Spring is a season of growth and new beginnings. The days become longer. Flowers start to bloom. People do spring cleaning to get a fresh start. It’s also a great time to jump start some personal growth by getting started bowhunting.
Whether you’re new to hunting or just new to bowhunting, following these steps starting in spring will have you ready to climb into a treestand by fall.
Most states require you to complete a hunter education course before you can legally go afield to hunt. Some states also require a bowhunter education course. The National Bowhunter Education Foundation is the certifying agency for the latter. Successful completion will earn you an International Bowhunter Education Program certification, called an IBEP card.
The course covers basic hunting safety, ethics, tactics and survival. But it also includes bowhunting-specific information like shot placement, blood trailing and treestand safety. Your local wildlife management agency will be able to tell you what’s required before you can hunt, as well as info on course availability. In many cases, the curriculum is available online, with a field-day component. In some states or under special circumstances, a proficiency shoot is also required.
Once you’re legal to hunt, it’s time to make sure the rest of the paperwork is in place. The first step to planning a hunt should be reviewing the latest hunting regulations in the area you plan to hunt. Most states require bowhunters to purchase a hunting license in addition to tags for individual species. If you plan to hunt your home state, you can usually purchase a hunting license and tags over-the-counter. This means there’s no deadline or limited availability, and you can purchase everything you need at any time from many locations.
However, if you’re interested in hunting a different state or a limited-entry area, you might have to do a bit more work. Many states require hunters who don’t live in the state, called nonresident hunters, to apply for licenses and draw tags well before the season starts. Then there’s a drawing to see who is awarded the nonresident licenses and tags. You might also have to apply for a permit for some species, or if you’re interested in hunting a limited-entry area. Some states also have special bow-only hunts that require you to submit an application in spring or early summer. So, if you’re interested, make sure you take notice of the deadline.
The quickest and most effective way to learn the foundations of proper shooting form and execution is to take a lesson from a certified archery instructor. You can find a list of archery shops in your area here. There are many benefits to taking a lesson from a certified instructor. Mainly, they’re trained to teach. Unlike most friends and significant others, instructors know how to walk you through the proper step sequence so you execute every shot perfectly. They also know how to spot areas with room for improvement and how to coach you through the fix. Plus, let’s face it, if you’re working with a professional, there will likely be fewer moments of frustration for both parties. And if you start out with a good foundation, you’ll get better much more quickly.
Bowhunting requires a lot of gear, from binoculars to backpacks and boots to broadheads. This can be intimidating for the first-timer, especially if you’re also new to hunting. However, there are ways to gather the gear you need without breaking the bank. Ask family and friends who hunt if they have extra. Most hunters upgrade their gear after a few years in the field, so they might have backpacks, binoculars or clothing they aren’t using. If you won’t be hunting at the same time, you might also be able to borrow some of their current items. Just be sure to return everything in working order in time for their hunt.
The one critical item you need to get well in advance of the season is a bow. You can’t just borrow one and expect to use it on a hunt – unless you’re borrowing it for the entire season. A bow must be properly set up for the individual shooting it. It must be the proper draw length and weight. It’s important to have an archery technician help you find a bow that fits and set it up. They’ll also be able to help you find the right release, and they’ll cut arrows of the correct size to fit the bow. Having the right setup means you’ll be safe and have a better shot at success.
Bowhunters need to practice quite a bit with a target before they should even think of aiming at an animal. Before going hunting with a bow, you must feel confident in your ability to hit where you’re aiming. Learning to shoot in spring gives you plenty of long, sunny days to practice before fall rolls around. You should be able to find places to practice locally. If you have enough space, set up a backyard archery range. Otherwise, many archery shops have indoor and/or outdoor ranges. Local archery clubs also have ranges where you can practice.
Even if you’re new to archery, take a shot at a 3D tournament. This is one of the best ways to prepare for fall, as these tournaments simulate bowhunting. You walk through the woods and aim for the vitals of foam wildlife targets at varying distances. While some archers shoot these tournaments competitively, many just use them as an excuse to practice, have fun and hang out with friends. But the pressure of shooting in a tournament atmosphere can be great practice for shooting under pressure in the field.
Summer is a great time to scout for a location to hunt in the fall. There’s a lot of trial and error that can go into finding a hunting hot spot. Many hunters streamline the process by e-scouting, which means they look at online maps to narrow down places to scout in person. Boots-on-the-ground investigating is also important. Look for animal sign like beds, scat, tracks, rubs and trails. You’ll find opportunities for bowhunting on both public and private land, but the latter requires you to ask the landowner before you hunt. Here are some tips for asking for permission.
Beginning your bowhunting journey might feel overwhelming at first, but by giving yourself plenty of time to learn and taking it step by step, you’ll be ready for your first season this fall.