Photo Credit: John Hafner

Bowhunting Encyclopedia: Know Your Terms

  Taylor Walston   BH101 Know-HowFeatured   April 26, 2018

Are you just starting out in bowhunting, and trying to understand its important terms? We’ve compiled an encyclopedia of the necessary technical terms you’ll need as you familiarize yourself with this exciting sport. Some terms are basic information, some cover serious topics, and some are just plain fun.

The one thing you’ll always need when shooting a bow, don’t forget your arrows! Photo Credit: John Hafner



These aerodynamic projectiles are shot from bows and strike their targets with force. Quality arrows are essential to bowhunting. They’re made from various materials, but today’s most popular arrows are built from carbon fibers.

Arrow Rest/Arrow Shelf

These launch platforms support the arrow on the bow and keep it in place while bowhunters draw and release.



A bow is the powerful weapon you’ll use while hunting. Today’s most common bows are compounds, crossbows, recurves and longbows. All of these bows are good choices for bowhunting, but all hunters develop personal preferences based on their hunting style.


Broadheads are arrow points equipped with razor-sharp blades that inflict massive hemorrhaging in the bowhunter’s prey. Broadhead models come in three categories: fixed-blade, replaceable-blade and mechanical. The blades on fixed-blade and replaceable-blade broadheads remain fixed and deployed at all times. The blades on mechanical broadheads maintain low profiles during flight for maximum speed and accuracy, and then deploy to a maximum cutting width upon impact.

Bow Press

A bow press is a large shop tool that holds the bow and reduces tension on its bowstring by pushing the bow limbs inward. Each bow is unique, so it’s important to use the right press for your bow based on its limbs, measurements and proportions.

Brace Height

A bow’s brace height is the measurement from the grip to the bowstring when the bow is undrawn (in the relaxed position). Brace heights greatly determine how long the arrow stays on the bowstring during launch. Bows with short brace heights of 6 inches or less keep the arrow on the bowstring longer, requiring the archer to maintain proper form longer.

Cams are cog-like, highly engineered wheels at the end of each bow limb on compound bows. Cams transfer power and inertia from the limbs to the bowstring and, ultimately, to the arrow when it’s shot. Photo Credit: Shannon Rikard.



Camouflage clothing that hunters wear or “paint” on their faces help them blend into the landscape while bowhunting. Camo colors are typically green, beige, brown and black. Camo patterns create a swirled mesh of colors to mimic the natural backgrounds of trees, leaves, brush and other surroundings.

Climbing Treestands

Climbing treestands, or “climbers,” provide bowhunters a high vantage point by helping them climb a tree safely and securely to their chosen height. Most climbers also have a built-in seat that makes the climb less strenuous, and let bowhunters sit and watch for prey from an elevated vantage point.


Cams are cog-like, highly engineered wheels at the end of each bow limb on compound bows. Cams transfer power and inertia from the limbs to the bowstring and, ultimately, to the arrow when it’s shot.


Cables connect to the bowstring on compound bows, and work with the bow’s cams or wheels to help the archer draw the bow and transfer power from the limbs to the arrow when the shot is released.

Cable Guard

The cable guard consists of small rollers or a rod perpendicular to the riser that keep a compound bow’s cables out of the arrow’s line of fire when the archer releases each shot.

Cable Slide

The cable slide is a plastic or Teflon holder that slides along the cable rod while holding the cables away from the arrow’s path. Cable slides are made from materials that reduce friction to ensure smooth operation.

Compound Bow

A compound bow uses a levering system of cables and pulleys to bend the limbs, generating and storing more power than can be produced by conventional bows. Only compound bows have cams, pulleys, wheels and cables.


A crossbow features a bow that’s mounted horizontally across the forend of a shoulder-mounted stock. The top of the stock contains a groove for the arrow, and beneath is a trigger mechanism for releasing the shot.


Draw Weight

A bow’s draw weight is measured by the number of pounds of force required by the archer to pull a recurve or longbow to full draw, or to where a compound bow lets off to a low holding weight.


