Being a bowhunter

In part 2 of 2, Wayne Kampe covers how to finally land that hard-earned game

Starting at the beginning is always good. Hopefully you will have read how to become started in issue 81 of Australian Hunter and have a bow, tight target groups, sharpened broadheads to shaving status and now figure it’s time to think seriously about hunting.

But before putting on the backpack and gently walking off into the grass, let’s look at a few things. As always, a landowner’s permission to hunt is mandatory. Next, we can only hunt feral animals. Native animals and birds are taboo but deer, wild goats and pigs are fair game, as are buffaloes and bantengs.

A quick recap on hunting deer

There are no seasonal regulations governing deer hunting in New South Wales. An R-licence applies if hunting public land, although a permit is not required on private property. In Victoria, a permit to hunt is required – with no seasonal issues except for hog deer – while all hunting bows must have a 50lb draw weight. Queensland’s deer hunters require only a landowner’s permission. All bow hunting is banned in Tasmania. No matter your state or territory, if in doubt, check with authorities first.

The degrees of difficulty

Prior to lining up the sights on a feral animal we need to be within our own comfortable bow range, the distance where an accurate shot can be taken with some certainty. For the experts among us it can be as far off as 50 or more metres. However, most bowhunters will be content with somewhere between 20m and 40m as their norm. The only fly in the ointment is that few animals willingly allow us to approach so closely, which is why learning how to narrow the gap is vital

And it’s no good just talking about stalking as this is a serious business. We all understand that animals rely on all three senses to detect danger, so we walk as silently as possible into the breeze wearing camo apparel but there’s another aspect maybe not all are aware of. Virtually every game animal has some degree of awareness of other creatures ‑ plus birds – in their vicinity to assist in survival. If something nearby suddenly hops, trots or squawks lots of the ferals sense danger.

Interestingly, the situational awareness varies greatly according to the species involved but deer are the absolute masters of this craft. A total lack of domestication makes them far more switched on than pigs and goats ‑ which are generationally removed farm animals turned feral – resulting in alertness levels being consequently higher. This makes taking one with a bow so much more difficult and involved.

Thinking laterally, if a bow hunter can bag a deer, other feral animals should come easier, so let’s take a closer look at the tactical side of deer stalking and transfer the tactics to other game animals along the way.

Animal traits

To successfully hunt with bow and arrow there must be good cover. How else might we move within arrow range of our quarry? However, with deer, it’s a fact that they prefer to be in areas of cover so it’s a win/win all-round.

Goats also like cover, but pigs can be different. Often right out in an open area at first light, they will head to cover to bed after sunrise, so if the wind’s good the canny hunter will be waiting with the bow ready.

After early morning feeding many animals will bed for a spell. Pigs can go very early, goats sometimes later after having a drink first, but deer like to sit around mid-morning or a little earlier.

Surprisingly, deer often bed looking downwind and while it’s a bit disconcerting moving towards an animal that seems to be looking in your direction, the trick is to watch the head. Nodding a bit? Dozing off? The clue is to go in close by moving slowly and using cover and just wait (and then wait more) until it stands for the shot as it’s difficult to successfully drive an arrow into the boiler room of a bedded animal.

Finding game

When hunting deer in particular, one of the hardest aspects is actually understanding they are in a given area, especially if the block is new to the hunter. Goats are noisy, pigs can make an almighty mess of things but while deer are discreet, checking out a fence line will usually reveal their presence. Damp areas will reveal tracks, too, and during the rut those rubbed trees, a red stag’s wallows and scrapes from those feisty fallow bucks, are promising signs as well.

Knowing where to look for game animals usually comes with acquired knowledge of the local terrain. Generally, deer in the hills prefer feeding in southern sides of gullies where herbage is sweetest, yet on cold winter mornings they will gravitate towards the sunny side of an area. That’s great as we hunters like the warmth too. Goats feed where it suits them, as do pigs, so it comes down to walk and stalk, plus staying alert.

In the timbered hills and valleys, binoculars are vital to check out surroundings before moving forward. With deer, quite often one won’t be seen in entirety ‑ maybe just a glimpse such as a flicking ear or tail, or a bit of colour that was not there an instant previously. Further scrutiny is then vital.

