5 Lessons I Wish I Had Learned in Bowhunting
You're starting a new endeavor. You are overwhelmed with a mix of excitement, fear maybe nerves for the unexpected. But you can't wait to start and know you'll be successful. Skip forward five weeks. You're standing wondering, “Why did nobody tell me this?”
I've shot bows since I could hold one. However, it wasn't a passion until 12 years ago. That thought still crosses my mind from time to time. I've learned a lot of lessons the hard way. Overall, there are five lessons I've learned that stand out.
Know Your Equipment
Do you know what your bow is going to do before you pull it? Are the batteries still charged in your range finder? These are things I've discovered at the wrong time. Trust me, you want to know that your peep site needs to be adjusted before you pull down on an old doe at 30 yards. Each time I make these mistakes, I'm rushed back to my father, meticulously laying all his equipment the night before a hunt. I never understood it back then. Before you load up for your first hunt, check your range finder and know how to hook up your climber in the dark. In the moment is no time to learn.
Practice How You Hunt
Practice makes perfect, right? Typically, you'd be right. However, does that heavy winter coat cause you to draw your bow differently? If you are new to bow hunting, you may not have perfected or even heard of anchor points when pulling your bow. But once you have, the slightest interruption could change your accuracy. It's not just important to practice, but practice how you plan to hunt. If you're not practicing in your hunting gear, you may find yourself in for a surprise when it's time to drop the hammer. Will you hunt with cold gear on? From a tree? Sitting inside a ground blind? These days, I practice every condition I can think of. Sitting, kneeling, after a run to imitate fatigue from a spot and stock. I will even climb on the barn roof to replicate the angle from a tree stand. Mimic as best as you can the conditions you may find in the field, and be prepared for them before they arise.
Health and Fitness
When you're purchasing your first bow, whether you can run a 5k or not is probably the last thing on your mind. I have come to find out, however, that my love for snack cakes and channel surfing may have been the reason that I missed opportune shots. Hunting with a rifle gives you a nicety that you don't get with archery, distance! You get more time and buffer space to calm down and steady you're breathing at 100-plus yards. That's not the case at 30. In bow hunting, you need to be prepared to make quick, accurate shots from time to time. Keeping your bow steady becomes a near-impossible task if you can't catch your breath. You don't need to run ultramarathons, but even something as simple as loading up your pack and completing a 30-minute trail walk five times a week could give you the edge you need when the moment calls for it.
Get a Range Finder and Use It!
Being able to judge distance on instinct is an art form. It takes time and practice to master. In the past three years, I've begun to try my hand at spot and stalk. Thinking I knew what I was doing and wanting to save weight, I left my pack at the woods line. With just my bow and release, I made the stalk across the 10-acre field only to misjudge the distance and watch my arrow fly about 5 inches over the deer's back. When you're new, don't risk it. Purchase a solid range finder and use it.
Seek Out Local Bowhunting Expertise
Nothing beats a seasoned local who is willing to share. Whether it was at the old Buddy Bills Bait Shop in my hometown or the fly store in Townsend where I learned to tie on leaders, the best advice I've ever gotten came from experienced local hunters and anglers. Deer processors, bait shops, or even the table at the local diner surrounded by folks decked out in camo are the best places I've found to start up conversations. Be humble and earn their trust, and it may end up well worth your time.
If you stick with it, then I can guarantee you will have your own list of lessons outside of this. Archery and bowhunting will test your patience. You'll make mistakes, and you'll have your own share of embarrassing stories. My dad still jokes about making a trophy from the tree I shot after my first opportunity at a 6-point buck. Keep with it. Own your stories, learn from them, and move on. It will never compare to the feeling when you recover your first red arrow.