Become A Better Hunter By Bow Hunting

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Moving to bow hunting can make you a more well-rounded hunter.

 

Do you remember your first rifle hunt? I sure do. It was an irresistible feeling of accomplishment and pride. Longing for that feeling again, I continued to hunt, year after year, but the rifle-hunting thrill, like a dwindling flame, slowly burned out.

I felt unchallenged with a long-range weapon in my hands. I wanted to hunt like our ancestors. I wanted to wear camouflage, not bright orange. I wanted to understand my quarry better. I wanted to feel primitive and challenged. My answer was bow hunting.

However, successful bow hunting isn’t simply a matter of waiting longer for the game to come within bow range – you’ll need to become a better hunter. You have to be ghostly, both visually and scent-free. Learning about the species you’re hunting is critical, along with techniques to lure them into range. It’s going to take more time to prepare and set up. You might even feel like a freshman again, learning the dos and don’ts of primitive hunting.

But, in the end, you’ll be a better hunter, no matter which weapon you’re holding.

Below are five tips for the experienced hunter looking to better themselves by taking an animal with a bow and arrow.

Be A Ghost

The notable skill bow hunting requires is remaining undetected. Often, because of the long distances rifles can shoot, animals tolerate your presence and this allows time for a shot. Bow hunting requires getting up close and personal, yet undetected, like a ghost. Ghosts are odourless, invisible and silent – you must be the same. Truthfully, nobody can be completely scent-free, but you can take many precautions to minimize your scent.

Firstly, always know the wind direction and strength. This doesn’t mean checking weather.com before you head afield. Be diligent and constantly check the wind. Many wind indicators are available to ensure you are getting this right. React and plan according to changing winds so you’re hunting downwind whenever possible.

Despite every effort to remain downwind, sudden wind changes in close can break your hunt. Go to extremes to eliminate your scent: use scent-free soap when washing your gear and bathing, keep your gear sealed and isolated from contaminants, dress only at the hunting location, spray your scent-block clothing and boots with scent-eliminator products and don’t overlook your head and the odor it emanates – our breath stinks, our scalp’s oils combine with the sweat and bacteria from our hair to produce threatening indicators. Wear a balaclava or a facemask to help conceal these odours.

Besides their nose, animals rely heavily on their sense of hearing. It’s simple: be quiet, deathly quiet. Tread lightly. Eliminate all unnatural sounds such as Velcro, metal clangs or dings and human voice. Use existing sounds to mask your own noise. When a squirrel scatters, do the same. When an airplane flies overhead or when wind gusts rustle the treetops, make your move quickly and quietly into position. You may not spook animals with unnatural noises, but you won’t be attracting any either. They’ll simply avoid the area – especially the smarter, mature ones.

A ghost’s third and final attribute is invisibility. Nowadays, every outdoor store carries a vast selection of camouflage patterns, one for every neck of the woods. However, the best matching camouflage pattern renders useless if you move.

Blending in with your surroundings is fairly easy if you follow these basic tips: don’t skyline yourself, stand in front of the same background as your camouflage pattern and most importantly, remain motionless.

 

Knowledge

Successfully harvesting game at close range requires understanding them: feeding and bedding patterns, anatomy, travelling routes and breeding phases.

Animals need three things to survive: food, water and shelter. A hunter must discover and identify where these locations are and when these activities take place and set up accordingly. Knowledge of a given area and/or species comes with observation, scouting and experience.

Concealed observing from a distance is a safe method to learn the intricacies of an area and prepare for upcoming hunts. Staying back won’t spread smelly contaminants and alert game. It can be tempting to immediately pursue game once spotted, however, you have to weigh the odds against taking the knowledge you’ll learn from observing and applying it another day, when you’re better set up, or sealing the deal today.

A few years ago, I acquired an abundance of knowledge observing mule deer from a distance during the early season. I learned in the morning they ate crops first, then traveled to water; the reverse happened in the afternoon. Additionally, I derived they didn’t bed in the same crop field in which they foraged. I managed to learn the preferred travelling trails to and from their bedding area. A few days later, this knowledge helped put me into the right position for a six-metre shot on a full-bellied deer heading for a rest. Being patient and acquiring knowledge about the mule deer herd in this location definitely made me a better hunter, ready to capitalize on my chance.

You’re only going to get one shot with a bow and arrow, so you need to make it count. Each species anatomy is slightly different, therefore knowing the fine line between a kill shot and a wound will increase your odds of success.

In general, broadside or quartering away shots offer the highest percentage of a double-lung hit, resulting in a quick, humane kill and a good blood trail. Neck, shoulder and head shots aren’t advised, as arrows just don’t have the penetrating energy of bullets. Many times, knee-shaking patience is required waiting for the animal to turn broadside or step out from cover.

Learning phases of the rut requires hunting the same area year after year. Often, I see rubs, scrapes and wallows in the same places. Remembering this important information the following year is key to success because you now know where animals are going to be before they get there – a definite advantage. Setting up in an area where animals want to be makes it that much easier to lure them in closer with different techniques.

