Bowhunting is appealing for many reasons, including offering a deep connection to your food, time spent in the outdoors, and the opportunity to learn about nature and wildlife. But there are several steps to complete before you can get started.
Many of those steps will involve the two most important resources for a new bowhunter: your state wildlife agency and your local bow shop. Your state wildlife agency’s website has information on hunting laws, seasons and public lands open to hunting. Your archery shop is where you’ll go to learn how to shoot, buy your equipment and get advice from local bowhunters. Think of an archery shop as the hub of your local bowhunting community. Both of these resources will be vital in these first five steps.
Research the hunting seasons in your area and choose the game species you’d like to pursue. That information will inform your gear purchasing decisions, will give you a timeline on how long you have to prepare and will be important as you start researching areas to hunt. Most of this information can be found on your state wildlife agency’s website.
Archery is a big part of bowhunting, and taking an archery lesson at a pro shop will allow you to try the sport and ask any questions you have about archery or bowhunting. During your lesson, browse the shop’s selection of bows. You can continue taking lessons and using rental equipment until you’re ready to buy your first bow.
When you do buy a bow, stick with that local shop. While it might be tempting to hunt for deals online, a bow requires an expert technician to fit the bow to you, and you’ll want to try several options. The process of buying a bow takes a few hours and you’ll be shooting bows as part of that process. Make sure you block off plenty of time and come ready to shoot. Wear clothing that isn’t baggy, tie back long hair and wear closed-toe athletic shoes.
Bows are available in a variety of price ranges, so let the staff at the shop know your budget and they’ll select suitable options for you to test. You’ll shoot each bow to see which feels the most comfortable for you. After you make your selection, the staff will adjust the bow to fit you perfectly, and then they’ll tune the bow so it shoots accurately. Your next step is to choose accessories and arrows for the bow. Then, it’s off to the range where the staff will help you sight in your bow.
It’s a good idea to continue taking archery lessons to shorten your learning curve and prevent development of bad habits. A combination of regular practice and archery lessons will get you ready to make a critical shot come hunting season.
Most states require hunters to complete a hunter education course before buying a license, and some require an additional bowhunter safety course. These course requirements and options for fulfilling them will be listed on your state agency’s website. After you complete your hunter education course, you’re eligible to buy hunting licenses and permits. These can usually be purchased either online or from approved retailers — but again, it’s important to research the requirements in your state. Many big-game permits, for example, have application requirements, and so you might have to apply for a few seasons for certain species.
The surest way to find a place to hunt is by researching nearby public land. Some states have more options than others, but public hunting areas are typically listed on your state agency’s website. Regional biologists are excellent resources for learning about the best areas to find the animals you’re planning to hunt.
Securing permission to hunt private land can be more difficult but often more productive. Private lands vary from large farms to small properties on the outskirts of urban areas.
Both can be productive hunting locations, and to gain permission to hunt either you’ll need to do some legwork and be OK with being told “no.” Asking permission is a numbers game. Knocking on doors, writing letters and networking in your community are all ways to secure private land permission. If you ask 10 landowners to hunt their property, nine might say no, but if one says yes, you have a place to hunt.
You might feel nervous, even intimidated, asking strangers for permission to hunt their property. A little local knowledge can help, however. Landowners who are most receptive to hunting often have gardens, flowers and shrubbery annihilated by hungry deer. You’ll boost your access odds by demonstrating that you’re a responsible, respectful bowhunter. Knock on doors and tell property owners that you’re not selling anything, and that you want to discuss managing the deer herd.
Outline the services you provide and how you would safely bowhunt their property. By explaining and demonstrating that you’re safe, discreet and responsible, you’ll get most landowners to at least hear you out. That’s also a great time to explain the liability waiver that some state wildlife agencies provide for landowners who allow hunting access.
If you do secure permission, ask landowners to walk their properties with you, and ask where they see game animals. Also discuss logistics like field dressing, where you should park and if they want you to contact them before each hunt.
After you find a hunting location, explore it and look for animal sign, food sources and possible hunting spots. This is where the hunting portion of your journey actually begins. The key is understanding the game animal you choose to hunt. Learn its habits, preferred food sources at different times of year, how it moves through the terrain and the type of sign it leaves behind. Those key pieces of information will help you choose hunting spots with confidence.
Now you know the first five steps to start bowhunting, so don’t delay in getting started on them. Begin the process by finding an archery shop near you.