How to Bow Hunt Deer: The Ultimate Guide
Do you want to learn how to bow hunt deer? If so, you have come to the right place! In this blog post, we will discuss everything you need to know to become a successful bow hunter. We will cover topics such as choosing the right equipment, locating deer, and making the perfect shot. So whether you are a beginner or an experienced hunter, this guide has something for everyone!
Whitetail deer are the most popular big game animals in North America, and hunting them with a bow is both challenging and exciting. If you’re lucky enough to encounter a rutting buck on a crisp November morning, it’s an unforgettable experience. A perfect archery shot involves drawing your bow undetected, holding for the ideal window, squeezing the release, seeing the arrow in flight, and hearing it hit home—it’s one of the purest moments in modern hunting.
If you’re looking to join the ranks of bowhunters, there’s a lot you need to learn first. To successfully hunt deer with a bow, you’ll need general woodsmanship and hunting skills as well as some specific techniques and equipment. This guide covers all the bases, including:
- How to find the perfect spot for bowhunting
- Understanding deer habits and knowing how to read their tracks
- The necessary equipment for successful bowhunting
- How to shoot a compound bow correctly until it becomes second nature
- Effective tips and strategies used by veteran hunters
- Picking the best shot when given the chance and being able to track down your game after taking the shot.
With more than 30 million deer in the United States, there are plenty of hunting opportunities for serious hunters and those just getting started. Every state east of the Mississippi has a large whitetail population, while many western states offer excellent bowhunting as well.
The right gear and knowledge can help you embark on a lifetime of bowhunting adventures. If you’re already a deer hunter interested in adding an archery season to your fall hunt, skip down to the section on basic bowhunting gear below. Otherwise, here’s how to get started with bowhunting:
1. How to find the perfect spot for bowhunting
A bowhunter’s goal is to surprise a deer at close range and afterward, make an accurate shot. When you contemplate the fact that whitetails reside in large forests, small wooded areas, open farm fields, and various other types of land; it can appear daunting. So where do you begin?
You should start your search for potential hunting grounds close to home, as you will need to spend time in the woods becoming knowledgeable about bowhunting. Therefore, your main area of concentration should be a place that is easy to get to and that you can visit often. Once you have found such a place, begin considering the following types of land.
Scoring a small piece of private land is the dream scenario for a new bowhunter. You could have family members or close friends with some farm ground you’re able to hunt, neighbors who might let you use their back 40 acres, or veteran hunters willing to give you access to their private hunting ground for part of the season. In any case, private land is ideal for inexperienced hunters because it allows them to avoid competing with other seasoned hunters – which public-land hunting typically entails.
If you don’t have access to privately owned land, use a mapping app like OnX or Huntstand. These apps will help you locate public hunting lands in your area that usually allow bowhunting for deer, such as:
- State forests
- State wildlife management areas
- State natural areas
- National forests
- National wildlife refuges
- Waterfowl production areas
- Scenic wild river areas
- Bureau of Land Management lands
There are also a few private land programs that provide access to the public for hunting, which include:
- Walk-in areas
- Voluntary public access areas
- Logging company-owned lands
- Conservation easements
- Managed forest lands
Before you hunt on any piece of public land, check the local regulations. Even if two pieces of public hunting land are in the same state, they can have different rules.
When you’ve found a piece of land you want to hunt (public or private), take a closer look at it using a mapping application. Note where people can enter the property, whether crops are growing nearby, bodies of water, and other features such as hills and valleys. Once you know what the area looks like, go there and do some scouting yourself.
2. Understanding deer habits and knowing how to read their tracks
Though there are many articles discussing a deer’s habits, behavior, and sign, it can be helpful to remember that at their core, deer need food and water daily. They also look for safe areas to bed down in. Furthermore, during the rut (a creature’s breeding season), deer leave behind physical signs of their passage as they move through wooded areas. If you take the time to educate yourself on these topics, you will eventually learn how to identify the ideal hunting spot regardless of what point you are in the season. To get started understanding these concepts, read on for more information about the basics.
Basic Deer Behavior
Deer are most active at dawn, dusk, and nightfall. During the day they hide from predators by resting in thickets, patches of tall grass, or areas deep in woods. Although deer do feed during daytime hours, they stay close to cover.
Deer will usually become more active in the afternoon as they look for food and water. They’ll spend evenings and nights in areas where there is plenty to eat, such as agricultural fields or places with a lot of acorns on the ground. In the morning, deer will return to where they feel safest – their bedding area.
The best place to find whitetails, then, is on trails between feeding and bedding areas, or right in their favorite feeding spots. But keep in mind that deer don’t always follow the rules. They’ll do whatever they want whenever they please.
The Whitetail Rut
The rut greatly impacts deer behavior and patterns—usually in a way that is good for hunters. As the length of daylight decreases, testosterone levels in whitetail bucks increase, which drives them to breed. This means that rutting bucks will spend more time on their feet searching for does when the rut begins. The heavy activity usually occurs from late October through mid-November.
