Countless people enjoy hunting and going outdoors in search of game, all across America’s fields and pristine forests. Some do it for fun; others do it for food.
Whatever the motivation, hunting has been a pastime that humanity has engaged in since time immemorial.
The bow is one of humanity’s oldest weapons, and while the contemporary compound bow can outperform ancient archers couldn’t even fathom, it remains a powerful weapon.
Nonetheless, no bow can compare to the range or force of a firearm.
This means that hunters who choose to go hunting with a bow need to be even better in the field than those who use modern weapons.
But that’s the trick: is the call of excitement worth the extra difficulty for a new hunter?
Are you new to bow hunting deer? If so, you are in for a treat! Bow hunting is an incredibly rewarding experience, and it is exciting to get up close with your prey.
However, there are some things that you need to know before you head out into the woods.
In this article, we will discuss some veteran tips that will help you have a successful hunt your very first time out.
Table of Contents
Getting Closer with a Bow Means You are More Likely to Spook Deer
One of the most common problems faced by bow hunters is linked to their weapon’s inherent limitations:
You must approach your target much closer than you would with a firearm in order to assure adequate penetration and accuracy.
You won’t have that issue with a rifle, handgun, or even a shotgun!
Obviously, the closer you get to the deer, the more likely it is that it will notify you using any one of its superior senses. Once that happens, the jig, as they say, is probably up!
As a bowhunter, you have almost no margin for error in this regard.
As a result, to properly employ your weapon the gap between you and the deer must be quite close (or the deer brought closer to you) without your being noticed.
This means that it is imperative that you maximize your camouflage, work overtime on scent control your body, clothing, and equipment, and leave no detail untended when it comes to positioning yourself or your stand.
No effort is wasted in this regard!
This also implies that any opportunity you do have to shoot and take a deer when it arises will be, usually, fleeting owing to your proximity.
If you are discovered, you must shoot well and quickly if you want to avoid the deer getting away as it generally will not take long to make up its mind whether or not it wants to flee!
The pressure will really be on to make an effective and humane shot!
Your Stalking Skills Must be Perfect
For a select few, hunting isn’t really hunting unless you are down on the ground pursuing your prey on foot.
Shooting from a stationary position is sniping, not hunting! Jokes aside, stalking is the purest distillation of hunting for these people, and it’s certainly the most thrilling.
Rather than sitting in one place for hours on end waiting for your prey to stumble by, you’re actually on its trail, following its path, closing in, or preparing an ambush ahead of it.
Stalking is difficult, and while it may be exciting, your chances of success are significantly lower.
Those chances grow slimmer yet when you opt for a bow rather than a gun. As the kids say, “Hard Mode On”.
If you want to have any chance of success as a bowhunter, you must improve your fieldcraft abilities to the maximum level.
If you decide to stalk, because you won’t have the same wide field of view as you would from a stand or blind your ranges must once again be even closer than normal for a successful shot.
If you want to succeed when stalking, all of your movement, camouflage, odor control, and terrain reading skills must be excellent.
Making a lot of noise while blundering about has the potential to alert the deer long before you even lay eyes on him, to say nothing of having a good shot on him.
Tidy Up Your Routes and Your Stand Climb Way Ahead of Opening Day
Deer are highly sensitive to any unexpected or unfamiliar noises in their area, which is why silence is so very important when hunting.
A single twig snapping might capture a deer’s attention or even cause it to turn tail and flee outright.
It may seem insignificant, but anything you can do now to reduce noise levels in your environment is beneficial- as long as it does not go to the point where it causes the deer more stress or worry.
While you’re doing all of your preseason chores, make it a point to clear the path you’ll take to your stand or blind of any debris that will make noise if passed or trod upon- leaves, twigs, branches, etc.
Anything at all that might crunch underfoot or cause a rustle of gear or clothing as you go by should be ruthlessly eliminated.
Also, at the same time, be sure any and all gear and components on your stand or blind -ladder, rungs, steps or other access ways- that you will use are completely safe and free of all incidental creaks, squeaks, clanks and other sounds.
