The Ultimate Bow Hunting Tactics

The bow, in its most basic form has been around for almost as long as humans have had weapons. In fact, there are examples of primitive bow having been found which date from the Stone Age, a period of history that started approximately two and a half million years ago! Of course the first bows and arrows were exceptionally primitive by modern standards. Early bows are believed to have been made from elm and had a flat front with a D shaped section which would today look like you were firing your bow backwards.

However, the bow was an extremely effective weapon. It was used by the Native Americans; in fact, almost every nation in the world has a history of bows being created at some point. Early bows may have been primitive but their operators were experts at getting close to their prey; something that can still be learned from you. Even with the best modern bows in the world you still need to be able to get close to your target without alerting them.

Bows and arrows have also featured in a great many military campaigns over the years. They are more effective and accurate than spears and can quickly and easily be reloaded to provide continual defense.

Archery as a sport as opposed to a military technique first became popular in the late nineteenth century, although the first archery club in America was actually established as long ago as 1828. Prior to this it had been in decline as it was no longer effective on the battlefield; the advent of firearms quickly made the traditional bow and arrow redundant. The early part of the nineteenth century saw a valiant effort by the noblemen in established countries such as Great Britain, to make it a sport reserved for the nobility. Check out Master the Archery Bow Technique for Hunting for your reference.

Ultimately the sport came back into fashion at the beginning of the twentieth century and was even included in the Olympics for several years before being omitted until the mid twentieth century. Since then it has been in every Olympic Games and there has been a dramatic increase in the number of people shooting a bow and arrow. The majority of these people simply shoot to learn and improve their skill. However, some of them are interested in following in the ways of the original archers and learning to hunt with just a bow, arrow and skill.

This is a challenging sport to learn although the rewards can be great. It is essential to know which the right equipment is for your shooting style, and the animal you are attempting to shoot. This will guide you through the types of bow available and how to choose the right one. You will also learn how to set up and use your bow and arrow as well as some essential hunting tips.

Types of Bow

It may surprise you to know that there are actually four different types of bow. All of these bows can be used for hunting but there are some benefits to knowing the different types and which one is best suited to your shooting style. The four main types are:

1.  The Recurve Bow

This is perhaps the one you will be most familiar with. It comes in four parts. The middle section is the piece you hold and this is known as the Riser. Attached to this, one on each side are the limbs and the string stretches between the limbs.

It is usual for the riser to be shaped into a comfortable hand grip and for there to be space for attachments; these include sights and weights to help stabilize the bow when you shoot. These are the only bows allowed in the Olympics.

A proper recurve bow will have limbs which curve towards you and the tips of the limbs will curve away. The reason for this is to provide more power in a short bow whilst needing less physical strength to actual pull the string back.

This was the perfect mixture for archers riding on horseback which is why this type of bow first came into existence.

The recurve is also one of the simplest bows and is very easy to use. It is also the preferred first choice for beginners to the sport as you can start by shooting without a sight or any other extras, simply to get a feel for the bow. Adding the sight and other parts can be completed as you progress.

2.  The Compound Bow

This is a much more complicated version of the bow. The actual bow is generally shorter than the recurve but the bow will have a complicated system of pulleys, cables and cams.

These work together to hold a load once you have pulled it. In essence you will require much more strength to pull the bow back than you would for a recurve. However, once it has been pulled back you will be able to hold it indefinitely.

This type of bow is made completely from man-made materials and, as such, is much less likely to be affected by any changes in temperature or humidity; a factor which can be an issue for traditional recurve bows. The compound bow is also extremely accurate when used properly. It is not generally recommended for anyone new to the sport as it is not the easiest bow to get to grips with.

It is worth noting that once the bow has been drawn there is nothing to do but wait until you are ready to release it. This means you will have time on your side to spot and aim for your target.

3.  The Longbow

This is a more traditional style bow; they are generally taller than you and are made of one piece. As with the recurve they are shaped in the traditional style of a bow. However, the long bow is much more difficult to shoot than the recurve or even the compound bow.

