Becoming a bowhunter

In Part 1 of 2, Wayne Kampe explains how to get started

Landowners seem to like the concept of bowhunting as much as hunters, thanks to the limited range of arrows plus lack of noise when game is taken. Great, it is a win/win all round.

Moreover, with a bow in lieu of a rifle there is an enjoyable sensation of achievement when hunting and stalking leads to a clean kill. The question is, of course, what is involved with all this? Let us take it a step at a time to find out, as I did over two decades.

The legalities

Positives certainly abound with bowhunting but first, let’s consider some legalities. Bowhunting animals – note, ferals and game only, nothing else – is legal in every state except Tasmania, so long as the usual landowner permission to enter and hunt is granted.

But states differ regarding deer. In New South Wales an R-licence is required to hunt them. You must be a member of an approved hunting organisation such as the SSAA and complete certain accreditation requirements. In Victoria a game licence is required. Sambar hunting mandates the use of a bow with a minimum draw weight of 50lb. Pounds? Yes, archery terms do not involve metrics. Queensland’s deer are hunted at the landowner’s discretion without permits.

Backyard practice: this is a grey area because there does not appear to be any specific law against safe archery practice in a person’s own backyard.

Just a warning that should any person be alarmed by your use of a bow – an errant arrow or any other issue causing concern – which results in a complaint being made, authorities will act on the matter. Basically, all archery practice decrees an element of great care by participants and should be undertaken with a solid backstop set up at all times.

The equipment

How then, to make a start at bowhunting? That is the same as in every other hunting pursuit we enjoy; the right gear from the outset will obtain the right results down the track.

You will need a bow, plus arrows, right? But which bow? There are three styles freely available apart from crossbows which, classified as firearms, must be licensed. There is the traditional longbow, plus its close cousin recurve, and the compound bow.

The two longer more traditional style bows have somewhat reduced levels of performance than the compound bow and require additional skills, because of their short effective range, for successful hunting.

Hunting with a longbow

The traditional longbow, and the recurve, are drawn and released with the middle fingers ‑ a special glove is used to protect these fingers. Arrows are typically made from timber, being set up with feather vanes designed to flex against the bow’s arrow rest upon release, thus aiding accuracy. An arm guard protects the arm holding the bow from string strike arrows being carried in a quiver.

That’s it ‑ done and dusted! But do remember that both of these longer – and lighter – bows have no sights, so involve plenty of practice and judgment to achieve hunting accuracy. Hunting draw weights between 40lb and 60lb mean that drawing one and aiming it requires strength and technique aplenty. The successful longbow/recurve hunter is a skilled individual indeed.

The compound bow

Compound bows can be more expensive and will certainly be heavier, and much shorter, than either of the former pair. A release aid tool is fitted to the user’s wrist and is intended to draw the bow; with a trigger to set the arrow – usually carbon fibre, with synthetic vanes.

Finger pinch is unpleasant when drawing a compound bow, hence the release aid. Compounds are popular because they are readily fitted with sights and a system of leverage reduces maximum draw weight thus permitting extended aiming time.

The compound bow’s leverage system – via cables and cams (a piece in the mechanical linkage that transforms rotary motion to linear) – sees the oval cams at limb’s ends roll over under tension. This means the archer is holding a mere fraction of the initial draw weight. This is referred to as ‘let off’. Today’s compound bows regularly feature 75 per cent to 85 per cent let off ‑ imagine, a bow with a 60lb draw weight being comparatively easily held and aimed at about 15lb or less.

A compound bow’s sights consist of a (rear) peep sight in the string aligning with the dominant eye, while the front sight – mounted just above the hand grip – incorporates a number of separate sight pins graduated to put the arrow on target at calculated distances.

My bow’s factory poundage is 60 but I have it set at 56lb draw weight as I’m becoming a bit long in the tooth these days. Although my sights are set at 20m, 30m, 40m and 50m, I take virtually every shot under 40m to ensure clean kills. As mentioned, bows are close-range hunting tools.

Judging distance is everything with bowhunting so it’s not surprising that most bowhunters carry a rangefinder, as I do.

The bow purchase

The foregoing is perhaps of lesser importance for a potential long/recurve bow user as there are degrees of flexibility in arrow length plus draw weight to simplify choice.

