Bow Hunting For Beginners – The Ultimate Guide To Filling Your Freezer

It used to be that if you wanted to learn how to bow hunt, you looked to a family member or friend for mentorship, but today it is as simple as asking Google for the best information on bow hunting for beginners.

As your bow hunting journey takes you from beginner to expert, you will find that this sport gets in your soul.

It begins to define you.

It's not just what you do. It is who you are.

You are a bowhunter.

“To you who would follow us into the land of Robin Hood, let me say that what you need most is a great longing to come, and perseverance . . ." - Saxton Pope

Why Should I Bow Hunt?

Bowhunter at sunrise

A snap of a twig. The hauntingly beautiful bellow of a September bull elk ripping through the dark timber. A fiery fall sunset melts into darkness as you hike back to the trailhead after a fifteen-hour butt-kicking. The allure of bowhunting casts a strong primal pull on the hearts and minds of the newly inspired.

Thanks to websites, hunting shows, social media, and a move towards sourcing one's own meat, hundreds of new hunters are inspired every year. It is no surprise then, that the hunting segment increasing the most in popularity are bowhunters.

But this increase in interest and popularity isn't new. Not even close. According to a 1999 technical review of bowhunting by The Wildlife Society (TWS), modern recreational archery can trace its roots back to 14th Century Europe as well as Native Americans.

The popularity of bowhunting has seen periodic surges between 1918 and 1957 due to influential bowmen, hunters, and writers like Art Young, Saxton Pope, Fred Bear, and Howard Hill.

However, "the greatest growth in bowhunting has occurred since the mid-1970s," the TWS asserts.

Some of us are born into hunting families. Some of us become newly minted hunters as adults - also known as "adult-onset hunters." Bowhunting is a relatively easy sport to get into and doesn't require much more than a strong passion and dedication to practice.

 But it's a lifetime of learning - both your weapon and the game animals you'll pursue.

So why hunt with stick and string over the other types of hunting?

There is a certain "coolness factor" that comes with bowhunting. First, it just feels almost transcendental to shoot a bow. Whether you're sending an arrow at a trophy buck or a target; each shot requires aligning form and focus to achieve an accurate shot. The sheer challenge of re-creating that each time for a shot is an addictive game.

Second, there's no doubting the exhilarating feeling of getting within what seems like arms reach of game animals. The pursuit becomes much more up close and personal, and that certainly ties into primal urges buried deep within our DNA.

Third, coolness factor aside - with longer seasons, less crowding, either-sex deer options, and the ability to hunt in firearm prohibited areas, the answer to the question, "why bowhunt," becomes self-evident.

Choosing A Bow

Bowhunter with a compound bow

Crossbow vs compound bow or compound bow vs recurve bow? Which way do you go? 

It is all about the experience you're looking for. Compound bows are more compact and feature "let-off," so you're not holding the full draw weight. You can also learn to shoot them much quicker.

If you are really serious, you can cut a piece of the best wood to make a bow and make your own traditional bow.

Crossbows definitely make bow hunting easier and have seen a huge resurgence since they are now legal in most states during bow hunting season.

Traditional bows have the mystique of ancient weaponry. There have been innovations in materials, but it is stripped-down archery as it was thousands of years ago. With the exception of making the bows and arrows yourself, it's as pure as archery gets.

Click here for a guide to learning if you need a right or left handed bow.

Compound Bow

Raptor Compound Bow Package

Most of the big-name brands have great bow designs these days. So, it's hard to go wrong whether you choose Diamond Archery, Bear, PSE, or any of the others.

Maybe you have a particular brand in mind.

For your first compound bow, choose one that has a wide range of adjustability so that the bow can grow with you as you get stronger.

Click here for a guide to the best beginner compound bows that are available today.

New archers often wonder about single cam versus dual cam compound bows. A single cam bow like the Diamond Infinite Pro is a great choice for beginning bowhunters because they're more forgiving and require less maintenance.

