You took your bow to the archery shop, and it’s now tuned and shooting tight, consistent groups in the bull’s-eye. Your calendar shows you’re inching closer to some vacation time. Yes, bowhunting season is near. Which animal will be in your sights this fall?
From Alaska’s ice caps to Florida’s steamy swamps, bowhunters enjoy memorable big-game hunting opportunities. In fact, record-keeping organizations recognize 29 big-game species in North America. The Pope & Young Club is bowhunting’s official record keeper. The organization uses the same scoring system that the Boone and Crockett Club uses for gun hunters. For example, certified scorers measure deer by their antlers, sheep by their horns and bears by their skulls. Click here for an in-depth look at how animals are scored.
Individual animals and the bowhunters who arrowed them can qualify for the records program by meeting measurement standards set by the two clubs. Besides being a great accomplishment for bowhunters, these records provide important data for conservation efforts. Both clubs share the information with wildlife agencies, which use the data to help monitor and analyze big-game populations.
Gathering and analyzing all that information is a grueling task for the Pope & Young Club each year, but it provides insights into which species get the most hunting pressure. Based on that data, let’s look at North America’s most bowhunted big-game animals.
White-tailed deer are easily the favorite quarry of everyday North American big-game bowhunters. Since the Pope & Young Club’s founding in 1961, nearly 60,000 whitetails have entered the club’s record book. Whitetails are found in nearly every state in the Lower 48 because they thrive in countless habitats. Their adaptability and large numbers make them ideal quarry for bowhunters. Their wariness, sharp eyesight and keen sense of smell also make them a supreme challenge. Many bowhunters learn their craft by sitting in treestands awaiting whitetails, and that’s a challenge that never gets old.
Though not as widespread as whitetails, black bears also inhabit much of North America, making them a popular bowhunting quest. Some states even offer spring and autumn bowhunting seasons for black bears. The spring season is especially popular, possibly because bowhunters have limited opportunities that time of year, and black bears are a unique, plentiful quarry with thick fur coats from their winter slumber.
The piercing bugle of a bull elk in September provides the ultimate sensation for many bowhunters. The bow season for elk usually falls during the rut, which creates exciting, action-packed bowhunting. Bowhunters use many tricks to try to get into arrow range. Whether they wait by wallows, or use calls to imitate bulls with bugles or cows with mews, bowhunters must make the most of their hunting skills.
Pronghorn antelope live on the prairie, which can provide a unique bowhunting experience. “Speed goats,” as they’re often called, usually require bowhunters to ditch treestands for ground blinds. Many states hold their pronghorn season in late summer, which can be hot and dry. Those conditions make it productive to wait inside a ground blind near waterholes. Other bowhunters spot and stalk pronghorns, which is especially challenging. Crawling through low-growing prairie plants and ground-hugging cacti requires extreme stealth and even a decoy.
Although they aren’t as popular as whitetails, mule deer are still one of North America’s most hunted big-game species. Many bowhunters target big muleys in the early season while their antlers are in velvet. Big muleys also live in the high country, which makes for ruggedly beautiful scenery. And although most bowhunters prefer treestands for whitetails, they primarily spot and stalk muleys. Either way, bowhunters who target both deer species usually experience vastly different hunts.
One reason those five species are so popular with North America’s bowhunters is that they inhabit large areas of the country and provide lots of lean, tasty meat. That’s why they also provide the bulk of entries into the P&Y and B&C record books. Meanwhile, some of the least hunted big-game animals in the record books are bison, polar bears and tule elk, all of which have less than 100 submissions in P&Y records.
Then again, few people take up bowhunting just to get their name in a record book. Bowhunting provides plenty of exciting reasons to pursue game animals, whether they’re bears, deer, squirrels or ruffed grouse. In fact, bowfishing is also increasingly popular.
No matter which species you bowhunt this season, good luck and enjoy the chase!