Everything You Need to Start Bowhunting
Archery is For Everyone
Bowhunting and archery are getting more and more popular. First Legolas and Katniss showed up on the screen, and then influential people like Joe Rogan and Cam Hanes brought it even more to the spotlight. Recently, there is a case being made for compound archery to be an event in the Olympics.
There are different ways to be part of the sport without hunting. Although hunting and harvesting an animal is the ultimate achievement, most people shoot recreationally at 3D or target competitions, or just in the backyard.
If your end goal is to go bowhunting, there is preparation that you need to take in order to be successful (including a lot of practice). Hunting with bows is not like hunting with a rifle.
First of all, the lethal range of an arrow is much less than a bullet, which means you will need to get close to an animal in order to get to take a shot. An ethically acceptable range is within 50 yards. Then you must be confident in your bow setup to take a shot and hit your mark because of the repetitions you have already done.
There are endless options to choose for bows and arrows that are available for any size person. And it can get expensive as you tinker with different arrows, sights, stabilizers, releases, and a bunch of other accessories.
Here are some useful tips for gear and starting to shoot!
Learn, Learn, Learn
Before you have bought any gear, you can start learning the terminology and observe technique. One of the best resources for learning the fundamentals and almost anything else about archery is Nock On. John Dudley has produced tons of video tutorials explaining almost everything you can learn.
But there are plenty of other places to go to learn, even finding lessons at a local place to you. Even once you have learned the basics and developed proper form, there are so many ways to fine tune and get better.
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Get the Basics
Don’t be overwhelmed by the amount of options. Learning a new craft can be humbling and there is no rush. As you get to be more proficient, you can upgrade to other bows you like and so on.
You don’t need a ton of equipment to start shooting.
But these are the bare necessities:
- Compound bow
- Sight and arrow rest
- Range finder
The most popular type of bow is compound. There are recurve and longbows which are used for traditional and olympic archery. There is not much to them and you will rely on your instincts to aim and shoot. There is a community for those types if that’s what you prefer.
We prefer and recommend compound bows.
First, you should go to a shop and test a few bows with different draw weights. This is the measurement for how much tension is needed to draw back the string. First timers should start with a manageable weight in order to focus on proper technique. This will depend on your arm and back strength, but for an average size person try to start with under 40lbs.
As you imprint proper technique consistently, then you can move up to stronger bows and longer distances.
An equally important measurement for your personal bow is draw length. This is the length between the middle of the riser and your rear hand when you’re at full draw. Most bows these days are adjustable by moving a few screws in the cams. The common range is between 18 to 31 inches, which most modern bows offer right out of the box. A bow shop or big name retail store like Cabela’s or Scheel’s can help you get your measurements for draw weight an draw length.
If you are looking for the best money can buy, check out our short list of best compound bows right now.
But you may not want to spend a ton of money on your first bow. So here are a few solid bows to begin learning with:
Bear Cruzer G2 – Affordable from a known brand, adjustable up to 70 lbs. draw weight. Comes a a “Ready to Hunt” package for about $400.
AW Pro – From Amazon, comes with basic parts and shoots up to 40 lbs. draw weight. Makes for a great first bow at about a $200 cost.
Barnett Vortex Lite – A popular option for youth and small frames, up to 29 lbs. draw weight.
One thing that attracts people to archery is that arrows can be shot over and over and over. Unlike bullets that go bang once and that’s all. Arrows can break and you should inspect arrows frequently to avoid potential injuries.
Arrows come in different materials and price ranges. The most common is carbon shafts used for hunting and 3D targets. Aluminum shafts are for indoor and target shooting. And then there are fiberglass and wood arrows typically used by youth which are the cheapest.
As you go up in draw weights you will want to learn about arrow spine and get arrows that match well with your bow. But for now, if you are starting with a bow under 40 lbs. then don’t worry too much about this part. Beginner arrows are usually 500 spine and will work just fine.
Whatever arrow type you choose, make sure you have multiple of the same so you each shot you make is as identical as it can be.
For starting out, don’t splurge on the most expensive arrows. An archery shop will usually cut your arrows if you ask them. Go get measured for your draw length and that is the length of arrow to get.
Carbon arrows – Vendetta
Aluminum arrows – Easton Genesis V2
Don’t be surprised if you lose or break several arrows, it happens to everyone. In fact it is just part of archery. As you stretch your skills to longer distances, between trees, etc. it just happens. Be ready to invest in your inventory of arrows.
As you gain experience you may be interested in building custom arrows for you specific needs.
This piece holds your arrow in place as you aim. It is very important because the arrow should start from the same exact position with each shot.
The two most common types of arrow rests are drop away rests and whisker biscuits. Both will do the job. But as shooters get more particular about their setups – they tend to gravitate towards drop away rests.
Whisker biscuits definitely hold the arrow in place and are a good option for beginners. They are also more affordable. There is an argument that the ‘whiskers’ slow down the arrow as it leaves the bow.
Drop away rests come in more varieties and appeal to shooters because they hold the arrow with minimal contact. It literally drops to move away from the arrow as it is being pushed forward. These types of rests are more pricey and require some tuning to get them functioning just right with your bow.