A proper longbow will not have any place to rest your arrow or even have a sight. You will simply need to know you are aiming at, rest the arrow on your hand and fire accordingly. This is the most difficult bow to learn to fire; it will take plenty of time and oodles of patience.

The bows are also shaped as a traditional ‘D’ but they do not have apiece at the tip of the limb which curves away from you. This means that their range and the power behind them is not as good as the more modern recurve type bow. Learning to use one of these effectively is a real skill!

4.  The Crossbow

This type of bow has been dated back to the medieval ages; in fact it was commonly seen in battle during this period and was a formidable weapon. The modern cross bow has a gun style mechanism with two short limbs attached to the centre to create a bow shape.

The arrow is locked into the clip as the string is pulled; it cannot then go anywhere unless you press the trigger. The string is relatively easy to pull and it is this which locks everything together until you are ready to shoot. It is not advisable to leave the bow loaded and untended.

The cross bow is typically able to shoot far less distance than the recurve bow but it is easy to fire and can be an effective weapon if required.

It is possible to learn how to fire all of these. However some are better suited to hunting than others. If you are looking to choose a hunting bow then there is some important information to note; this will ensure you pick the best bow for your needs.

How to choose the type?

All bows can be used to shoot although it is recommended that you stick to the traditional recurve bow to start with as this is the easiest bow to learn to fire. Being able to shoot accurately is important; choosing the right bow will ensure your arrows are getting where they need to be. It is generally agreed that recurve and compound are the most effective at shooting an animal. If you intend to start hunting with a bow and arrow you should consider one of these two. You may find it beneficial to visit a few clubs first and test a few bows to see which one is the best fit for you.

New or Used?

A new bow and arrow set is not necessarily cheap; it is for this reason that you should consider purchasing a used version. You can find these advertised at clubs and in your local magazine. A used one will be cheaper and possibly come with extra bits that will cost you more if you purchase new. If you buy through a club you are also likely to have some type of comeback if the bow does not perform correctly.

How to choose the length?

The longer the bow the smoother the shot will be and the less it will be distorted by any shake when firing or via any other distraction. A shorter bow will be easy to maneuver, especially if you are hiding in thick bush waiting to get a good shot. You will find that the length of the bow is often referred to as the axle to axle length.

All you need to know about the brace

You should also consider what is known as the ‘brace height’. This is the distance between the back of the limb, (the closest side to you) and your string when it is relaxed. The shorter the brace the more power you will have behind each shot. However, if you have a longer brace you will be able to automatically compensate for a disturbance or distortion when firing. In effect the bow is more likely to get you onto target despite a below adequate shot.

The Riser

The traditional bow has spaces in the mid section for a riser. This is effectively a weight which helps you to keep the bow steady. There are actually two ways of fastening this onto your bow. In front of your mid section means you will be able to fire your animal with more speed and power behind it. If the weight is this side of your mid section then you will gain valuable time when taking your shot as you can take a few extra moments to ensure you have the target lined up properly.

Draw Length

It is important to consider the draw length of your bow. This is the measurement between the side of the bow facing you and the middle of your string; once fully drawn. This is a very important measurement; the longer the draw length the further the arrow can potentially be shot. However, the draw length must be comfortable. There is no point in having a draw length that you cannot possible achieve, you will never use the potential in your bow.

The perfect draw length can be measured by holding one arm straight out to the side. You then have a friend measure the distance from the base of your thumb, along your outstretched arm and across your shoulder until you reach your ear. You must turn you head to look along the path of your arm.

This is the furthest you will be physically able to pull the string back whilst aiming and shooting properly. It is important to note that this is the maximum; if this length offers too much resistance for you then you should choose a smaller draw.

The amount of draw corresponds to the amount of weight or force which will be put behind the arrow; the greater the weight the further it will go. But, if you attempt to pull an excessive weight your arm will shake and you will be unlikely to hit the target. Visiting a club for some trial sessions can be an excellent way of locating the bow size and type you are most comfortable with.