Dual cam bows are slightly noisier and require tuning more frequently and are not as accurate in the hands of a newbie. However, with twin cams, you get the benefit of blazing speeds.

You'll sacrifice some speed with solo cam compound bows. But you'll gain the benefit of less frustration while learning to shoot with proper form.

If you still find it hard to decide on a bow, go to an archery shop where you can practice shooting some of the different brands and models.

Crossbows

crossbow

Many traditional archers scoff at crossbows, but the fact is, crossbows are the easiest to shoot and most accurate weapon that you can use for bow hunting.

Crossbows use a scope, just like a rifle that eliminates a lot of the guesswork associated with bow hunting.

There are different types of crossbows and they all work similar to a firearm. Once they are cocked and a bolt is nocked, they are loaded and ready to shoot. All you have to do is pull the trigger.

This eliminates all of the movement associated with drawing compound bows or recurves, which is usually when the bow hunter is spotted by the game and the shot opportunity is over.

Crossbows also increase how far you can effectively shoot, although even the fastest crossbow will still have limitations when hunting live game animals.

The downsides to using a crossbow for bow hunting are that they are much heavier than other bows and crossbows have to be uncocked after every hunt, which can be difficult to do.

There is also crossbow maintenance that need to be performed on a regular basis to keep your crossbow safe and accurate.

In our experience, Barnett Crossbows make some of the best crossbows for beginner bow hunters.

Traditional Bows

Bow hunter with a traditional bow

Longbows and recurve bows are less gear-intensive than their compound cousins. There are no bow sights or arrow rests to worry about.

To make it even easier, consider a take-down bow like the Samick Sage. Not only is it a great shooter for a beginner, but the limbs can be removed without the use of an allen wrench.

Whatever trad bow type you choose, the main things to consider when shopping are the bow weight and the bow length. If you haven't guessed, these are synonymous with a compound bow's draw length and draw weight.

When it comes to bow weight, you don't have to go for crazy heavy. You want a bow you can shoot comfortably and be able to practice with. Traditionalist and outdoor T.V. host, Fred Eichler, suggests going light and comfortable.

A former archery shop manager, Eichler says, "There's also a misconception you need more than a 55-pound traditional bow to cleanly kill big game. That's not true."

As long as you're within the legal draw weight limit of your state and can pull it back comfortably, you're good.

Fred also advises that compound shooters start on a trad bow that is 15 pounds below their current draw weight.

The length of the bow is somewhat up to personal preference and what kind of hunting you're doing. Some experienced bowhunters prefer different length bows for tree stand hunting versus stalking from the ground.

There is a loose correspondence between individual draw length and length of the bow. To this, Eichler says he's found 60" to be a happy medium on recurve bows and 64" for longbows.

However, Fred offers this parting thought on bow length, "If a bow feels good to you, ignore the length."

Click here for a guide on how to choose a recurve bow.

As mentioned before, trad isn't as gear-intensive as shooting compound bows. But there are still some accessories to be had.

Here's a list of things you'll need in addition to your bow:

Finding an archery shop that carries a bunch of different traditional bows can be a challenge, but if you are lucky enough to have one near you, practice shooting a few bows to see what you like.

Learning to Shoot a Compound Bow

Beginner learning how to shoot a compound bow

The compound bow is the typical hunting bow of choice due to its ease of shooting. Learning to shoot can be a fun learning experience without too steep of a learning curve compared to traditional bows.

But there are some fundamentals that you need to master to avoid bad habits later on. Those bad habits can translate into bad hits on deer.

Draw Weight and Draw Length

In order to shoot a compound bow, you must first be fitted to your bow correctly. That means setting your draw weight and draw length.

Choosing a beginner compound bow that is adjustable is the best way to get started with your first bow.

Draw weight refers to the amount of force required to draw back your bowstring. This is an important attribute because draw weight is directly related to the speed at which your arrow will fly.

