Last month we introduced you to everything you need to know to get started in the wide world of bow hunting. This time around, we plan to help you build on that by providing you with valuable information to ensure you have a successful bow hunting experience. Read on!
Some states require you to attend hunters’ safety courses before being able to apply for or purchase tags. Whether your state does or not, I strongly recommend you take the time. Hunter’s safety courses teach valuable weapons safety information, hunting ethics, and any laws related to hunting in your particular state. These classes help ensure that you, your partners, and the other hunters in your vicinity are safe and that you don’t accidentally run afoul of any laws. Information on how to do so will be accessible on your state’s fish and game website. And remember, while online classes are an option, you’ll get more out of the in-person version.
Once you’re all situated, you need to get a tag and prepare for your hunt well in advance. You’re lucky to live in a state with over-the-counter deer or elk tags. You can head to your local sporting goods store and pick one up for relatively cheap. You may be waiting around a while if you live in a state that only delegates tags based on a lottery-style draw, you may be waiting around a bit. If you are in a lottery-only state and have trouble drawing, states with higher animal populations will sell tags to out-of-state customers for a premium. Again, your state’s wildlife management agency’s website will have all the info you need.
Preparation is the game’s name once you’ve gotten your tag and know where you’ll be hunting. If you’re lucky, you’ll have a couple of friends or family members familiar with your area who can point you in the direction of the animals you’re after. If not, you’ll need to scout your hunt the old-fashioned way. First, contact the fish and wildlife department in the closest town to your area and ask to speak to a wildlife biologist. While they’re not likely to give up their favorite hunting spot, they will share valuable information about how the animals behave in your area, where people find them, and how successful hunters are killing them.
On the same note, downloading a hunting app like onx is necessary. The app features maps you can download offline, clear divisions between private and public land parcels, natural springs, rivers, and fish and game water tanks. The app also allows you to mark places you’ve seen games or signs and share those waypoints with your friends and vice versa. If you’re headed into a hunt completely cold, onx is a great way to start nailing down a plan.
However, it’s important to note that no amount of word of mouth or E-scouting on hunting apps can replace getting out into your area to scout. The more time you can spend out there before you hunt, the more familiar you’ll be with your prey’s behavior, and the more likely it becomes you’ll be able to find them come opening day.
Finally, you need to go out and make it happen. You will have found out which approach you’ll need to use in your preparation. If it’s elk during the mating season (known as “the rut”), you’ll likely find a place to sit and call them in. Perhaps it’s whitetails in the thick woods, you might set up a tree stand near a bedding area. If it’s mule deer in the high desert, you need to spot them from afar and stalk them like a big cat looking to pounce.
Regardless of the style of the hunt, you’re on. There are a few tips specific to bow hunting you should keep in mind. For one, always check in on the wind direction as prey animals rely heavily on their sense of smell, and to them, your deodorant smells like a fire alarm. Sometimes you can play a little fast and loose with the wind on a rifle hunt where you’re hundreds of yards away, but bowhunting is up close and personal.
Scent blockers are common in the bowhunting world; however, there is much debate over how well they work or which kind to use. Some people opt to cloak their scent with literal urine from a doe in estrus. Others opt for odorless cloakers with high-tech zeolite formulas, activated carbon, or anti-microbial silver. Scent blockers almost certainly work a little bit. Still, deer have susceptible olfactory systems, even better than bloodhounds, so your top priority needs to be managing your position with the wind. Wind blowing from the direction of the animals toward you = good, and wind blowing from you toward the animals = bad.
If you’re spotting and stalking, here are a few tips. When stalking, you should walk through shadowed areas to make yourself more difficult to see. You should use vegetation and natural topography to block the animal’s view of you. You should always move slowly and patiently. Also, consider the amount of noise the wind is making. If it’s howling and bushes are rustling everywhere, the sound of your movements will be concealed. If it’s dead still, every action you make will be accompanied by a sound, so move accordingly.
Finally, bring “sneakers” (soft covers that go over your boots to make less noise as you walk), or be prepared to take your boots off and finish your stalk in your socks. This is often unnecessary at rifle distances, but deer will hear twigs and sticks snap and get out of there whether they see you or not within a hundred yards.
When you finally get an animal in your sights and land a solid shot, your mind and body will be racing 1,000 miles a minute, as the expression goes. With a high-velocity rifle, it’s not uncommon for a shot to drop an animal instantaneously, but even a heart or solid lung shot with a bow might not result in immediate death. After landing your shot, It’s important to watch where the animal runs to before you get to celebrate. If you did score a good hit, there would be plenty of blood for you to follow, and your prey will likely be lying dead not too far off.
If he is merely wounded, especially mortally, he will likely bed down a distance off where he feels he can rest in relative safety. In this case, provided you’re sure you caught a good piece of a vital organ, it is wise to set a safe distance away and wait for him to die rather than a close distance to finish him off and potentially cause him to run much further off. Once the animal is dead, you’ve got a tiny window for celebration, and the real work begins.
However, this is extremely important. Before you do anything, you are legally required to fix your tag to your animal as specified on the tag. Do this IMMEDIATELY after he is killed. If a game warden happens upon you with an untagged kill, things will likely get ugly, even if you have the tag in your pocket. This rule prevents people from reusing tags if they avoid wardens while getting their first animal out of there.
The cleaning and transporting process is arduous, to say the least, especially if you’re deep in the backcountry and you’re hunting giant game-like elk. The process is deserving of an article in and of itself, like the one written by yours indeed featured on skillsetmag.com (link right here). This article covers the step-by-step process of gutting any big game animal and pictures to guide you.
To get this done right, all you’ll need is the sharpest knife you can get your hands on, cloth game bags to protect your meat from debris, and a backpack you can load a lot of weight into. I strongly recommend a knife with replaceable razor blades like those offered by Havalon or Outdoor Edge. It’s impossible to keep a high-quality fixed blade knife-sharp throughout the gutting and quartering process, and these replaceable blade knives remove that concern entirely. Be careful, though, these puppies are surgery sharp, and my fingers have the scars to prove it.
While on your hunt, you’ll likely run across a game warden, and as part of his duties, he may check your hunting license and tag. It’s easy to overcome a sinking feeling you’ve done something wrong at this moment, even if you haven’t, but try not to shut down as this may be an excellent opportunity for you. Game wardens are always polite and helpful wildlife enthusiasts, hopefully not unlike yourself.
Show him your tag and license, answer any questions he asks, and tell him how your hunt is going. Tell him what you’ve seen, where you’ve looked, the strategy you have in mind, and ask if he has any tips for you. Game wardens are nearly always hunters themselves and spend more time than anyone in the units they patrol. They’ll likely share valuable knowledge with you if you’re polite and respectful.
When it comes to hunting, preparing properly and taking risks involved with trying your hand is, in a sense, all you can do. Remember that deer and elk are used to being hunted by creatures far more practiced and capable than you, so don’t be too hard on yourself when you stumble about and mess up a few opportunities, especially early on. Even experienced hunters miss shots, blow stalks, and end up unsuccessful sometimes.
It’s simply part of the game. Hunting is challenging, and that goes double for bow hunting. I swear, sometimes the only thing in big game hunting you can guarantee is that something will go wrong. The beauty is that if you stay persistent, all you need is for things to go right for just a few moments, and you can be coming home with a trophy, a cooler full of the best meat not even money can buy, and a campfire story for the ages.