My electronic rangefinder reads my target distance at 13 yards. The deer is broadside. I try to calm my nerves and slowly draw my bow. This is the most nervous I’ve ever been taking a shot. I aim, squeeze the trigger and watch my arrow hit its mark.
“Good shot,” the instructor says. The arrow hit where the heart would be, if the 3D plastic-foam deer had one. But by placing my shot in the target’s vitals, I’m one shot closer to earning my International Bowhunter Education Program certificate.
Marilyn Bentz is executive director of the National Bowhunter Education Foundation, the certifying agency for bowhunter education. “Watching the arrow fly and hit your quarry, and the fact that you’re so much closer, fuel a passion and emotional connection to bowhunting,” Bentz said.
By passionately promoting bowhunting through the NBEF, Bentz helps thousands of people become better bowhunters each year. NBEF established the IBEP certification curriculum, which is what hunters earn when completing the course.
These courses are available in all 50 states and 27 countries. Eleven states require bowhunters to be IBEP-certified: Alaska, Connecticut, Idaho, Maine, Montana, Nebraska, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, Rhode Island and Vermont. Courses are usually offered through a state’s wildlife-management agency.
Alaska also requires bowhunters to pass a proficiency test, which features several 3D targets at varying distances. Bowhunters must judge the distance (electronic rangefingers are encouraged), and then place an ethical shot on the “animal.” Some smaller jurisdictions require similar proficiency tests before bowhunting in urban areas, or on military bases and restricted federal lands.
The IBEP course covers many important topics, including basic hunter safety, before covering more advanced bowhunting techniques. The course also discusses ethics, gear selection, survival tips, shot placement, blood trailing and wildlife conservation.
“If you’re a new bowhunter, the course covers all your bases, plus things you may not even think about,” Bentz said. “Experienced bowhunters also take the course, and everybody comes away with something new.”
Besides safety instruction, the course seeks to improve bowhunters’ success rates. An in-depth section on shot selection teaches bowhunters where to place ethical shots, and when to pass on shots, depending on whether the animal stands broadside, quarters away or quarters toward. It also covers spot-and-stalk tactics, and tips for using treestands and ground blinds.
“You’ll become a better bowhunter because you’ll be safer, more ethical and more knowledgeable about your surroundings,” Bentz said. “And you’ll be a successful hunter when you have the satisfaction of bringing home meat for the table.”
Bowhunter education is available online, in person or through a combination of both, depending on where you live. The online curriculum costs $30, which you pay upon passing a final exam. The course is taught in chapters, and students take quizzes at the end of each chapter.
In states offering an online course and field day, the online portion covers about 75 percent of the course. The field day taught by certified instructors covers the rest. Some states require students to take the entire class in person. Fees vary.
Bowhunter education is anything but a boring day in a classroom, and field days are fun and interactive. The instructors are volunteer bowhunting experts who enjoying sharing their knowledge. Lessons include blood trailing, which teaches students about the “second hunt,” the term for tracking animals after you shoot.
“I almost compare it to walking into a forensic scene where you put all the pieces together,” Bentz said. The blood trail’s direction tells only part of the story. The color and consistency of blood on the arrow or ground helps reveal or confirm where your arrow struck. Bubbles in bright pinkish-red blood indicate a lung hit; while thick, dark red blood could be the liver. Blood tainted with green or brown debris is probably a gut shot.
When you know the animal’s wound, you can gauge how quickly it will die and how soon you can track and recover it. Knowing and executing lethal shots ensure short tracking jobs and quick recoveries.
“‘Plan your hunt, and hunt your plan,’ is one of our bowhunter education mantras,” Bentz said.
Bowhunter education is designed for everyone who bowhunts. Even seasoned hunters new to bowhunting will benefit from the course, which covers many unique aspects of bowhunting as well as safety and survival tips. It’s also not just for young people. Bowhunters of all ages take the course, but most students are 25 to 35.
I earned my IBEP certification at age 27, after I’d been gun-hunting nearly 15 years. I enrolled not only because it was required in Alaska, but because I knew it would make me a better hunter. It improved my confidence to go afield and make ethical shots.