A scope or sights is mounted on the front of your bow, attached to the riser. The scope aligns through the peep sight on your string to aim at the target depending on the distance.
There are two types of sights, single pin and multi pin sights.
Each are good in their own way. It might be best to start with a multi pin sight, but there is no rule that you can’t start with a single pin. Totally personal preference.
With multiple pins, each pin is sighted at a specific distance. Some people don’t like that the other pins can obscure the view of the target.
With a single pin, a knob adjusts the entire sight based on the distance. It allows a better view of the target but the entire scope moves.
A release is a device that holds the string and releases to send the arrow on its way. There are three main types of releases for compound bows – wrist, thumb, and tension.
People tend to favor one as the best method, but you will need to discover this for yourself. First beginners, a wrist release is probably the simplest to operate because it’s most similar to a trigger on a gun. Some advanced archers use a thumb release, but there is no proven method that is better than the other. What matters is that you can make the shot when it counts.
You need quality targets to practice on. These are usually made of dense foam or layers to stop arrows. You can start with whatever target you like.
Generally people tend to sight in their bow on wide flat targets and then move to 3D animals once their setup is dialed in.
A word of caution – bows are dangerous and should be handled in similar fashion to a firearm. Be responsible for any arrow you send out, and be aware of objects in front of and behind your target. Having a backdrop to catch missed shots is always a good idea.
These aren’t needed at first, but you will most likely end up being most of these items if you stick with archery. Using stabilizers and range finders can help you become more effective once you have proper technique.
- Stabilizer – a rod that sticks out the front of the bow to help reduce movement while aiming.
- Quiver – attaches to the side of the bow or to your belt to hold arrows.
- Range finder – an optical device that measures distance to an object.
- Chest harness – a small pack for quick access to optics and small items.
- Binoculars – an optical device with magnification lenses to see at far distances.
- Bow stand – an attachment to your bottom limb that helps the bow stand upright.
- Spare arrow parts – for repairing and building arrows – shafts, inserts, wraps, fetching or vanes, and nocks make up a complete arrow.
1. Train at Different Distances
Whether you are using a single pin or multi-pin sight, you will need to zero in at multiple distances. Most people do 10 yard increments from 20 yards to 60 yards or more. A trusty range finder will be your best friend for zeroing and making a shot on an animal.
Tip – don’t change arrows because the zero on your sights is specific to the arrows you zero with. Weight and other characteristics change the trajectory of different arrows.
Just like with any skill, the more you practice the more progress you will see. If you got the archery bug, it’s hard not think about it all day and wanting to go shoot some arrows whoever you get a chance. Try to practice consistently, even if it is a few arrows at a time.
2. Join a League or Club
Find local places to shoot where you can start mingling with people and shoot at different kinds of targets. A quick search for Facebook groups or Googling “archery range near me” will point you in the right direction.
Also, it is good to introduce a bit of pressure by shooting around other people who may observe how well you shoot. Learning to keep your composure under pressure is an important skill to master especially with archery. There is no substitute for being able to execute a shot when the stakes are high. This almost always determines the outcome of a hunting trip or competition.
Mingling with other shooters will expose you to events that you can participate in. Which is another way to enjoy archery and really test yourself.
3. Go to 3D Shoots
The closest you can get to hunting is going to events that have hiking courses with 3D targets scattered out in the woods. Total Archery Challenge is the pinnacle of these shooting events, but there are smaller events out there. Most of these have sponsors with exhibits where you can try out new gear and interact with brands in the bowhunting community. There’s usually courses for beginners and youth but also high level shooters.
If you go to these events be ready to be challenged. Be prepared to lose some arrows and shoot up to 100 yards. Targets are usually positioned around trees, sloping hills, and angles that create difficult “sink or swim” shots. Missing the target means losing an arrow in tall grass, breaking on rocks, or permanently lodging into a tree trunk.
The courses are fun and a great way to workout in the woods because there are up to 20-30 targets along a hiking course of several miles. This can be done solo or with a group.
Most of these events have food and music to pass the downtime, which is a great way to meet other archers. You may meet people that will become your archery buddies that go shoot events each year.
Now You’re Ready for Bigger Challenges
Getting ready to hunt, compete, or enjoy is all part of the process. As you dive deeper into the world of archery, you will inevitably fine tune your bow arrows, and figure out what equipment you like best. If your goal is to hunt and bring down an animal there are other skills you will need to train like using animal calls, stalking, field dressing, and your physical conditioning.
Most of the year is spent in preparation for hunting season, which usually starts in September for archery. This is where your own due diligence comes into play to research the specifics of how to hunt in the land you want to be in, and what game you can hunt. A quick Google search for the area’s Fish and Wildlife website will get you started. You can also go to your local hunting shop and find more info. Drawing tags for certain animals will vary by state as well. Be sure to get your hunter’s safety course and hunting license take care of before getting out into the field.
Or you may want to pursue target competitions instead. If you don’t plan to hunt, archery is still a plenty of enjoyment with a passionate community. It is a sport for everyone and you can enjoy it how you want to.