Most bow hunters will recommend the use of a compound bow to hunt due to its precision and the force you can create behind it. Whilst this may be the best you will probably find it more comfortable to start with a recurve until you have gained some experience shooting. The alternative is to start shooting with a club and then start hunting once you have got to grips with the recurve and compound bow.

Setting Up & Using Your Bow & Arrow

Choosing your bow and arrow is important; the right combination can make a huge difference to your success rate.

However, once you have chosen you will need to ensure you are familiar with the features of your bow and the right arrows to use for both your bow and the animals you are likely to be hunting.

The compound bow still has a middle section which is referred to as the riser. This is the part where the grip is and the arrow support. Attached to this are two limbs; just as with the recurve bow. However, the big difference is the cams which are situated at the end of these limbs.

A single cam bow is recommended for anyone new to shooting with a bow; this is a single wheel at the top and bottom of the bow. The string starts in the middle of one cam; goes to the other end of the bow and round the cam before coming back and around the original cam. It then finishes in the middle of the second cam.

It is possible to have more than one cam or different size cams once you have gained experience in using the bow. It is these cams which will effectively hold the bow in the drawn position once you have drawn it.

This is excellent when hunting as you may need to stand with the bow drawn for a period of time waiting for an animal to move into the right position.

Every bow needs a good quality string; man-made ones are best as they will not stretch and cause a loss of tension and firing distance.

Your bow will also have an arrow rest, sight, cable guard (to keep the cables away from the bow and interfering with the arrows flight path). There is also a space available to add different stabilizers to your bow.

To Set up Your Bow

There are several important steps to follow when setting up your bow and getting ready to hunt. It is important to realize that once the bow is set up it remains strung; your carrying case should accommodate it in this form. The basic bow should arrive set up ready for your additional and adjustments:


Having an accurate sight will make it much easier to hit your target. The sight is mounted off the riser and will take several rounds of shooting to get accurate; it is best to do this over several days to avoid fatigue.

Hunters generally use simple sights known as pin sights. These are plastic circles with three pins in side; each with a different color. In essence lining up the pin with your target will be all that you need to do.

The first step is to simply bolt the sight to the bow in the place indicated. Most experts will advise you to leave the bolt overnight and then retighten the sight. You will then need to pick a good target which will take multiple hits. Each of the pins represents a distance.

The first pin is for your shortest distance, usually twenty yards. Simply aim with the pin and shoot the target. You can then adjust the pin up or down the bow according to where the arrow landed.

If the arrows are landing too high the pin needs to be moved upwards. You can also move it to the left and right to ensure perfect accuracy.

The second pin is set in exactly the same way and generally set for thirty yards. Finally, you can do the third pin, whilst the procedure is the same it is important to only move the pin up and down on this one and not the sight box as you will have done on the first two.

You can add additional pins to enable you to shoot even further; depending upon your confidence, skill level and bow strength.


This is a small rod which can be screwed to the front or the back of the bow. The idea is to add weight to the bow to help ensure a smoother and more accurate shot. It does this by moving the centre of gravity on your bow.

It is advisable to try out a variety of stabilizer combinations at your local club before you invest in any. This is because some people find that they make no difference to their shooting ability. In general you will need to choose between the following systems:

  • Balanced – this means adding a long stabilizer on the front of your bow and a short one on the back, (the side facing you). The idea is that your bow will be perfectly balanced with no pull in any direction giving you the best possible shooting accuracy. However, these stabilizers are large and cumbersome when trying to hunt.
  • Resistance – This system uses a long forward bar and a side bar. The idea is to generate a downward pull which will help to ensure consistent bow release and therefore target accuracy.

There are many other combinations which is why it is essential to test what works best for you, a stabilizer should reduce the vibrations in the bow and help to keep the bow quieter. They also prevent the bow from twisting as you release and keep your bow balanced. For hunting it is best to have a smaller stabilizer as this is easy to maneuver in the woods.


You will now be ready to fine tune your bow before going hunting. This is an important step to ensure you bow is not only performing at its best but that you will be able to fire an arrow accurately and consistently.

