The best part about bowhunting might be all the unique species you can pursue, the wild places where they live, and the tactics used to hunt them. Adventure awaits for anyone who seeks it, and if you spend your days dreaming of the next hunt, this list of critters should be on your bowhunting bucket list.
Whitetail deer are among the most accessible of all big-game species. They can be found from Washington to Maine, and most places in between. Whitetail tags are generally affordable and can even be purchased over the counter in most states. Whitetails live in a wide range of habitats, which means there’s a variety of effective tactics for hunting them, including everything from aerial ambushes from treestands and saddles to spot-and-stalk hunting to calling and decoying.
The sound of a bull elk’s bugle echoing through the mountains is part of the quintessential Western bowhunting experience for many. Hunters might head out with a daypack on foot, ride horses for miles into the wilderness to set up primitive camps or something in between. Archery seasons usually coincide with the peak of the elk rut, when aggressive calling tactics are most effective. A bull elk bellowing bugles as he heads in your direction, seeking a fight, is sure to make even the most seasoned bowhunters shake in their boots with anticipation.
If you live on the East Coast and want an elklike experience at a fraction of the price, then Maryland’s sika deer are just what you’re looking for. Sika deer can be found on Maryland’s Eastern Shore, and they exhibit many of the same behavioral characteristics as elk especially in October, during the rut. They’re susceptible to calling, and because of their proximity to many larger cities, sika deer are an often-overlooked alternative to scratch the elk-hunting itch if you came up short in the tag drawing process.
Another icon of the American West, mule deer can be found in a variety of habitat types ranging from steep mountains to wide-open sage flats. Bowhunters can hunt mule deer annually, though you might have to travel across state lines to secure permits. Mule deer bucks are reclusive animals and masters at bedding in locations ideally suited to spotting or smelling approaching predators. Because of the vast areas they inhabit, mule deer hunting usually requires intensive glassing with a spotting scope or binoculars. Make sure you pack a good tripod, since it’s much easier to spot the flicker of an ear or glisten of an antler when your optics are smooth and steady.
If a tropical destination paired with exotic hunting opportunity sounds like your idea of a great vacation, keep reading. Axis deer are abundant across the Hawaiian Islands, which is all the reason you need to start planning a destination hunt for yourself. Enjoy R&R on the beach with the family, but don’t forget to take advantage of the opportunity to bowhunt axis deer. Since most of Hawaii is privately owned, you’ll need to plan your hunt accordingly, and likely purchase private-land access. Day rates range from $300 to $600 or more depending on the area and amenities. Axis deer can be hunted year-round, which makes them a perfect option during the offseason months in the lower 48.
Opportunities to hunt big game in the spring are rare, but black bears are a notable exception. States like Idaho and Montana have spring bear tags that can be purchased over the counter. Many of the same glassing tactics that you’d utilize during a high-country mule deer hunt apply to bear hunting, and sometimes the areas even overlap. Whether you want an excuse to get a jump-start on your deer or elk scouting or are just chomping at the bit to beat cabin fever with springtime bowhunting, black bears are a great solution. To top it off, they’re delicious, and you can even render bear fat to use as a substitute for other cooking oils.
Warm weather, plenty of public land, and a target-rich environment make Arizona the ultimate late-season destination for bowhunters. Less than $400 can get you an archery license valid Jan. 1-31 to stalk Coues (pronounced cows) deer, javelina, and small game in the arid environment. January coincides with the Coues deer rut, too, so spotting and stalking these small, desert-dwelling whitetails can lead to an exciting hunt from sunup to sundown. Optics are key on this hunt, as Coues deer earned their nickname of “the gray ghost” by their ability to seemingly disappear, even when in plain sight. While you’re hunting deer, keep an eye out for javelina and antelope jackrabbits, which are hares that can tip the scales at almost 9 pounds.
Most archery pronghorn seasons open in mid-August, often making them the first Western big-game animals that bowhunters can pursue each year. Tags are affordable and available over the counter in parts of Colorado, Nebraska and South Dakota to name a few states. Pronghorn numbers are healthy throughout much of their range, offering bowhunters opportunities to try decoying, spot-and-stalk hunting, or ambushing them from blinds.
Hunting with hounds used to be much more common than it is today, but bowhunters seeking to rekindle the tradition have plenty of opportunity, especially for mountain lions. These are incredibly physical hunts, often resulting in long hikes through deep snow in rugged country as the dogs attempt to push the big cat into a tree. Once treed, it’s the bowhunter’s job to quickly reach the location, find a shooting lane, and make a clean, ethical shot.
A rutting, grunting, tree-raking bull moose that seems to be the size of a Sherman tank in the Yukon Territory is atop the bucket list of many bowhunters. Hunting styles vary, but one of the most common involves boating the famed Yukon River through some of the wildest country in the world. Bulls are susceptible to calling and can be lured into bow range with a little patience and creative imitations of an intruding bull or estrous cow.
Planning a bowhunt for a new species is exciting and intimidating all at the same time. If you’ve been toying with the idea of planning a new hunt for yourself, don’t wait any longer — the best time to get started is right now.