It would be the summit of terrible outcomes to put all of this effort into preparing yourself and your bow for an excellent hunt only to have clattering twigs or squeaking rungs on a ladder send the deer sprinting for the county line!
Tend Your Safety and Lift Lines, and other Stand Gear
Another word of advice about your tree stand.
I know several hunters who are extremely careful and conscientious in terms of quieting their own equipment, lowering their profile, and preventing any unwanted movements or sounds on or near their person, but their tree stand position itself looks like the aftermath of a tornado strike. Weak!
A dangling, usually off-colored hoisting rope or lifeline is a typical sign of poor stand maintenance and setup.
Many archers use a rope or cord to raise their bow and other gear up into position in the tree stand after they ascend without it.
Similarly, a lifeline or safety line connected to a safety harness may be used by those who are slightly higher up or want to err on the side of caution. Good advice, for sure!
This is excellent practice and well worth doing, no matter who you are, but now is not the time to throw in the towel when it comes to camouflage and proper fieldcraft.
Your lifeline and any rope or cord you utilize for lifting should be an environment-appropriate color that complements the rest of your camo, not clashes with it!
Once the hoist line is used and/or the safety line connected both should be stored in such a manner that they do not dangle or flap about in such a way that deer may be startled by it.
If it sounds like a little thing, it is- but those little things add up to a trophy buck or a successful hunt!
Master Shooting from Non-Traditional Stances
This is another recommendation that any seasoned bowhunter will agree with.
Failing to practice with your bow in anything but a range-perfect standing stance is a mistake, and represents a major blind spot in your pre-season training.
Gun hunters and other gun-toting professionals know this syndrome by another name: square range-mentality.
It implies that the shooter stands in one place at one range and shoots straight ahead at one target, and that alone when practicing.
A person who does this on a daily basis will become accurate and competent, that’s for sure, but they’ll only be competent under rather specific conditions- such as standing up and shooting straight ahead at a target positioned in a specific way on a flat range!
The same can be said for bow hunters.
If you’re just shooting at a target from a standing position with the target broadside to you, you will face some cruel surprises when actually out in the field.
When practicing with your bow, shoot from positions and angles that are decidedly not square range normal.
Try shots in practice that aren’t at an ideal angle on a target that is similarly “non-nominal”.
If you’re shooting from a fixed position, it’s important to know what limitations you have before you get in the field and have a shot, rather than when you’re fumbling to anchor the bow and line up that beautiful deer!
Similarly, taking shots on an anatomical target with an unusual angle of attack and presentation will help you determine which ones are the ethical and high probability of securing a clean kill and which ones are not.
Anything you want to do well requires practice. Tasks that demand delicate manipulation and fine coordination necessitate a significant amount of practice.
Accurately shooting a bow, much less doing it on demand while excited or stressed, entails practicing regularly. You need to practice often to engrain those motor pathways in your brain!
Some hunters, particularly bowhunters, are notorious for attempting every trick in the book to improve their chances of successfully dropping a deer, except the one that matters the most- spending time on the range losing arrows!
Putting in the time and effort necessary to perfect their skill with a bow is essential, but sadly neglected much of the time after initial familiarization is achieved.
You’ll need to schedule time on the range as often as possible, but at least once a week some months ahead of opening day.
Also, make it a point to switch ranges from the target and even set a timer so you can learn how to shoot effectively under a time constraint that will definitely exist in the field.
Deer don’t just stand around forever! If you can’t hit where and when you need to, none of your other efforts will count for much!
Make Hunting Pressure Play into Your Plans
You should make it a goal to ensure that the deer you are after believe your hunting ground is as safe and still as possible.
Accordingly, don’t act in any way to discourage other hunters from creating a stir in their locales. Why?
Simply this: when deer are stressed out, they will move to and seek refuge in an area they feel is safer or at least quieter than the one they left.
If you’re lucky enough to be in possession of that area, it will receive a lot of hoof traffic from deer seeking such refuge, and if you played your cards correctly, you’ll be able to find plenty of decent games as a result of the constant activity of other hunters.
This is known as “positive pressure,” an activity that sees deer vacate busy regions for less anxiety-inducing ones, such as yours.
