the other key factor along with preparation in being successful on a particular hunt. No matter how much time and effort you put in to your hunt, your fate is ultimately controlled by the instincts and choices the animal will make on its own. You never know when opportunity will knock, so be prepared to answer when it does.

Although deer are the most popular game animal pursued by bowhunters, you will find that there are a number of other challenging creatures out there to chase with a stick and string. The deer hunting tips pertaining to scouting and pressure will go along ways in hunting just about all game with a few modifications. I can’t emphasize enough how important it is not to educate any animal to the fact that they are being hunted if you plan on getting within bow range. Familiarize yourself with various game and remember there is always more to learn about the sport. This ongoing lessons are what keeps my mind drifting away throughout the year anticipating trying something new while bowhunting. Are you looking for a challenge with countless satisfactions and rewards? If so, take up bowhunting.

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