An Introduction To Bow Hunting [Is it Pure Hunting?]

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Bow Hunting captures what some call the true essence of hunting: That it’s not about the animal but the pursuit.

It’s spending time outdoors and learning from the challenges and failures that come with hunting an animal.

There can be no tougher form of hunting than bow hunting (except maybe with a knife!).

And I can promise it will provide you with a satisfying experience.

Yet, it’s not as simple as picking up a bow and arrow and heading on out to the great outdoors.

There is more to bow hunting than that and we are here to break it down and make the transition into bow hunting a lot easier.

Related: 2024‘s Best Compound Bows for Women

What Are the Types of Hunting Archery?

There are many forms of archery, especially when it comes to competition styled archery, but with regards to hunting there are 4 main types of bows:

1. Longbow / Self Bow

The oldest and most basic of all the forms, longbows and self bows made predominantly from wood.

The self bow because of its basic make up is considered the least accurate and powerful of all.

That doesn’t mean you can’t hunt with them, just when compared against others they come up short.

Any bow made from a single piece of wood is a self bow. A longbow is a specific type of self bow and has a circular cross section.

The draw weight of the bow is directly linked to the draw length (more on that later).

2. Recurve Bow

Recurve bows are very similar to longbows with the slight variation of the end limbs curving toward then away.

The shape of a recurve bow helps store more energy[1] than the simple design of a self bow and will in-turn launch the arrow at a higher velocity.

These types of bows are almost always made of multiple pieces of wood laminated together.

Self bows, longbows, and recurve bows are all grouped together under traditional archery.

3. Compound Bow

What is bow hunting traditional compound archery types explained

Compound bows are by far the most popular choice amongst hunters that would rather use a bow for hunting than a rifle.

A compound bow is different from the others in many ways.

There are five basic parts to a compound bow[2]: the riser, the limbs, the cams, and strings or cable assembly.

Compound bows use lightweight polymers for the bow’s body and advanced composites for the limbs.

The cams (wheels) and cables operate with the strings to form a pulley system, leading to the let-off effect that means you don’t have to hold the full draw weight when a compound bow is fully drawn.

4. Crossbow

This may ruffle the feathers of the more traditional bow hunters, but nonetheless a crossbow is still considered a form of archery hunting.

Crossbows are basically bows turned sideways and attached to a rifle stock.

They release bolts, which are basically short and thick arrows, and are typically more powerful than traditional and compound bows but have a shorter range.

Related: The Complete Beginner’s Guide to Hunting

Common Bow Hunting Terms Explained

Regardless of whether you want to shoot a compound, longbow, recurve, or crossbow, the result is the same.

And that is to propel the arrow with the correct amount of force that it achieves sufficient penetration on the animal to kill it easily.

There are a few terms that every archer needs to know before taking up bow hunting.

Draw Weight

The term draw weight refers to the amount of force the archer needs to exert to pull the bow.

This number is generally measured in pounds (lbs.) and highlights the “strength” of the bow. Hunting bows typically range in draw weight from 40 – 80 lbs.

When hunting deer, elk, bear, buffalo or bison, there are suggested minimum draw weights to hunt those animals effectively. State hunting authorities may mandate a minimum draw weight as well.

Draw Length

The draw length of a bow is a specific measurement that is unique to the archer.

The draw length is the distance of full draw, from the point at which the arrow is nocked onto the string to the deepest part of the grip plus 1.75”.

Your draw length can easily be worked out at your local bow shop.

Kinetic Energy (KE)

Kinetic energy reflects the bow and arrows combined power.

KE is the result of a formula that takes into consideration the draw weight of the bow, mass, and velocity of the arrow.

This value is used to reflect the penetration potential and amount of damage an arrow may cause a target.

Paper Tuning

An important part of bow accuracy is ensuring the arrow is flying correctly.

The easiest way to find this out is through paper tuning. An arrow is shot through a piece of paper onto the target behind it, usually at 8 feet.

The tear in the paper reflects how the arrow is flying and adjustments to the bow can be made to improve the arrows flight.