The biggest influencer of draw weight is the bow's limbs and cams. On beginner compound bows, there is a very wide range of adjustment so that you can start with a low weight in order to perfect your form and then adjust the weight upward as your strength improves. 

Here is a draw weight chart that is a good guide for getting started with  compound bows.

Archer

Archer's Weight

Compound Bow Draw Weight

Small Child

50-100 lbs

10-25 lbs

Large Child

100-150 lbs

25-50 lbs

Small Woman

100-130 lbs

25-45 lbs

Average Woman

130-160 lbs

30-50 lbs

Large Woman

160 lbs and up

30-55 lbs

Small Man

120-150 lbs

40-55 lbs

Average Man

150-180 lbs

45-65 lbs

Large Man

180 lbs and up

50-70 lbs

Draw length is the measure of how far an archer draws the bow back.  You can do this by measuring your wingspan, marking your fingertips with tape. You then take your wingspan measurement and divide by 2.5 and that number is your draw length.

You can then adjust your bow to that setting.

Here is a video showing the steps to finding your draw length.

Stance

Stance is important because it provides the foundation for everything that follows. Your feet should be perpendicular to your target and shoulder-width apart for maximum stability.

Anchor Point

Bowhunter anchor point

Your anchor point is the position that the bowstring and your release hand come to rest upon full draw. This position should feel natural and must be repeatable as it is a vital reference point for setting up your shots.

Not everyone's anchor points are exactly the same. For instance, whether you place the string against your nose or mouth is a personal preference.

But for shots that are repeatedly accurate, you want to strive for consistency in three areas. Those three areas are your nose or mouth, your release hand, and the way you grip your release.

When you draw back and anchor, the string should touch the tip of your nose. Your release hand should touch an identifiable location on the side of your face (same location every time), and the grip on your release aid should always be the same.

Also, make sure your grip isn't causing twisting in any direction.

Some bowhunters and archers use what's known as a "kisser button" when using the corner of the mouth as an anchor. The "kisser button" slides over your bowstring and should make contact with the corner of your mouth.

When the "kisser button" touches the corner of your mouth, you know it's in the right place.

Once you drawback and anchor, you should have a direct line-of-sight through your peep sight, across your sight pins, all the way to your target.

It is advisable to always have an arrow nocked when you are practicing drawing your bow so that you can safely avoid dry firing the bow.

Grip

Bowhunters Grip

There's no reason to squeeze your bow until it splinters into pieces. Only use light, even pressure between thumb and index fingers - just enough to keep the bow in your hand. Your bow should feel like it's resting on the web of your thumb.

Over-gripping will torque your bow to the side, causing your shots to be inconsistent and off-center. Using a bow sling will help you feel more confident about the bow staying on your hand.

With the proper follow through and a light grip, the bow will drop straight forward after the shot.

Learning to Shoot a Traditional Bow

Bowhunter shooting a recurve bow

Not everyone starts with a compound bow or needs to. If you are going the traditional bow route, it's a whole other level of commitment. But it's a worthy one if you want to try your hand at this historical weaponry.

Traditional archery includes longbows and recurve bows, along with a minimal list of accessories. You can opt to use a sight with some modern traditional bows. But to keep with the mystique and allure of traditional archery, you'll want to learn the art of shooting without a sight.

Most people are familiar with "instinctive shooting." Shooting instinctively is a matter of focusing on your target, drawing, shooting and follow through. Just like playing darts or shooting hoops, your brain and your body eventually synch up over hundreds or thousands of shots.

The interplay between repetition, muscle memory, and your vision eventually enables you to put the arrow where you want.

But Matt Zirnsak, host of The Push traditional archery podcast, identifies three common methods of aiming: instinctive shooting, split-vision, and the dedicated aiming method.

