Bowhunting is fun, exciting and challenging, but it also requires ethical, responsible behavior at all times. True hunters know what’s right and wrong, and act accordingly. They respect nonhunters, their fellow hunters, and the many natural resources that make bowhunting possible.
In other words, bowhunters hold themselves accountable and follow a code that’s mostly unwritten. Beginning hunters who wish to fulfill those obligations should follow six basic rules of respectful, respectable bowhunting.
1. Know the Regulations
Is it legal to bowhunt over bait? What are your state’s legal hunting hours? Does your state specify a minimum draw weight for bows? Must bowhunters wear blaze-orange clothing during gun season? These questions address just a few hunting regulations that vary by state and location. In fact, some states have wildlife-management areas, or WMAs, with their own regulations for antler points and size. Likewise, if you hunt private lands, you might have to follow additional requirements enforced by a landowner. Failure to follow a state or jurisdiction’s regulations might trigger fines, penalties, license suspensions or even jail.
It’s your responsibility to know, follow and understand local, state and federal hunting rules and regulations wherever you hunt. Remember the phrase “Know before you go.” Visit the state wildlife agency’s website where you hunt to learn the applicable laws and regulations.
2. Know Your Target Species
Hunters must learn all they can about their quarry to get within bow range. Read books and articles, and watch videos and TV shows to learn the animal’s habits, and its preferred habitats and food sources. Learn your quarry’s senses so you can outsmart it. For example, hunters must cover their scent to deceive the white-tailed deer’s specialized noses, while turkey hunters must camouflage every inch of their bodies to defeat the bird’s keen eyes. You must also know your quarry’s anatomy to ensure you place lethal shots to its vitals. Many online resources provide in-depth information on shot placement.
3. Be Prepared
Create a hunt plan and prepare for the unexpected. Check the weather and pack essential gear. Determine where you’ll hunt and tell someone your whereabouts, just in case you get lost or suffer an accident. Make sure your friend, loved one or other point-person knows when to expect your return, so they know when to send help or contact the authorities. Also know what you’ll do if you shoot a deer or wound one. How long should you wait before tracking? Will you track it alone? If you find it, how will you haul it out? Will you donate the meat, get it processed or cut it up and package it yourself? The more you prepare, the better positioned you’ll be for a safe, productive hunt.
4. Know Your Equipment
You need the proper equipment for bowhunting, but you must also know how to use it. Responsible hunters practice with their hunting equipment to learn its strengths and become comfortable with it. Broadheads fly differently than field points. Practice shooting your bow with gear you’ll use during hunting season. These efforts ensure accuracy for clean, ethical shots. You must know your effective shooting range, and only shoot when your quarry is within range. You must also decide whether to use a ground blind, climbing stand or hang-on treestand; and know how it works and how to set it up safely.
Responsible hunters also maintain their equipment. Learn how to wax bowstrings, sharpen knives and inspect arrows for cracked or frayed carbon fibers. Charge your phone, GPS unit and other electronic devices; and carry fresh batteries for flashlights, headlamps and rangefinders. Properly functioning equipment gives you peace of mind.
5. Leave No Trace
Leave No Trace is a nonprofit group built on seven core principles that help people enjoy the outdoors responsibly. Those concepts apply to all recreational activities, including hunting. Good land stewards essentially leave no evidence they were in the outdoors. That means extinguishing campfires, picking up after yourself, disposing of waste, removing treestands at season’s end, and leaving rocks, plants and other natural items as you found them. By following “Leave No Trace” principles you’ll minimize your impact on wildlife and wild places.
6. Be a Hunting Advocate
Hunting enjoys widespread acceptance, so don’t jeopardize it. The Quality Deer Management Association’s 2014 Whitetail Report, for instance, found 79 percent of Americans approve of hunting. However, only about 4 percent of the U.S. population age 16 or older hunts, according to a 2016 U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service survey. Hunters must welcome and encourage nonhunters to participate. More hunters means more financial contributions for improving fishing, hunting and wildlife-associated recreation. Hunters play an important role in conservation, thanks to license fees, and federal excise taxes paid on firearms, ammunition and archery gear specified by the Wildlife Restoration Act.
All of these efforts are about making a difference as bowhunting ambassadors. But don’t stop there. Try to mentor and recruit five participants each year to grow bowhunting’s ranks. Your efforts help create a stronger, more unified archery and bowhunting community.