Ideally, as the preseason progresses, your hunting “neighborhood” will become quieter and quieter while other regions only get more crowded and frantic, culminating in a stampede of hunters on opening day.
The deer will vanish from those locations and re-emerge in yours fresh for the taking once they have been sufficiently acclimatized to your ostensible safe haven.
Take Advantage of Colder Months
It’s not for everyone to hunt in the cold, dark months.
I’ve noticed this particular trend among bowhunters: they avoid hunting during the winter or when it’s snowing to the exclusion of all other concerns!
Maybe it’s because of the sheer misery of doing so, but I believe that bowhunters have additional, endemic obstacles while hunting in the winter.
However, if you take advantage of it properly, winter weather can offer hunters of all types and especially bowhunters many benefits.
Understanding the deer’s nature and the difficulties they confront during cold weather is an important aspect of this.
Reduced access to consistent sources of food raises the probability that a deer will choose and stick near food sources that are close to their resting site.
Additionally, any amount of snowfall on the ground leaves hoof prints and soon after, trails, trails they will regularly run to seek nourishment.
Once a deer establishes a pattern of feeding, setting up an ambush along the route is simple. This is a great way to guarantee success in the colder, less-traveled seasons!
Get Pre-Season Chores Done Early
For some hunters, preparing for the season is almost as exciting and fulfilling as hunting itself.
Many people enjoy going out into the woods in search of animal activity, tracking them down, setting up cameras, determining their shooting sites, and so on.
There’s a lot to do if you want to increase your chances of success!
However, I seldom see hunters who aren’t devoting every possible minute to one of these crucial activities right up until the season begins.
I can definitely appreciate their hard work, but this is a big mistake! Deer are quite smart, wary, and sensitive to their surroundings.
Every little change you make, every step you take, and every excursion into their territory will stress them out a little bit.
They’ll be stressed out too much if you mess around out there enough, leading them to flee from the area entirely or go for quieter pastures or perhaps another wood entirely.
If you want the deer to be completely at ease in your region (and you do!) you must give them as much protection and relief from humans as possible before the start of hunting season.
Make it a point to get things done as quickly and effectively as possible, beginning with your preparations.
Stay in the woods only until you’ve gathered all of the data you need, placed all of the necessary equipment and supplies, and created your approach. Once that is done, get out and stay out!
Find the Bucks by Watching the Does during the Rut
Prime hunting season is always during the rut for both bowhunters and gun hunters. This is when bucks in their prime are attempting to snuggle up to as many does as they can.
As a result, this is also the most active time for both man and animal in the field.
Bucks are on the prowl, fighting rivals, and hunters are entering the field in record numbers to bring down those bucks.
The does are naturally apprehensive about all of this, caught somewhere in the middle as they are.
This is a time of year when people want to bag that big trophy buck, so many hunters will let does go by without a glance, oblivious to any hints or traces of the one magnificent buck.
It’s understandable, but it’s still a huge mistake.
Consider the fact that a buck’s every activity during the rut is determined by the does.
He wants to be near them if he isn’t already, and he’ll go looking for them if there aren’t any around.
If he encounters another buck in the vicinity, he will battle with him in an effort to drive him away and keep the does all to himself.
The does, in reality, dictate where bucks will be at any one moment.
Pay close attention to how the does behave early on and where they go: stay as close to them as you can while hunting. You’ll undoubtedly locate the bucks you’re looking for if you do so.
The Old Ways are Best
While it’s important to keep up with the latest technology and methods in bowhunting, sometimes the old ways are still the best.
By mastering your weapon, developing your fieldcraft, and understanding deer behavior while taking advantage of their natural tendencies, you can increase your chances of success while hunting with a bow.
Follow these tips and you’re sure to have a successful hunt!
Are you heading out to hunt with a bow for the first time? Are you a seasoned bowhunter already and have tips to share? Let us know down in the comments!
Tom Marlowe grew up with a gun in his hand, and has held all kinds of jobs in the gun industry: range safety, sales, instruction and consulting, He has the experience in helping civilian shooters figure out what firearms work best for them.