The D-loop is a cord that attaches to a compound bow’s bowstring at the arrow’s nocking point. D-loops apply even pressure along the string when a release aid is used to draw the bow.



To add some “English” to your shot is to push or pull your bow arm when you shoot, trying to compensate for a flaw in your shooting form or technique. The intention of applying “English” to the shot is to guide the arrow to the bull’s-eye, but it usually causes inconsistent results.

Fletching can be made from feathers or soft plastic materials, and can be as decorative as you want. Larger fletching reduces arrow speeds, and smaller fletching increases it. Photo Credit: John Hafner



These are the vanes or feathers at the end of the arrow, about an inch in front of the nock, at the opposite end from the arrow point. Fletching helps the arrow fly straight. Fletching can be made from feathers or soft plastic materials, and can be as decorative as you want. Larger fletching reduces arrow speeds, and smaller fletching increases it.

Field Points

Field points are commonly considered “practice tips.” They screw into the front of the arrow, and are available in many sizes, weights and shapes.


Hunting Guide

Someone who helps direct your bowhunt and maintains safety during a hunt. Those new to bowhunting should consider hiring or working with a guide until they’re comfortable in the woods, forest or mountains; and adept at finding game. Even experienced bowhunters regularly use guides when hunting new areas or animals they don’t hunt regularly.


A unit of measurement used to weigh an arrow and its components, such as nocks, points, inserts and broadheads. Arrows are weighed using a grain-per-inch, or GPI, rating.


The grip is located in the bow’s riser, and it’s what the shooter holds during the shot. Grips are removable and adjust to preference.


To “gunch” is when your mind thinks you released the arrow, but your fingers didn’t let it go. You instinctively flinch, or gunch.

Hogs and feral pigs can be considered in the same term especially when they reach trophy sized proportions. Photo Credit: John Hafner



Although a large feral pig is a true hog, the term also describes any large game animal reaching trophy proportions.


Idler Wheel

This wheel is only found on single-cam compound bows, and is mounted atop the upper limb where the top cam would otherwise go. The idler wheel connects to the bowstring but not the cables.


A hollow piece of threaded aluminum that’s epoxied into the arrow’s front opening. Archers then screw target points, field points or broadheads into it.


Judo Point

This arrow tip is designed for bowhunting small game. It’s fortified with spring wires, and kills largely with shock and blunt force.


Kentucky Windage

Bowhunters shift their aiming point right or left to account for windy conditions, knowing the wind will push the arrow from its intended course.

Kisser Button

Bowhunters add this soft-plastic attachment to the bowstring just above their fingers on a recurve/longbow, or the D-loop on a compound bow. Kisser buttons provide a fixed point when holding at draw. After drawing their bow, archers press the kisser button to their lips for an extended “kiss,” which ensures a consistent anchor point every time.


Hunting License

A state-issued paper or electronic document that shows you’re allowed to hunt a specified animal in a particular state.


Limbs are flexible, fiberglass-based composite planks that attach to the bow’s riser and support its cam/wheel system. Bow limbs also store and release energy during the shot sequence. Limbs are built with specific weight ranges, and archers can set their bow at any weight within the limbs’ specified range. For example, 50- to 60-pound limbs can be drawn at any weight between 50 and 60 pounds. Archers can replace bow limbs as their preferred draw weight changes.


A longbow is similar to a recurve, but its limbs remain straight all the way to their tips. A longbow is roughly as tall as the person using it.

Mounts include full-shoulder (as seen above), European mounts and simple skull-plate mounts. Photo Credit: Shane Indrebo



A “mount” is the part of an animal that bowhunters preserve and display in their home or office. This includes full-shoulder mounts, European skull mounts and simple skull-plate mounts.

Mechanical Release

A mechanical release helps bowhunters pull the bowstring to full draw and then release it cleanly for more accurate shots. The release wraps or attaches around the archer’s wrist, and then its jaws attach to the bowstring or D-Loop. To release the shot, the archer squeezes the release’s trigger.



The nock is a plastic- or carbonate-based piece that inserts into the back end of the arrow behind the fletching. This nock anchors the arrow into the “nocked” position on the bowstring.