Selecting the right compound bow, on the other hand, is vastly different. Because bowhunters vary in size, particularly in arm length, a compound bow’s pre-set draw length must ‘fit’ the user; that is, be just the right length to suit his or her arm length at full draw. Correct draw weight is also rightly important.

At full draw the peep sight in a compound bow’s string should be right in front of the dominant eye with the string just kissing the face, as will the release aid. When the sights are correctly aligned, the trigger is touched to release the arrow and to shoot accurately. This should happen consistently every time but naturally, an incorrect draw length will throw everything out of whack.

Professional archery store advice in selecting the correct bow and ensuring it fits the user is vital, as is guidance on a suitable quiver plus an arrow rest for the new bow.

Incidentally, when at the archery outlet do not ever draw a bow to try it out unless invited to. And no bow is ever dry fired. Without an arrow to retard the string the bow can literally blow to pieces. You dry fire it; you buy it is the norm at archery outlets.

Shooting the bow

On my road to bowhunting I quickly discovered a few potholes when I commenced target practice. Much like reversing a boat down a long ramp or casting a fly, accuracy with a bow and arrow is not an innate human sense. That aside, no matter what style of bow is in use, longbow or compound, regular accuracy involves learning consistency in aiming technique and plenty of practice.

For a start, all bows need to be held just right when drawn and aimed. To hold or grasp a bow tightly is to instinctively torque it to one side or other with arrows then following suit ‑ going to one side or other.

With the usually longer aiming time involved with a compound bow, the way the bow is gripped is important and professional instruction in correct technique can be invaluable in this aspect.

To really enhance accuracy, it is hard to beat field shoots under an archery club’s auspices, especially with 3D animal size targets set up to simulate field situations. With advice from other archers, it is a sure way to become proficient.

Getting to the point

Arrows have specific points for proposed use. For target work we employ field points similar to the end of a pencil in shape. For larger game we use shaving sharp broadheads which come in different styles and weights. Expert advice counts in selection.

Lastly, blunts. Perfect for despatching rabbits, they are also great for field practice on cow pats, various grass clumps and the like when out in the paddock as they do not burrow out of sight like broadheads will.

Dress-up time

A great pre-hunt tactic is to set up with the full hunting outfit, including a camo face mask, camo hat or cap, and do some target work. Suddenly, drawing and loosing arrows will feel different, especially with a face mask and camo hat on, but familiarity with the camo gear is vital prior to drawing the bow on game or it will feel strange to do so when a chance comes along for a shot. If the face mask seems too awkward, face paint is okay in lieu when in the field but remember that when after deer the face needs to be well camouflaged. These critters are on the ball…

Try those broadheads

When contented with field pointed arrows grouping on target at say, 30m, it is time to replace them with broadheads to see if these differ in impact.

Note that a special target and practice facility is required for broadheads as they are destructive and will wreck things. It’s not at all unusual to find that broadheads shoot to a different point of aim. An expert might be able to tune a bow to shoot both field points and broadheads to an identical impact point. Most hunters simply adjust their sights to cater for broadheads when hunting is planned, noting said adjustments later for field point use.

Remember that adjustment is only via the front sights on the compound bow, with Allen keys. Sight pins are moved right to bring point of aim left (and vice versa for right) and downwards to achieve elevation, or vice versa. It is called ‘chasing the error’.

The next move

With confidence in accuracy and broadheads fitted to arrows, it is time to take the bow into the paddock to start honing those hunting skills to another level. First off, though, understand that the art of seeing game before it sees you is vital in order to close that range.

In order of difficulty, most tyros find rabbits are easiest, goats and pigs next with deer a long way north. You have the equipment, the clothing and the urge to succeed, so it now comes down to expertise in the field which, interestingly, is learned mostly from mistakes.

When a shot is presented within a person’s confident personal range, with the animal unaware, the object is to strive for a clean kill with a chest shot, preferably side-on. Nothing ever moves far after an arrow has taken out both lungs – and maybe the heart as well.

Part 2 – next edition

Think of it: with a rifle, the hunt is often over at 100 – even 200m. With the bow it has only just started because closing in is everything. In Part 2 of ‘Becoming a bowhunter’ we will take a detailed look at learning game animal habits so we can close that gap to 40m or less on our quarry, even deer.

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