Matt defines them this way:

"The dedicated aiming method is using the tip of the arrow in reference to the target to get your arrow to impact there. Split-vision is, you're aware of your arrow tip, but you're not really saying I'm this far away from the target. I need to place my tip here to get it to impact there. And an instinctive archer is just staring, burning a hole in the target, and allowing his muscle memory to get his arrow to impact where he wants it to go."

Find the aiming method that suits you best and practice, practice, practice until you master it.

Unlike compounds, longbows and recurve bows don't use cams. Therefore, you won't have the benefit of "let-off" which results in an archer only holding about 25% of the full draw weight.

As such, you'll be holding all the weight of a trad bow when you come to full draw. Luckily, good technique replaces the need for sheer brute strength during the shooting sequence.

Consequently, shooting trad requires more strict adherence to form to do it right.

Hunter Education, Bowhunting Licenses and Hunting Laws

Hunter Education Card

While you are learning to shoot a bow, enroll in a hunter education course. Passing a hunter-ed course is a requirement to obtain a hunting license in most states. Courses are usually 10-15 hours of classroom instruction, over a few weeks, with a shooting skills test at the end of it.

In this COVID-era world, more than likely you can do the whole course online as I did with my son. Some states, like Washington, offer hunter deferral programs to adults and youth hunters. With these programs, would-be hunters can "try out" hunting with a mentor before committing to a hunter education program and licensing.

Deferred hunters can usually take part in all game seasons for the entire year.

Vital Bow Hunting Gear for the Beginning Bowhunter

Bowhunter at full draw with a compound bow

Bowhunting can be gear-intensive. Between footwear and outerwear, scent control, archery equipment, tree stands, and more it can get overwhelming for a beginning bowhunter. 

The good news is that with proper care and storage, your gear will last for years of use in the field.

Below is a gear list that will get the new bowhunter adequately started, balancing cost and function.

  • Bow Case
  • Compound Bow Release Aid
  • Arrows
  • Quiver
  • Bow Sight
  • Arrow Rest
  • Tree Stands
  • Ground Blinds

Choosing a Bow Case

A bow case is arguable the most important equipment that a bow hunter should have besides their bow.

A bow case is going to provide protection from bumps and drops as well as from the elements, whether you are heading to your hunting property or traveling on an airplane for a hunting trip.

Always choose the best bow case that you can afford in order to protect your bow.

Choosing a Bow Release

Bow Release Aid

Some bowhunters have taken note from competitive archers and started using back tension and thumb-trigger releases. Why? These releases are typically very sensitive, which creates a shot with a "surprise" break that can help with accuracy.

For hunting, I still prefer wrist releases. If it is attached to my wrist, more than likely I'm not going to lose it. It is also accurate enough for me to put shots on target. So I'm not worried about an ultra-sensitive release. This is a personal preference and completely up to the bowhunter.

Hybrids, with an open jaw lock style, like the Spott Hogg Wise Guy combine a very sensitive trigger in a wrist strap model.

Experiment with different release styles and see what works best for you. The important things to look for in a release are trigger travel, trigger tension, and the yoke. Ideally, all three features are adjustable.

Trigger travel refers to the distance the trigger moves prior to the jaws opening to release the bowstring. Trigger tension is the amount of force applied to the trigger to release the bowstring.

The yoke (the middle section of a wrist release that connects the trigger head and wrist strap) will influence your anchor point. So having the ability to adjust it is beneficial.

Click here to see reviews of the best bow releases.

Choosing the Proper Arrows

Closeup of a broadhead

Arrows come in a variety of materials such as aluminum, carbon, and wood. Some, like the Easton Full Metal Jacket, combine a carbon core with an aluminum shell.

Carbon arrows have become the more popular choice these days due to their lightness and durability. Carbon arrows can take a few reasonable ground hits without breaking or bending like aluminum.

But aluminum has the advantage of being more affordable, super quiet, with more precise spine and weight specs.

Wooden arrows have a tendency to warp and are not as durable as aluminum or carbon. But for the traditionalist, they go hand-in-hand with a recurve bow or longbow. It is not recommended to shoot wooden arrows from compound bows.