Getting Started with Bow Hunting

So, now we have laid the foundation and you have decided that bow hunting is for you and your weapon of choice is the compound, but where do you go from here?

Getting started can be a little daunting and with so many choices out there, new bow hunters end up buying a lot of unnecessary equipment.

Below is the basics you will need to get the ball rolling on your bow hunting experiences.

The Hunting Bow

Bow hunters are spoilt for choice when it comes to quality compound bow manufacturers such as Hoyt, Mathews, Diamond, Bowtech, Bear, PSE, Elite, G5, and many more.

Once you have decided on a brand and model of bow, you need to determine your draw length, tune the bow to the correct draw weight and generally customize it to your specifications.

But it doesn’t quite end there.

For a compound bow to work optimally it needs a few additions such as:

  • Bow sight – multi pin or single pin
  • Peep sight
  • Kisser (optional)
  • Stabilizer
  • Arrow rest
  • Release (various options to choose from)
  • Quiver (optional, yet practical)
  • String silencers

Traditional archers typically use fewer accessories. However, the skill requirement is higher.

The Hunting Arrows

Arrows for Bow Hunting

Selecting the right arrows is crucial when it comes to bow hunting, after all that’s the pointy piece that does the killing.

The length of the arrow, rather the spine of the arrow is directly related to the archer’s draw length[3].

There are various weights and strengths of arrows, and those weights are all factors in determining the KE of the bow.

So, it is best to have the correct arrows made up for you at your local bow shop.

Components of an arrow:

  • Arrow tips (Broadheads, field, or practice tips)
  • Arrow spine (Carbon, wood, or aluminum)
  • Fletches or vanes
  • Inserts and nocks

Additional Equipment for Bow Hunting

These next items are not essentials, but they will certainly help in your hunting endeavors:

  • Rangefinder
  • Binoculars and/or spotting scope
  • Set of Allen keys
  • Knives
  • Tree stand or hunting blinds
  • Callers & decoys
  • Bow target and hay bales (or other backstops)

Bow Hunting Clothing

The days of running around barefoot, half naked wearing nothing but a well-placed animal skin is over.

Fortunately the development in hunting clothing and footwear have come a long way.

Camouflage patterns are designed to help you blend in, with some manufacturers such as Sitka, Kuiu, and Kings Camo using scent block and temperature regulation technology.

Hunting boots are comfortable, waterproof, and durable. Gloves, hats, and base layers are handy for those early winter mornings in the blind.

Choose a set of hunting clothes that you feel comfortable in and have similar colors or camo patterns that match the area you will be hunting in.

Clothing and kit in general can work out expensive but is generally worth the investment for the serious hunter. Fewer things ruin a hunt like being miserable from the wet and cold.

Practice, Practice, Practice

Bow hunting is not easy and, just like everything else, the more you practice the better your chances of success.

The repetition of shooting arrows at a still target not only helps you to get accustomed to your equipment, but you will develop a better shooting form, which improves accuracy.

Practice at varying distances and learn how your arrows will perform at those distances.

Try shooting in different stances, whether it be sitting, standing, or kneeling. You never know what type of situation you will find yourself in while hunting.

Remember: Hunting with a bow is vastly different to hunting with a rifle[4].

Determine a range at which you are most accurate and use that as a benchmark for how close you need to get to the animal.

For most bow hunters that is between 25 to 40-yards.

Finding A Place to Hunt

Public or private land, back country or the woods behind your house, guided hunts, or DIY hunts, either way you need to find a place to hunt.

Learn about the location, what type of animals inhabit the area, the terrain, local hunting regulations, and the best times of year to be out in the field.

Once you know where to hunt, you can decide on the best method of hunting.

Sitting in a blind over a feeder may provide you with more opportunities, while spot and stalk hunting is more of a challenge with a great sense of achievement.

Wrapping Up

Whichever way you look at it, for the serious hunter who is keen to explore all aspects of the discipline, it goes without saying that bow hunting is a fantastic opportunity to get back to basics and experience how we have hunted for thousands of years.

Good luck on the hunt.




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