As a first-time bowhunter, you’ll probably get a lot of advice from friends, the internet and even strangers. However, the best advice usually comes from those with years of experience and hundreds of bowhunting adventures under their belts. We spoke to lifelong bowhunter and rock ’n’ roll legend Ted Nugent to get the best advice for you.
Nugent is 72 and has bowhunted since childhood. He mentors thousands of people annually through events, his Facebook page, his Ted Nugent Kamp for Kids started in 1989 and programs like Pass It On and Big Brothers Big Sisters of America.
Nugent is full of stories and advice, and he willingly shares both to help beginners learn to navigate the bowhunting woods with stealth, patience and passion. Here are his six tips for first-time bowhunters.
1. Understand the Seriousness of the Act (but Have Fun, Too)
Nugent said the goal for most bowhunters is to kill an animal. “It’s a serious business,” he said. “You’re not going after foam. You’re after a life. You must embrace the serious business of taking a life and slow down to concentrate on your shot placement. One of the greatest heartbreaks in life is to wound an animal.”
At the same time, Nugent said, bowhunting is a really enjoyable and rewarding experience, so remember to have fun, laugh at yourself and embrace each moment.
2. Practice Strategically and Regularly
Nugent shoots 30 to 40 arrows daily. He said it teaches him patience and discipline, and it helps prepare him for the woods, but he encourages beginners to practice as they would hunt.
“Don’t practice like it’s a range,” he said. “Don’t just nock an arrow, pull it back and shoot. Practice like a deer is looking for you. Nock an arrow without looking at the string. Lift the bow when a deer would turn its head. Come to full draw as gracefully and smoothly as you can. There’s nothing wrong with a casual arrow fling session, but be careful not to make that your standard operating procedure.”
Your standard operating procedure should be to move like a deer is looking at you, so you’re in the right mental state when you’re afield. “Then, when you go to the woods, what might be called good luck was actually proper preparation,” Nugent said. Practicing regularly and strategically helps you gain confidence in your skills and ability, too.
3. Slow Down, Be Stealthy
According to Nugent, the most important instruction for beginners is to go very slow.
“Go into the woods, swamps, fields, without the intent to hunt during the offseason, and learn to slow down to the pace of nature,” he said. “If you don’t slow down as a bowhunter, you’ll end up buying chicken. (You must) return to a primal pace, a pure predatorship and state of awareness. Once you learn to take a quiet, stealthy, cautious, predator-like step, you’ll be better prepared to get close to animals, understand animals and understand our relationship with them.”
Nugent said people who hurry to their stand likely miss signs, encounters and therefore opportunities. Everything you do when you’re bowhunting must be done slowly and stealthily so animals aren’t alerted, alarmed or spooked. Nugent said to “become one with the pulse of nature. Your reward for going slow is a close and noninvasive relationship with animals.”
4. Be Observant and Adapt
“I’ve learned a lot of lessons by watching deer I’ve decided I’m not going to shoot,” Nugent said. “Even though I’ve killed a lot of deer, I get skunked plenty. They’re constantly teaching me.”
Nugent said deer have a sixth sense, and nature has an incredible alarm network humans haven’t figured out. Although these things make it challenging to arrow an animal, being observant and adapting to your surroundings can help you achieve success.
5. Expect Frustration, Be Resilient
Nugent said all bowhunters should expect — and also embrace — frustration because that’s how you improve.
“Bowhunting is obsessive because you can’t wait to apply the lesson you just learned to your next setup,” he said. “Bowhunting is so difficult that you probably won’t bag anything for a long time. The frustration level is the challenge. It’s the man in the arena. You stumble, but you get back up, brush yourself off and get back into the fight. That’s what bowhunting instills. It shows you have to keep trying and can’t give up. It’s a very valuable life lesson.”
New hunters will likely make a lot of mistakes. Nugent said he occasionally makes mistakes at 72. Bowhunters who can acknowledge, embrace and learn from their mistakes, as well as those who persist and push past difficulties, are the ones who persevere.
“I have all the knowledge I need to kill a deer, but it doesn’t guarantee squat,” Nugent said. “A deer is way better adapted at evading me than I am at killing him. It may be difficult, but when you pull it off correctly, it’s immeasurably rewarding. The more difficult the task, the more rewarding the end product.”
6. Bowhunt with Someone
“If someone wants to become a beginner bowhunter, get all your friends to become beginners with you,” Nugent said. Invite and include anyone who wants to try bowhunting to do it with you, including your friends, family members (kids, significant other or parents), neighbors, co-workers, etc. Then, you can learn together, hold each other accountable and help one another get a deer out of the woods, field-dress it and butcher it. Plus, it’s just more fun to share your experiences with someone else.
If you can’t convince your nonhunting friends to try bowhunting, don’t worry. Bowhunting alone has its challenges, but it’s also very rewarding and empowering. If solo missions aren’t your thing, find a bowhunting mentor.
Use Nugent’s tips and the following articles to prepare yourself for upcoming bowhunting adventures.