When looking for arrows, the length and arrow weight need to be matched to your bow. The best course of action is to have the technician at your local bow shop help you. They can offer suggestions and cut the arrows to perfectly fit your bow.

Choosing a Quiver

 Close up of a bow quiver

A quiver is where you safely hold and transport your arrows. As a bow hunter you are going to be using broadheads, which are very sharp and they need to be safely enclosed in the hood of the quiver in order to prevent accidental injury, or to prevent them from coming into contact with the bowstring or cables.

Most bow hunters use bow mounted quivers to transport their arrows. Some hunters like to remove the quiver for shooting, so they choose bow quivers with a quick-release mechanism.

There are still some traditional hunters that use hip quivers or back quivers, but they are few and far between.

Click here for a buying guide for the best bow quivers available today.

Choosing a Bow Sight

Fixed Pin Bow Sight

For most compound shooters, the bow sight is a vital attachment. It allows you to shoot with greater precision at longer distances.

There are a wealth of sight choices including single-pin, dovetail, pendulum, multi-pin, and even rangefinding. Hunting with a rangefinding sight is subject to state laws, so check before purchasing.

Similar to choosing an arrow rest, some of the sight styles lend themselves to target shooting better than hunting. Things to look for in a good hunting sight are bright pins, ease of use, size of pins, and a sight picture that's not cluttered

My recommendation is to start off with a great quality fixed-pin sight like the Trophy Ridge React Pro. The React Pro has an abundant amount of fiber optic, creating ultra-bright pins even in low-light conditions. This is helpful when hunting from a blind.

The React Pro doesn't require yardage adjustments like a moveable pin sight does. Like any fixed-pin sight, you use the sight-pin that corresponds to the yardage of the animal. The React Pro comes in 3-pin, 5-pin, and 7-pin configurations.

Two other awesome features of the Trophy Ridge React Pro are:

  • Tool-less windage, elevation, and pin adjustments
  • No more spending hours sighting in each pin. Set the top two pins and the rest self-adjust

Finally, the smaller 0.19 pins won't cover up the whole target, not to mention providing a clearer sight picture. A cluttered bow sight can be extremely distracting to new and experienced hunters alike.

Click here for a guide to the best bow sights.

Choosing an Arrow Rest

Whisker Biscuit Arrow Rest

There are several styles of arrow rests on the market, so it may be confusing as to which one you should use. Some cater better to target archers, while others are better for bowhunters. Consider what you are using your bow for - in this case, bowhunting.

That knocks down the list pretty quick. The two types of rests best suited to bowhunting are containment-style and drop-away.

Both styles keep vegetation from yanking your arrow off the rest and stand up to inclement weather. The whisker biscuit is a very popular containment-style rest for beginning hunters.

In fact, many bows come with one installed as part of a package deal. The whisker biscuit is a really simple rest with no moving parts - just a full circle of bristles that completely encloses the arrow.

They do have a tendency to rip the fletching off your arrows while sending dozens of arrows down range.

Drop-away rests offer some very helpful features for the bowhunter. Drop-away's like the Ripcord Code Red or Q.A.D. Ultra Rest offers arrow containment in the form of a horseshoe-shaped launcher.

What's even better, is you can nock an arrow and lock the launcher in the fire-ready position. Your bow is now ready to shoot. If you're hunting from a stand, you can put it on a bow hanger in the ready position.

Click here for a guide to the best drop away arrow rest.

Choosing a Rangefinder

When I first started bowhunting, I would practice estimating yardages all day, no matter what I was doing, so that when I was hunting, I would have the skill needed to accurately estimate the yardage.

A good quality rangefinder is now considered necessary equipment for the modern bow hunter.

They will give you the exact yardage to your target and will even compensate for the angle if you are hunting from a tree stand or steep slope.

Click here for a guide to the best rangefinders for bow hunting.

