What do you really need to bowhunt white-tailed deer?
The hunting market is saturated with products. Between advertisements and salespeople, it’s hard to differentiate between what you need and what the industry wants you to buy.
We spoke to Cliff Cadet, a 44-year-old first-time bowhunter from Queens, New York, to learn what gear he uses, and what he recommends other beginners buy if they’re on a budget.
“I went down the rabbit hole of podcasts and kept hearing about ‘this gear’ and ‘that gear’ and so on, and now I’m finding you don’t need everything they tell you to get,” he said.
Most bowhunters can successfully hunt with a few essentials. After one season of hunting, Cadet recommends the following essentials gear list:
- Bow and accessories (rest, stabilizer, sight): Bow packages include everything to set up a bow and are often cheaper than buying a bow and accessories separate. Click here for advice on buying a compound bow.
- Release aid: An index finger release is more beginner-friendly than a thumb release. Click here for tips on choosing a release aid.
- Arrows: Buy a dozen. You’ll likely lose or crack some during practice sessions.
- Field point tips and broadheads: Buy a pack of practice tips and a pack of broadheads to start. Make sure they weigh the same. Click here to determine if you should shoot fixed or expandable broadheads.
- Quiver: You need somewhere to safely store your arrows and broadheads when afield. Click here to learn about four different quiver styles.
- Bow case: Most states require archers to case their bows when they drive. If you plan to visit a nearby range or drive to a hunting property, you’ll need a case. Soft cases are cheap, but they’re not as durable or protective.
- Scent-free laundry detergent: Deer have an incredible sense of smell so you must control your human scent. Wash your hunting clothes in a scent-free detergent to eliminate odor.
- A few camo pieces (shirts/pants/facemask): Hunters only need to wear camo as their outer layer. They can layer regular clothes underneath for warmth. Buy a long sleeve-shirt, pants and facemask to start.
- Target: Every archer and bowhunter needs to practice. You can buy a target, make your own, or shoot at a nearby range.
- Hunting license: Buy your bowhunting license from the state wildlife agency’s website. It’s illegal to arrow deer without a hunting license. Click here to learn how to buy one.
That’s it. That’s all you really need to start bowhunting, Cadet said. Simply hunt from the ground and build a make-shift blind from your surroundings. Remember, if you arrow an animal, you’ll also need a knife to butcher the deer. Alternatively, you can take the deer to a processor, but that comes at a cost.
If you have room in your budget, consider the following items:
- Ground blind: Hunters can easily sit on the ground, but a pop-up ground blind helps conceal your movements. Plus, sitting in a chair in a blind is more comfortable than sitting on the ground.
- Flashlight: A beginner can use their phone as a flashlight, but phones die, especially if they’re being used for GPS or entertainment. Invest in a real flashlight (or headlamp).
- Boots: Beginners can wear regular shoes, hiking shoes, or rain boots in the woods during the early season, but they might need hunting boots when it gets cold or if they have to cross a waterway. As a Midwest hunter, Cadet considers his insulated, waterproof hunting boots his most valuable piece of equipment, aside from his bow and arrows.
On the contrary, Cadet said people told him to buy a backpack and a scent-eliminating device for his clothes, but he found he didn’t use either.
While splurge items aren’t necessary, they’re nice to bring along. According to Cadet, his splurge items would be:
- Full camo (waterproof): Cadet bought three camo shirts, a camo facemask and a pair of Army-green pants to start hunting. He uses old running clothes and sweatshirts to add layers when it gets cold. He hopes to splurge on a set of full waterproof camo to complete his wardrobe.
- Range finder: Cadet could identify 20 yards with his naked eye, so he only shot within 20 yards to ensure he made ethical shots. A range finder can confirm distances and instill confidence for longer shots. If you don’t have the budget for one, click here for tips on judging distances with your naked eye.
Hang and Hunt
If you’re not interested in bowhunting on the ground, you have to invest in a few more items, including:
- A treestand: Choose between a climbing stand, ladder stand, or a lock-on stand and climbing steps.
- Safety harness: Some treestands come with a basic safety harness. If they don’t, buy one separately.
- Lineman’s rope: Attach and anchor yourself to the tree as you climb with a lineman’s rope.
- Bow hanger: You can sit with your bow in your lap, but it’s more comfortable to hang it nearby. Screw-in bow hangers are helpful.
- Tow rope: It’s dangerous to climb a tree with your bow. Purchase a small diameter rope to attach to your stand. Then, tie your bow to it before you climb. Pull it up once you’re situated.
Cadet encourages first-time bowhunters to hunt on the ground their first year to confirm they like bowhunting. He said he learned a lot by bowhunting on the ground and seeing things from the animal’s point of view. If you decide you like bowhunting and want to try something new, buy the “hang and hunt” gear for the next year.
Even if you buy the bare minimum gear, you might spend around $500. However, it’s possible to save money. Consider these options:
- Ask to borrow or rent gear: Some archery shops rent gear. Ask your local pro shop if that’s an option. If not, ask hunters in your circle or town if they have any extra gear they’re willing to sell or give away. They might gift you a few items. You could also ask to borrow some items for your first few hunts.
- Shop sales and clearance racks: “Once I determined what I needed, I tried to get quality products for as cheap as possible,” Cadet said. Watch sales and clearance racks. Also consider second-hand stores and online marketplaces for used gear.
- Name brand/no-name brand: “You’ll likely find the same camo pattern on big name brands and no-name brands,” Cadet said. “If the no-name brand can do what a big-name brand can, go with the cheaper brand. If they’ll both get the job done, it doesn’t matter what the label says.”
- Do your research: “Do your research before you pull the trigger on anything,” Cadet said. “I bought the first bow package I saw. I didn’t even shoot it. With social media, you can find plenty of information on products. Determine if they’re ‘worth it’ before you buy.”
If you find you really like bowhunting, start saving so you can buy more items next year. You might decide to hang and hunt, splurge on a rangefinder, or agree to buy a grunt call, handsaw, deer attractant, or other items from the salesman at your local archery shop.
Whatever you do, don’t get overwhelmed. Remember, you can make do with minimal gear. If you assess your situation and find you want (or need) something beyond the basic list, start saving or add it to your Christmas wish list. Good luck!