What do bowhunters do? They try to shoot an animal with their bow and arrow, obviously. But along the way they also get skunked, make mistakes and spend a lot of time scouting, practicing and planning.
Many hunting shows and experienced hunters make hunting look easy, which gives first-time bowhunters an unrealistic expectation of what might happen when they go hunting. Unfortunately, you won’t always see big bucks and have an easy shot opportunity. We’re here to give you an accurate representation of what you might encounter your first time afield. Consider these situations so you can prepare appropriately.
- You might not see deer. Wild animals are mysterious, elusive, unpredictable creatures. No one can guarantee you’ll see deer. But, if you did your due diligence scouting and you know deer are in the area, don’t give up if you don’t see anything on your first outing. Think about the reasons a deer might not have ventured into the area. Was the wind right? Were you as scent-free as possible? Was a storm in the area? Did their food source run dry? All these factors can affect deer movement. If everything was in your favor, it might just be an off day. Or, you might discover deer use or pass through the area at a specific time. If that’s the case, you can adjust. If you don’t see deer after a few hunts, you must adapt again to improve your chances of success. That’s what all good hunters do.
- You might get turned around on the way to or from your stand. You’re probably familiar with the area you plan to hunt. You likely scouted it multiple times, checked trail cameras in the area and hung your stand, but have you ever traveled to it in the dark? Navigating the woods before sunrise or after sunset is tricky. Everything looks different with a flashlight. To help find your way, use a compass, use reflective trail markers, carry a backup flashlight and locate landmarks along your routes, like gnarly trees, large stumps, fallen trees, or bodies of water. Don’t panic if you get lost. Instead, take a breath and check to see if you have reception. If so, you can call for help or use the GPS feature to travel to a nearby road or building for assistance. Otherwise, pull out your compass and walk in the same direction until you find something familiar.
- You might overpack or forget something. There’s a lot of advice surrounding what items bowhunters should take to the woods. Some people cling to each suggestion, while others ignore the recommendations altogether. Those strategies usually result in overpacking or forgetting something important. Either way, the more you hunt, the more you’ll discover which items you prefer to pack. Binoculars? Pruning shears? A knife? Snacks? Bug protection? Take note of the items you use and remove the ones you don’t. If you forgot something or find yourself wanting something you don’t have (we’re looking at you, toilet paper), make a note to pack it next time. In the meantime, get creative. For example, mud can replace a face mask or face camo and facing the sun can warm you like an extra layer. By the end of the season, your backpack will be filled with practical items you use every hunt.
- You might mistake a squirrel walking in the leaves as a deer because they sound similar. Every bowhunter in existence can probably tell you about a time they heard a “deer” walking through the woods. To prepare for the shot, they carefully stood up and positioned themselves in the animal’s direction only to see a squirrel, turkey, coyote or other animal emerge from the bushes. It happens pretty often. It takes years of practice and time afield to accurately differentiate what each creature sounds like as it moves through the woods. If you wrongly guess the animal headed your way, laugh at yourself and try to study its cadence so you can make a more educated guess next time.
- You might experience an adrenaline rush. Many (new and veteran) bowhunters get nervous, excited or both when they hear or see animals afield. Some people experience an adrenaline rush where they start shaking, sweating and breathing heavily as a response. It’s normal, but it can make drawing a bow and shooting an arrow difficult. Target practice is one thing, but aiming at a living, breathing animal is another. Your shot carries many potential consequences. Give yourself time to calm down and regain composure before you shoot. Remember to breathe, focus on your form and slowly squeeze your release trigger. It’s OK to let the animal walk if you’re too wound up. You’ll likely have more opportunities throughout the season.
- If you shoot a deer, you might see a lot of blood — or you might not. After shooting an animal, remember where it was standing when you took the shot and which path it took as it ran off. Depending on where you hit the animal, you might not see much blood, especially right away. Don’t worry. The shot placement and angle can delay or inhibit bleeding. For example, if you hit a deer at a steep downward angle and the arrow doesn’t pass through the body cavity, the blood can build up inside, resulting in a sparse blood trail. Additionally, if you shoot an animal through the paunch (aka stomach), there aren’t many blood vessels in the area and the intestines can plug the entry and exit holes as it runs away, also making the blood trail difficult to find and follow. On the other hand, a shot to the lungs or heart typically results in a good blood trail. No matter how much blood you find, if you hit a deer, it’s your ethical obligation to search for the animal until you find it or can conclude it was a nonlethal shot. Bowhunting 360 has several articles about blood trailing.
No article, story, podcast or video will fully prepare you for what it’s like to bowhunt. Although these situations can give you some insight, most aspects of bowhunting are best learned through experience. So get out there, make mistakes and discover what the hype is all about.