Choosing an Archery Target

As a bowhunter, you owe it to your quarry to be the best shot that you can be so that you can make a quick, clean and humane kill.

Choose an archery target that is fun to shoot. Some targets come with games on them, but the best archery target for a beginner bow hunter is a life like 3D deer target.

Shooting target practice at full size deer can help prepare you for the shot, when a real deer is standing within range.

Click here for a complete guide to choosing the best archery target for your backyard.

Tree Stands

Best Hang On Tree Stand

When it comes to comfort, tree stands have come a long way in recent years. Brands like Millenium have really changed the game, making all-day sits in a hang-on stand extremely comfortable

Tree stands come in three basic styles: hang-on, climbers, and ladder stands.

You can read about the best tree stands in our Best Tree Stand - Reviews and Buying Guide.

Safety Tip - Never climb a tree or enter and exit a tree stand without wearing a good quality safety harness and always us a pull rope to raise your bow after you have reached your stand. Never carry a bow while climbing.

Ground Blinds

View from a ground blind with a compound bow

If you're waiting out that giant white-tail, ground blinds are another effective piece of gear to have in your arsenal.

Quick to set up, just brush it in with native vegetation and tree branches to really conceal yourself.

The only other things you need to complete the set-up are dark clothing and a comfortable hunting chair.

That is a pretty comprehensive list of hunting gear that will have you fully equipped for your first bow hunt.

Clothing

We should take a minute to talk about the proper clothing for bowhunting.

You could spend hundreds of dollars on the best clothing from the top manufacturers like Kuiu or Sitka, but the truth is, your bowhunting clothing only needs to serve a couple of purposes.

  1. It must be comfortable - When you are bow hunting, it is imperative to remain as still as possible while waiting for game to arrive in range. That is much easier to accomplish when you are comfortable.
  2. It must be quiet - You are going to be drawing your bow while the game is very close to you. If your clothing makes any, and I mean any noise, your quarry is going to hear it and your position is going to be busted. Hunt over.

Beyond that, you should have clothes that serve certain weather conditions. For instance, you can't hunt in the rain without good rain gear. That would violate rule number one above, because you would not be comfortable.

You also should have appropriate clothing for extreme cold conditions, if you plan on hunting when it is cold. For this you may want to consider Sitka Gear. The make the best hunting bibs and best hunting pants which are ideal for staying warm when it is cold and wet. Yes, they are expensive, but we believe Sitka Gear is worth it.

Boots

Rubber Hunting Boots

Bow hunting is all about stealth and blending in with the environment. It is hard to blend in and disappear when you are wearing boots that stink!

For this reason, it is recommended that you buy the best rubber hunting boots that you can afford.

Rubber does not hold and transfer scent like leather and other materials. Rubber is also impermeable, so your stinky feet smell stays trapped inside the rubber boots helping to keep you concealed from the nose of your game.

Some bow hunters just don't like rubber boots and prefer a more traditional boot. You can find all of our top picks for best hunting boots here.

Bow Hunting Methods

Below are the four most common hunting methods for bowhunters. There are times to use one or a mix of some or all. The important thing for beginning bowhunters to understand is to remain adaptable.

It can be really easy to stick to one or two methods a majority of the time. Experienced bowhunters know that being able to switch gears as a situation unfolds can be the difference between filling the freezer and eating "tag soup."

Sometimes a hunt goes way differently than it started out and you have to be able to change tactics on the fly if needed.

Ground Blinds and Tree Stands

I've always been an ambush hunter at heart. It's not that I dislike the other methods of hunting at all. Quite the contrary, often I use a mixture of methods. I just tend to gravitate towards posting up in a high-quality habitat area and waiting it out or calling, even using a deer decoy. Maybe this also describes you.

If so, ground blinds and tree stands are two very effective ways of hunting ambush style. Sometimes setting up in a newly discovered area that looks good has benefits.