Nocking Point

The nocking point is the spot on the bowstring where the archer nocks the arrow to ensure a clean release and smooth flight. A nocked arrow forms a nearly 90-degree angle between itself and the bowstring.



This condition results when a bowstring is too short for the bow.


Paper Tuning

This bow-tuning technique assesses the launch characteristics of the arrow by shooting it through a taut piece of paper at very close range. If the arrow is flying straight upon release, it should slice straight lines through the paper. Jagged or torn lines indicate flight inconsistencies.



Quivers hold the archer’s arrows, either by locking them in place individually with flexible grips, or by encasing them in a belt-hung container or upright tube on the floor or ground. Bow quivers mount solidly to the bow, but can be temporarily removed as needed.


A quarrel, or bolt, are other names for a crossbow arrow.

When strung, the recurve’s limbs arc back toward the archer. Recurve limbs store more power than do straight limbs. Photo Credit: Shane Indrebo



A recurve bow has no pulleys, and its limbs arc away from the archer when the bow is relaxed. When strung, the recurve’s limbs arc back toward the archer. Recurve limbs store more power than do straight limbs.


The riser is a bow’s long, central section, and both of its ends anchor the limbs. Most risers today are made from machined aluminum. Bows with longer risers tend to be more stable at full draw.



Bowsights provide archers with specific aiming points, and attach to the riser just above the arrow shelf. Modern bowsights use fiber-optic pins, crosshairs or laser dots to ensure greater accuracy.


The stabilizer screws into the bow at the front of the riser just below the grip. Stabilizers absorb vibrations and improve the bow’s balance. They come in several sizes and shapes, and are built from many materials.



The target is the arrow’s destination and stopping point when it’s released. Targets can be mounted against a wall, or set outside in the backyard. Some targets resemble game animals like deer or bears to make practice more realistic.

Tiller Measurement

The tiller measurement is taken from the point where the bow limb meets the riser, and then backward to the bowstring along a perpendicular line. Conduct this measurement on the top and bottom limbs. If the bow was properly built and measured, the measurements should be identical.


Tags usually come with a regular license when hunters are pursuing big-game animals like deer, elk, moose and pronghorn. Most states require hunters to tag each animal they shot to show that it was legally hunted. Hunters can only pursue animals for which they have tags.



Bowhunters strive to keep animals upwind of their location so the wind always carries human odors away from the animal’s sensitive nose. Animals downwind of the hunter usually spook instantly when smelling human odors. Stay alert to changing wind directions. Do not let the wind pick up your scent and carry it to potential quarry. One alerted to human presence, animals seldom offer a shot.


This condition results when a bowstring is too long for the bow.

Vane fletchings are often identified with soft-plastic fins, and always available in various colors. Photo Credit: adventurous bowhunter blog.



The soft-plastic fin at an arrow’s back end. Most arrows carry three or four vanes to ensure stable, accurate flight.



This commonly used material is still used to make bows and arrows.

Welsh Longbow

This powerful medieval bow measures about 6 feet tip to tip, and was used primarily by the English from the 1300s through the 1400s.


X Marks the Spot

Trying to find deer is much like hunting treasure. It’s important to find high-traffic areas where deer feed or bed nearly every day. By following deer tracks while scouting, you’ll often find they lead to a hot “X.”



The yoke is a Y-shaped control cable that attaches to the outside of a compound bow’s top limb at the axle pin.

Yoke Tuning

Archers adjust both sides of the yoke to ensure the bowstring’s linear trajectory when it momentarily separates from the idler wheel at full draw.


This type of wood is traditionally used to make bows.


Zip Tie

Bowhunters often use these thin plastic strips to attach a game tag to an animal after harvesting it.

Unit or Zone

Both words define specific areas where you can bowhunt. These scientifically prescribed units and zones often have different bag limits and season dates.

We hope this encyclopedia helped you learn and understand more bowhunting terms. Don’t be alarmed if you feel overwhelmed. It’s a lot of information to absorb, but the more you bowhunt and hang around archery shops, the faster you’ll grasp its terminologies. And the better you understand the lingo, the more you’ll be inspired to hit the woods this season!

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