Plenty of hunters do not to use firearms. For them, the weapon of choice is the bow and the ancient study of archery. In many ways, this is a more difficult method of hunting. It’s a step back in time and technology to before gunpowder changed the world. Hunting with archery requires the same preparation, patience, and discipline as hunting with a firearm. It also requires great focused strength developed over countless hours of practice with the bow. As a reward of sorts, bow hunters are often granted longer hunting seasons.
There is also a visceral advantage enjoyed by the archer. He hunts in silence. Gone is the disruption of the noise made by firearms. The explosion of a gun disrupts every animal within ear shot. They alert other prey to the presence of hunters. When you miss your target with a rifle or shotgun, the hunt is effectively over until the target is once again at ease. With the bow, the hunt becomes intimate. It is a battle waged between just the hunter and the hunted alone. A missed shot from an archer will likely only be noticed by the target, and have no effect on the rest of the animals or hunters in the area. Like the long range rifleman, an archer who lands a perfect shot can kill his prey in one try.
Some hunters like the drama of an exploding firearm. It can be a physical manifestation of the violence of the kill. The release of the arrow provides a symbolic release of the tension of the hunt. The archer, however, doesn’t need the symbolism of a loud bang to complete his hunt. He is more in tune with the primal nature of his hunt because the bow is a more primal tool. There are three styles of bow for the hunter to choose from. The recurve bow and the longbow are little different from the original bow and arrows used throughout history. They have no moving parts, are dependable, and easy to carry and maintain. Purists use solid wood construction, but these may also be made of fiberglass-wood laminates. They come in different sizes and string tightness. Because of the simplicity of the technology, some hunters feel that the recurve, and longbow are more authentic tools that better connect them with the natural world. As a bowhunter, that natural connection is often a major consideration. The compound bow is the modern evolution of the bow and arrow. It features limbs made from manufactured materials. The immediately obvious difference of the compound bow is the presence of cams or wheels at the top and bottom of the bow. These allow the cable to be more incrementally adjusted to suit the strength of the hunter and the amount of force needed to take down specific game. Perhaps just as importantly, the design allows the hunter to provide less effort in drawing the bow without affecting the force delivered by the shot. A hunter in a tree stand may have to hold his weapon drawn for extended periods of time. Even the slightest reduction of effort needed will make for a significant reduction of strain on the muscles of the arms and shoulders. Less physical and mental strain will pay dividends in accuracy afield.
Several different types of arrowheads have been developed to be used for different situations. These are field points to be used in practice, steel blunts, rubber blunts, judo points for small game, and broadheads for larger game. Some variables that affect the bow accuracy are peak draw weight and draw length, and arrow length. Peak draw weight is the maximum amount of weight needed to draw the bow. On recurve and longbows, peak draw is a set number. Compounds, however, have adjustable draw weight. Draw length is the distance from the bowstring and the grip at full draw. This is the position held just before the release of the arrow. Arrow lengths vary considerably. It is best to factor in all the variables when choosing the length of your arrows and to consult an arrow selection chart. Luckily, you can change your mind and purchase longer or shorter arrows at any time.
Understanding shooting mechanics and practice are necessary precursors to successful hunting with the bow. It doesn’t hurt to be naturally adept at judging distances. This can be learned, but takes lots of trial and error at the range. First and foremost, the shooter must learn to relax mentally and physically. The bow is supposed to do all of the work. Developing a good stance is essential. The upper body should be still as you prepare to fire. Any body movement will affect the aim. The slightest movement at the time of release will have a significant impact on accuracy.
The further the target, the more noticeable the problem. A novice archer may be surprised to find out that at twenty yards, a twitch will make his shot out of the bull’s eye. The same twitch at 50 yards will send the arrow flying past the hay backdrop altogether.
A novice should begin by standing at a 90 degree angle to the target with his legs shoulder length apart. Then, his front foot should take a partial step backward and pivot ever so slightly toward his target. This will create a mildly open stance. The head should be directly over the center of the body, weight evenly distributed on both feet. Practice taking this stance, stepping out of it, and stepping back into it. Once the hunter is comfortable with that first stance, he will practice raising the bow to shoot. When he feels as stable with the bow raised as he does without, he can pull back the bow string. The hands should stay very relaxed. Whether using fingers to draw or a mechanical release aid, the archer will now hold the bow at arm’s length and gradually pull the string using only the back muscles. At full draw, he will anchor and aim. The release should be relaxed.
Once the novice is comfortable shooting from this standing position, they should begin to practice from the other positions and angles likely to be used afield. This ma y include sitting or standing from an elevated tree stand looking down at the target. Practice should be done in hunting clothes and gear to help simulate any possible problems and also help create muscle memory.