However, getting good intel prior to the hunt increases your chances of being where the deer are when opening morning arrives. Pre-season scouting and using trail cameras will help validate areas you have a good gut feeling about. You can then use that data to piece together deer movement and make a plan regarding your set-up.

In states where it is allowed, you can even bait deer using deer attractants to draw them in to the perfect place for an accurate shot.

In some states you can even set up an automatic deer feeder which dispenses deer feed at designated times, conditioning deer to visit the feeder at those times.

Be sure to check the regulations where you are hunting to determine if feeders and attractants are allowed.

Ground Blinds

ground blind set up in a clearing

Using a ground blind lets you get away with a little more movement (very good for hunting with kids) and allows for some real creature comforts when the weather is foul.

During those times, bring a Heater Buddy along and you'll stay toasty all day if you have a few 16-ounce propane cylinders. Blinds are typically not 100% waterproof, so treat them with Sno-Seal spray or simply throw a camo tarp over the top of it.

Add a comfortable camp or swivel blind chair, and you can create a nice little hunting Shang Ri La that lends itself very well to an all-day sit.

Blinds can be restrictive to shooting form and the shooting port configurations vary. Plus, it just feels different shooting seated inside the darkened interior. Therefore, new archers should practice sitting and shooting from their blind prior to hunting.

Ground blinds will help trap your scent in, but you should still be cognizant of wind and thermal direction. It's ideal to try to set up according to what direction you expect deer to come from and make sure your ground blind set-up is downwind of that.

For maximum concealment use surrounding vegetation and branches to "brush in" your blind and make it part of the landscape. There are times you can get away with not doing this, but it does give you added assurance. Most ground blinds come with loops specifically for this purpose, so use them!

Tree Stands

View from below looking at a hang on tree stand

Tree stand hunting gives you a unique perspective of your hunting area. Riding high in the death-from-above position, allows you to see over a larger range than hunting from the ground. It has become one of my personal favorite hunting methods over the last six years.

From a tree stand, you'll see deer coming in or have other animal encounters that you may miss due to limited vision in a ground blind. If you get your stand high enough, it also puts your scent above the noses of wary deer.

Hunting from a tree stand has some great benefits, but it also isn't foolproof. Even 20+ feet up in a tree, you can still be seen and your human scent can still get taken to the ground when midday thermals get dubious. Make sure to carry a reliable wind indicator powder and keep your movements to a minimum.

Tree Stand Tip - Deer love the thick brush and your hunt will be ruined if your arrow hits a branch or twig. You will need a clear shooting lane that your arrow can travel through to reach the vitals of the deer. Clear shooting lanes before the season so that the deer become accustomed to them.

Also, if you plan to archery hunt from a tree stand, you'll need to get used to shooting your bow at steeper angles. Practice makes perfect! So, setting up practice sessions with a tree stand and a 3D target is a good idea.

Safety Tip - Always use a pull up rope to pull up your bow into the tree stand. Never try to climb with your bow in your hand.

Spot and Stalk

sitting bowhunter shooting at a turkey

One of the oldest forms of hunting, the spot and stalk technique utilizes ridgetops and other vantage points to locate quarry. Once the bowhunter finds a deer to pursue, a plan is made to quietly stalk to within shooting range.

The distance of your stalk can range significantly from under 100 yards to a mile or more. The three most important things when it comes to making a successful stalk are wind, stealth, and maintaining cover.

Never start a stalk when the wind direction is moving from you towards the deer. As the saying goes, "keep the wind in your face." Once in a while, you may get lucky on a doe or a younger buck.

But like other archery hunting tactics, not paying attention to wind direction results in a busted stalk a majority of the time. If you don't believe it, test it out! Experience is the best teacher after all. Practicing good scent control is a must when hunting mature bucks.

Stealth is self-explanatory and comes naturally to most new bowhunters. Though it can always be improved, most people have the basic understanding you have to be quiet when you hunt.