Since bucks could walk by your stand at any time during the rut, it would make sense to hunt all day long. Many experienced hunters have killed bucks between 10 am and 2 pm. To increase your chances of success, target major deer trails or naturally occurring funnels (like a strip of woods between two ponds).
Although bucks do compete with each other during mating season, it’s essential to remember that whitetails are not naturally aggressive. Bucks aren’t fighting for their sites; they’re battling over who gets to mate. If you can’t seem to find any bucks, a good strategy is to hunt where the female deer congregate. Chances are, a buck will come running by sooner or later.
Reading Deer Sign
To become a great bowhunter, you must first know how to read the landscape. This includes tracks, scat, and signs. Practicing for years is the only way to master this skill, but these basics will start your journey.
As you hike through the woods, deer tracks can give you a better idea of where the deer have been hanging out. If you see fresh tracks in mud, sand, or snow, take note of which direction the hooves are pointing to determine which way the deer was going. Generally speaking, buck tracks will be longer and wider than doe tracks. And if you’re really lucky, you might just stumble upon a spot where there are consistently fresh tracks – meaning it’s probably a good area to set up a trail camera or stand!
Another way to tell if whitetails have been in an area recently is by looking for deer poop. Check to see if there is a mix of fresh and old scat around the area, as this will indicate that the deer have been frequenting the area frequently. You’re likely to find this sort of thing in areas where the deer feed or sleep.
Bucks begin to rub their antlers on trees as soon as they shed their velvet. These are called rubs, and sometimes multiple rubs will be made in a line, which is called a rub line. Rubs can show that a buck was in an area, but they’re not necessarily indicative of a good hunting spot. However, spots that receive yearly rubs or large “signpost” rubs may be worth targeting with trail cameras.
A whitetail scrape is a roughly circular patch of cleared ground where deer have used their hooves to sweep away leaves and debris, ranging in size from about two feet across up to the area of a small dining room table. There will be a branch hanging down at approximately chest height above the scrape; this is called the licking branch. Both bucks and does urinate in scrapes and rub scent glands on their face against the licking branch, leaving their smell behind as a way of signaling other deer regarding their presence.
Mock scrapes are a little bit like that fire hydrant in the neighborhood that every dog likes to sniff and urinate on. If you’re not familiar with them, think of them as an area where deer go to mark their territory. Scrapes are often used at night, so it can be risky to hunt over a single scrape. However, if you find an active scrape (which is usually made along field edges), it’s often worth setting up a trail camera there. If you see a buck hitting the scrape during the day, it’s often best to hunt it right away.
3. The necessary equipment for successful bowhunting
To take up bowhunting, you’ll need to invest some time and money into it. However, choosing the incorrect gear can wind up costing more of both your precious commodities. So, to make sure you’re on the right path from the start here’s a guide outlining what you’ll need:
Choosing a Bow
According to Natalie Krebs, it’s not about the brand of the bow, but how you shoot it. The most important thing to look for in a bow is that it fits you–in terms of both draw length and weight. With modern compound bows being so efficient, there’s no need to go for a heavy draw weight just for the sake of your ego. You should be able comfortably and safely Draw the Bow straight back without struggling through awkward or dangerous movements.
When you’re pulling the string back, do it slowly and steadily straight back. Another thing to keep in mind is your draw length – how far back you pull the arrow. This can be tricky to get right at first, but luckily a professional can help you at an archery shop. Your form will likely improve over time too, which means your draw length might change slightly as well!
When shopping for your first bow, Big box stores won’t cut it – instead, find a local archery shop that can help set everything up properly so you have the best chance of enjoying this great sport.
The Complete Bow Setup
Many new archers get caught up in buying shiny and unnecessary accessories, but all you really need is a three- or five-pin sight, a Whisker Biscuit, and a bow quiver. You can find great deals on ready-to-hunt packages that will have everything you need and save you money to use for other things like archery lessons.
Arrows and Broadheads
The arrow you shoot from your bow must be the corresponding size to ensure accuracy and safety. The sizing of arrows is called “spines” and corresponds to your draw weight, arrow length, and point weight. When buying a bow, the shop staff will help you figure out that equation. If they don’t, every arrow manufacturer has a spine chart or calculator to help you find the right size arrow for your bow model.
When it comes to bows, everyone has different preferences. The same goes for broadheads – many are great and don’t necessarily break the bank. With that being said, you must be certain to select a sharp broadhead that hits the target. I recently put more than 20 of them to the test and wrote a review detailing my findings. That should help when narrowing down your choices. But at the end of the day, you need to shoot whichever head you choose so that it’s sharp come hunting season.”
A treestand makes hunting deer easier, as you will be able to see the animal more clearly. You will need gear such as a safety harness and bow hanger, but a small backpack can help carry essentials like food and extra layers. Trail cameras also aren’t required, but they are helpful for new hunters because they show that there are deer in the area.
Avoid Gear Rabbit Holes
While it can be fun to explore all the different types of bowhunting gear on the market, and some people get very passionate about their preferred gear style, at the end of the day what matters is spending time shooting at the range and learning in the woods. Start with the essentials and buy gear as your experience expands.