Before you can start tuning your bow you must ensure you have installed all your accessories. There is little point in getting it all just right and then changing something on the bow! Once this has been done there are several key items which must be completed:

  • Arrow rest – This should already be fitted to your bow. However, it is important it is lined up properly with the notch on the string where the arrow sits. Correct alignment ensures your arrow leaves the bow in a straight line and increases the chances of you hitting the desired target. A bow square is an ideal tool to assist with this.
  • Arrows – There are different length arrows available. You need one that will extend past the riser when you are on full draw, but it should not extend to far past. If your arrow is too short or too long you will struggle to tune your bow and hit the same target every time.
  • Test your Bow – To do this you need to place a piece of paper into a frame, or even make a frame. This should then be sited approximately five foot in front of your target. You can then shoot your target through the paper. Try to keep the shot as close to the centre as possible. A well set up bow will leave a small hole with three evenly spaced vane marks. If it does not look like this, or you find one vane mark is particularly thick then there are several adjustments which can be made.

    One potential reason is that the vane of your arrow is clipping part of your bow as you fire. The easiest way to check this is to place some chalk or lipstick on each of the vanes before you fire the arrow. After firing you will be able to see where it has touched the bow by the mark left on the bow. This should be fixed by simply adjusting the arrow rest.

    Alternatively you may find that the timing of the cams on your bow is not quite right. This will need adjusting.

    It is also possible that the mark in your paper is larger on one side than on the other; this indicates that your arrow is wobbling during flight and is often a result of using arrows which are either too heavy or too light for your bow.

    After you have completed the adjustments and tested again you can complete a follow up test from a greater distance. If the problems are still present you can make further adjustments, but, you need to make very small adjustments to compensate for the greater distance the arrow is flying over. Good sized holes every time in your paper indicate a well tuned and balanced bow; you will then be able to concentrate on hitting the target every time.

Tips for Hunting with a Bow and Arrow

Now that you have chosen your bow and completed your set-up you are ready to shoot. There is only one way to ensure you hit the target every time; this is practice. Whether you join a club or have your own target at home, the more you practice basic techniques in archery the better your shot will become.

In fact, this is also one of the greatest benefits about being part of a club; other members with experience can help you to improve by sharing their experiences and giving tips; you may even be able to teach them a few things! The following tips will help you to hunt effectively with your bow and arrow:

Practice your form!

As already mentioned practice is essential to ensure you improve and become consistent. One of the most common issues is shooting with an excessive draw. This means you are unable to pull back the string fully or properly and the result is a locked left arm, (assuming you are right handed).

Combine this with a bad grip and your arrows will be scattered rather than tight. You grip must be relaxed and the draw reached with your arm slightly bent. Staying relaxed in general will assist your shooting.

Know Your Animal

Every animal has its own characteristics and behavior, particularly in stressful situations. Some will freeze, some will head straight for you but most will run. Even if they run they may have a tendency for a specific direction.

Knowing how they behave will allow you to predict where to shoot; especially if you inadvertently disturb them.

Make Friends

There are many other hunters around who will happily share their tips regarding the best places to hunt or the best arrows to use. Even the time of day can make a difference. They can also share the strategies which work for them; you can either copy these or try to improve them!

Know the Land

It is essential to know the area where you intend to shoot. You must know where the animals are most likely to hide and the best locations for you to either create somewhere to hide or simply to locate yourself in the trees. If you use a digital site such as Google Earth you will even be able to zoom in and make out animal trials; giving you a good idea of where the animals are going to be.

Ideally you should find the spots you wish to shoot from before the hunting season starts; this will ensure you are not leaving excessive human scents or creating disturbances in the area which may frighten your prey.

The Wind

Animals are far more responsive to smells than humans; they will sense you long before you know they are there. This is because the wind will carry your smell straight to them. To avoid this you must always stay down wind of your animal; one whiff of you will be enough to spook the animal and have them disappear into the undergrowth.

Use Aids

It is possible to purchase odors which smell like the animal you are attempting to hunt. An appropriate scent will attract any of the same species of animals within the area; they will simply be curious regarding what they perceive to be a new comer to the area. It is important not to simply shoot all of them; hunting is a sport and you should choose the finest specimen to compete against.