When you've spotted deer and panic over losing an opportunity sets in, it can be difficult to reign yourself in. The good news is you can still move quickly while remaining relatively quiet. Every situation is different, and you'll have to read it as it unfolds.

Depending on the region, you may either be using vegetation for cover or the terrain itself if you're hunting the high desert. Use whatever is available to you as a visual barrier.

Still-Hunting

Bowhunter still hunting

Still-hunting is the act of moving silently and slowly through an area in order to locate and harvest game animals. When I say slow - I mean slow - and then slower. As a reference, 100 yards in an hour is too much.

In this way, you cover a little ground, while thoroughly scanning the area, and remaining vigilant in order to get a shot off when the opportunity presents itself. Ideally, you should be doing more scanning than walking.

You can use the still-hunting technique to move through most areas where deer activity is expected. A good pair of binoculars is necessary to spot deer you may not otherwise see. Consider using a high quality binocular harness to keep your binoculars out of the way and easily accessible.

As you move through an area, stop and use the binoculars to peer through trees and understory vegetation. You'd be amazed what you don't see with the naked eye.

Preparing to Hunt Your First Deer

Whitetail deer in the snow

You're licensed, practiced up, and now there's only one other thing left to do. Find a place to hunt! Public land is plentiful in many states and private land may be available if you're willing to knock on some doors.

An app like HuntStand that gives you invaluable topographical and landownership data is highly suggested.

There are a few ways to locate potential hunting areas. You can hunt an area cold, scout an area you've been curious about, or locate areas by talking to other hunters, local game department biologists, and scouting with Google Earth.

Hunting an area cold can be rewarding, as you get to see new terrain. It could possibly result in tagging out on the deer of a lifetime!

Going into an area I have no history with is one of my personal favorites. A new hunting spot full of endless possibilities is an exciting thing.

If you’ve gotten intel on a few spots through word-of-mouth or Google Earth, it’s time to get boots on the ground and take a look at them in person.

You’ll be looking for scat, scrapes, and rubs, along with game trails. If rubs and scat are multi-aged, even better. This is an indicator that the area has been consistently used over a period of time. You want a general picture of what deer activity looks like by putting all these clues together.

Look for other signs like multiple game trails converging into a "hub" area, or features like natural funnels and saddles. Deer like to use these as travel corridors.

Deer move in the wind, so try to get a feel for wind direction by making trips during different times of day: early morning, afternoon, and early evening. Bring a wind indicator to get a more precise direction.

Thermals can influence the wind direction in the immediate area, more so than prevailing winds. This is important to know so you can plan your ingress and egress to the area.

Deer stand placement diagram - travel corridor

Decide on the best hunting method for your spot(s) and plan accordingly. Consider a tree stand or ground blind if it makes sense for the area.

For example, trails that run between feeding and bedding areas are great ambush points for a stand or blind.

Same with transition zones. Transition zones are where two different landscape types converge. For example, forest to field areas or clear-cut to forest areas. Deer love to use these areas during the day if they’re arranged in a way that makes sense for their movement.

Final Thoughts on Bow Hunting For Beginners

As I said in the beginning, bow hunting is not just what you do. It becomes the very essence of who you are.

To become proficient enough with a stick and string in order to get within 30 yards of your prey and make a clean, humane shot, then process your kill and grind the venison into nutritious, organic ground meat for your family is truly liberating. 

In closing, I want to wish you luck out there! Living the field-to-table lifestyle; putting venison in the freezer by pursuing wild game with a bow is self-reliance at its best.

May you never lose the fire and passion for the hunt . . . 

See Also: Can A Felon Own A Bow?

Photo of author

Shawn Lentz

Shawn Lentz is a freelance outdoor writer, avid bowhunter, and fish hatchery specialist with the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife. He regularly writes for online and print publications such as deerhuntingguide.net, Wide Open Spaces, Fair Chase Magazine, Stone Road Media, and more. For more info go to www.shawn-lentz.com

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