 

Techniques

Calling animals is a magical method of getting the game coming towards you.

An ideal bow hunting calling set up should include placing yourself in an area where the animal will still feel secure and not hold up outside your shooting range. These types of areas include smaller openings no wider than your effective shooting range. If these smaller type areas are not available, then setting up near entry trails of larger openings will suffice, but set up off the field in the bush.

For many bow hunters, an ambush from a tree-stand perch over a popular game trail is the preferred method of choice. The toughest part about setting up a tree-stand is picking the tree. Sure the forest has an abundant selection, but many trees will never produce a shooting opportunity. For a high percentage of chances, choose a tree with the following properties: 20-25 metres off game trails, healthy and large enough to support you, cover all season long and has shooting lanes.

Hunting blinds have progressed nicely in recent years for bow hunters. They are much larger, with room to draw your bow, and have features such as shoot-through mesh and 360-degree view/shooting ports. Personally, I move more trying to look out every possible view port and seem to get busted doing so, which is why you’ll find me perched in a tree instead.

No matter what technique you’re using, a common bow hunting challenge is bringing animals 80 to 100 metres away in closer. A well placed, big game decoy can really help give that final visual confirmation and trust the animal is seeking, preventing a hang up.

Like picking a tree to hang a tree-stand, decoy placement is critical. Consider these questions: Where is the animal going to come from? Will it circle downwind or confront the decoy directly? Which land contours will conceal the decoy enough to force the animal to search for it by coming closer? Where are you going to set up? The answers to these questions will invariably help determine where to set up the decoy, complementing your position. Give the utmost effort to keep it free of human scent. More often than not, animals will circle downwind and use their nose for confirmation, even after cueing in visually on the decoy. Take the time to set up correctly and it’ll pay off when an animal seeks interest.

 

Time to Prepare

Every year, most hunters wish they had more time to scout and find prime areas for hunting, but the realities of life prevent many of us from doing just that.

However, with bow hunting, it’s even more crucial to success, both pre-season and every time you set up.

Having a general area is the first step, but putting in the time to learn the intricate details, such as the preferred travel routes, bedding areas and food/water sources, will help you decide where to set up for a close range shot.

The right setup can be tough to choose because animals just aren’t that predictable night after night, day after day or year after year.

For example, there are usually numerous trails entering a food source, spaced more than 100 metres apart. You won’t be able to cover them all. This is why it’s important to know you’re area inside and out, including multiple ways to and from your set up. You don’t want to spook game if they’re out of range and you run out of shooting light. Additionally, you need to be able to enter your area quietly before shooting light in order to set up in time for peak activity at dawn.

I can’t emphasize enough that setting up for archery kills takes some practice and different thought. With long-range weapons, the hunter sets up in an area where he or she can see over hundreds of metres in multiple directions, thus giving him or her the best chance for a shot. An animal may, and often does, come to the edge of cover but no further. Therefore, you are asking it to ignore its survival instincts by exposing itself to dangers in order to come closer. It may cross the insecure area, but more often than not it will remain at the edge of cover, leaving you with no shot. Try to make it easy for the animal and set up in places where the safe path of least resistance intersects with your shooting lanes.

Arrows can deflect off the slightest interference so give yourself extra time when setting up to clear this debris from your shooting lanes. I always carry small, quiet pruning clippers and a folding saw to do just that.

Once cleared, pre-range your shooting distances so you know which sight pin to use when the animal arrives. If you take the time to set up correctly beforehand, a quality shooting opportunity as the animal approaches is usually the result.

 

Back to School

There is a lot to learn when starting to bow hunt.

The bow hunting sport and community has grown exponentially over the last 30 years, resulting in a plethora of available information. Besides the wealth of knowledge found in books and online, there are many experienced bow hunters willing to share their trials and tribulations to help newcomers. One of the best methods to do this is to join a local archery club. You’ll pick up some great shooting and gear tips by talking with seasoned veterans. For some, it’s tough being a rookie again because they’re such a great, experienced hunter already. Be sure not to take anything personally, most are just trying to help by sharing their mistakes so you don’t make the same ones and can experience success that much sooner.

Shooting a bow takes practice, and you might have outstanding groups at the archery range but drawing back on that first live animal, only metres away, is a thrilling feeling you need to learn to control. You’ll want to practice this first before meeting the animal of your dreams up close.

You have to become a better hunter to harvest an animal with a bow and arrow, which is why bow hunting interested me in the first place. I wanted to experience that primitive feeling of harvesting an animal with archery tackle, without it ever knowing I was there – like a true predator.

I remember every detail of my first archery spike buck: learning the area, picking the tree, setting up the stand, buying and wearing the camouflage, clearing the shooting lanes and the moment of truth when it all came together and I slipped an arrow right behind his leading shoulder. Walking up to that buck was the most exhilarating feeling of accomplishment I’ve ever felt. Since then, the thrill of bow hunting has never let me down, no matter what species or sex I’m hunting. The predator type feeling of being within striking distance is very addictive and good for anyone wanting to hone their hunting skills.

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