Pigs and noisy goats are easy enough to find because of their colouring but where deer are concerned, what you see is often not the whole picture, especially in heavy cover. A stag –except during the rut – might be by himself but mobs of hinds can spread over a fair area and it certainly pays to have the wind right and be thorough in working out where all animals are before committing to a stalk.

The height advantage

In hilly country, deer seldom look upwards unless a careless foot fall cracks a stick to alert them, so it pays to maintain height advantage according to wind direction. Goats can be similarly hunted, too, and when either animals are discovered feeding below, it’s time to slide down on the backside through the grass or behind whatever cover is there to move within accurate bow range.

At this stage it’s arguably more important to see where the next footstep will finish up to avoid noise rather than watching the quarry. When close it’s also worth spending time carefully seeing which animals are lifting their heads and looking around for movement, then going forward only when all heads are down.

Note that if a slow movement is detected, so long as the breeze holds good and there’s no noise involved, the alerted animal might lose interest in a few minutes after just standing and watching, so long as the hunter can keep still. There are no guarantees.

Stealth mode has you close

Plan every stalk carefully. Crackly leaves and the like must be avoided, even if it means extensive detours. It’s a given that any other animals, including livestock, must also be avoided at all costs lest they move suddenly and ruin the stalk. Goats and pigs will bolt at seeing frightened roos or wallabies taking off but seldom go too far. On the other hand, alerted deer will simply run until they put a ridge behind them. Birds, particularly butcherbirds, will perch above a hunter in full camo gear and set up strident alarm calls with a vengeance. Patience is needed and the birds will eventually lose interest so long as the hunter again keeps quite still.

Something I’ve learned over the years is to always have an arrow on the string when about to top a ridge or move out of a gully or creek bed to survey previously obscured terrain. Keeping the wind good and making every effort to ensure the approach is as smooth and as quiet as possible will often mean that game is suddenly within range and totally unaware of the hunter.

Hunting the rut

The rut is a prime time to hunt deer and if bushcraft has been worked on beforehand, it’s by no means impossible to take a stag. Learned tactics such as moving slowly without sound, wearing full camo (with face mask), both having been pre-washed in UV nullifier, and watching to carefully assess a situation can all lead to an opportunity for a shot.

Admittedly, a stag holding hinds can be a tough stalking proposition but if he hears what might be other stags fighting – usually it’s over a doe – he’s odds-on to come for a quick look to see if he might pinch that doe while the stoush is on. Clashing cast antlers can do the trick to coax one in within arrow range but the hunter must be concealed well and an arrow pre-nocked as both reds and fallow can move astonishingly quick during the rut.

When a stag is roaring well a stalk approach can be successful if the hunter moves forward during each roar. Hinds cannot hear much over that ruckus so it’s possible to even move quite quickly if out of sight and the breeze is friendly. Sneaking past those hinds can then be an issue but stags will often move unexpectedly, especially when chasing a reluctant doe or an interloper. That’s when a chance can occur.

Wait for the shot

When the stalk has been successful, don’t let elation push in the way of making a perfect killing shot. Do not make the mistake of trying an ‘iffy’ shot. That arrow must take out both lungs (and the heart as well if possible) so waiting for the right opportunity, when the quarry is side-on or slightly quartering away, is vital. Goats and deer arrowed just behind the front leg, in the lower half of the body, are never going far.

Immense penetration damage and laceration to the lungs or heart will see a rapid and ethical kill and it’s then best to wait a short while to allow the animal to expire in dignity. By all means go to look for the arrow, or the start of the blood trail if necessary. But do so discreetly. Rushing forward might cause a virtually finished animal to make a panicked last-gasp move into impenetrable terrain or the neighbour’s land.

Pigs are somewhat different. They have lungs and heart located behind the front shoulder so the arrow needs to be equipped with a sharp broadhead and delivered side-on through the shoulder for best effect.

Arrows penetrating side-on are certain killers. Never chance things and attempt a front-on shot because breast bones can deflect broadheads. It is the same as hitting a tiny twig en route to the animal.

So those are some of the tactics involved in the making of a successful bowhunter. Like all hunting endeavours a bit of luck sure can carry the day but the better you become at stalking and assessing animal behaviour, the luckier you will become.

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