You should be recording all your activities when hunting, this includes animals seen, those shot and where; as well as wind speed and temperatures. This can be a useful aid in the off season months when you will have the time to study these logs and see if there are any patterns which can be used.

You may find that some of the best specimens are found during the quiet time. This is usually the lunchtime period as hunters have shot in the morning and will shoot again later in the afternoon. Animals seem to understand that they are at less risk over lunchtime and you can find many excellent specimens during this time period.


Hunting requires a great deal of patience; you will need to choose a spot and set up your base; often remaining still for several hours waiting for your prey to walk past. This is why it is so important to have researched and checked out the best areas before you start hunting.


Staying still for long periods of time can cause your muscles to seize up making it extremely difficult to take the all important shot when you need to. It is essential to keep your muscles warm to avoid this issue and to build up your stamina doing simple exercises when not hunting; this will help to ensure you can take the right shot when you need to.

Blend in

This advice should be obvious but it is essential to blend into your surroundings as much as possible. Most animals monitor their surroundings by smell and movement.

If you are motionless and blend into the trees or hedges then you are much less likely to be spotted by your prey. The closer you can get the easier and more effective your shot will be.

The Right Weight

It is exceptionally important to practice in order to ensure that your first shot hits your target and is a lethal short; you rarely get a chance at a second. For a shot to be effective it should leave the bow with approximately thirty five pounds of force for small pray or at least forty five for larger animals such as deer on hunting

If you are not yet able to handle this kind of power then it is best to practice until you can comfortably shoot this force over a range of distances.

The Right Bow

In order to be a successful hunter and consistently hit your prey you need a bow that is right for you. Although there are currently many people who suggest a smaller, lighter, bow is better for hunting; this is only because it is easier to carry.

In fact most bows are lighter than the average shotgun and can be carried easily by slinging them over your back. Instead of focusing on the heaviest or lightest bow, focus on finding one that you are comfortable with. You can then apply all your focus to the prey, not on holding your bow properly.


Hunting with a bow and arrow may seem like an ancient and almost pointless sport since there are now extremely powerful hand guns which can do the same job. However, they will not compete with the satisfaction of having shot an animal with your own skill and effort.

A bow and arrow require a much higher level of skill as you must be closer to your prey and you need to learn to sneak up on them. In fact, it is a very different kind of hunting to undertaking it with a gun.

Using a traditional bow and arrow also has the benefit of being an option regardless of what is going on around you. If you find yourself lost in the wilderness or trying to survive after a huge disaster you can fashion a bow from a branch and a piece of string and even create arrows from the trees. Knowing how to shoot and hunt with a bow will then become a vital survival tactic.

Of course, there is also the satisfaction of having learned to hunt successfully with a bow and arrow. One of the reasons that many existing hunters choose to switch from firearms to bow hunting is the superior challenge. It is infinitely more difficult to shoot an animal and kill it with a bow than with a gun. Not only is the challenge of becoming extremely accurate with a bow.

You also need to learn to shoot with enough power to put an arrow through skin, tissue, muscle and sometimes even bone. Alongside this you need to be able to locate and track animals as well as getting close to them without notifying them of your presence; a challenge in any circumstances! It is also significant to some hunters that this is the same method which was used by hunters many years ago as a means of survival.

Of course, the modern bow hunter has a huge array of options regarding the type of bow and the accessories which can be used to make their hunting more enjoyable and more successful. These can be adapted to suit your own style and shooting abilities.

Although most hunters will recommend a compound bow for hunting as it is extremely accurate and can be held in the firing position with minimal effort.

However, if you are new to shooting a bow and arrow then it can be beneficial to start with a recurve bow and learn to shoot at a club, or in your garden with static targets before you progress to the more difficult and complicated compound bow. Equally, if you prefer shooting with a recurve, or even a long bow then there is no reason why you cannot use one of these for hunting.

The one bow that you should consider carefully before hunting with it is the crossbow; many places have strict regulations regarding where and when this type of bow can be used.

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