Instant gratification: the desire to experience pleasure or fulfillment without delay or deferment.
We are all guilty of this in some way and I personally find it exceptionally difficult because I have perfectionist tendencies. This is my biggest concern when introducing others to a hunter's way of life. They imagine getting a bow, taking a few practice shots at the target, then going out to try their newfound skill on an animal. It's not fair - to yourself or the animal. It creates a lot of risk, and if I can give any advice, it's to enjoy the process of becoming an ethical bowhunter.
Every article I've read on "How to start bowhunting" dives into the equipment you need. Of course that's important, but I've dedicated one article to buying your first bow, and another article to becoming a well rounded archer. It's easy to get caught up in equipment, but I don't want you carrying around this perfectly tuned setup that you shoot really well, and never get an opportunity to draw back.
"What's your point Jess?" Before you can bow hunt, you need to become a hunter. To be more clear: harvesting an animal isn't the turning point that makes you a hunter. Yes I said that!! In my opinion, simply pursuing an animal makes you a hunter. If you have learned to outsmart that animal in its own home, regardless of there being a weapon in your hand, then there's something to be said for that. We all have the ability because it's in our blood. Some are just better than others. Anyway, I think it's human nature to want to skip over the other necessary steps leading up to bow hunting: purchasing reliable equipment, learning how to safely use that equipment, researching where/how/when/what/why in regards to the type of hunt you're pursuing, and how to execute those tactics in the field.
I'm going to approach this as if every reader has zero experience in the field, so this may come across a bit redundant for those that have been exposed to hunting to some degree, even if they weren't behind the weapon. I'm also going to assume you don't have a mentor to help teach you the basics. Here are 10 very generalized, but important tips to get started bowhunting:
- Learn to read a map. I'm referring to both paper and GPS devices. The last thing you want is to get lost on your first trip to the woods (Hiii, my name is Jessica and I get lost in a paper sack!). I would highly recommend investing in a Garmin inReach or something equivalent to ease your mind.
- Study the unit/area you plan to hunt. Base Maps is a wonderful application for planning a hunt, whether you're hunting private or public. It'll cover the draw odds by unit, weapon options, and species across the U.S. and has a really neat 3D feature to study terrain better (similar to Google Earth). Once downloaded, look for good coverage and potential bedding areas, water sources, basins, etc. You'll be able to place drop pins and make notes as you study.
- Put the time into it. If you're fortunate enough to physically scout an area prior to hunting it, take advantage of it. There's an obvious advantage to this because a map won't show the following: rubs, scrapes, poop, feeding and bedding areas, tracks or "highways" (high traffic trails), and other sign of the species you're hunting. At least know what that animal prefers for food, and what their next choice might be when food sources are low. Mark these areas on your maps! Invest in good binoculars no matter where you're hunting. These are some of my favorites.
- Study the laws of that area in depth. Never assume you can apply a law to every area. A great example: I have access to two properties in the same county in Texas (most laws are applied by county in TX). While everything else is consistent across the county, it is illegal to hunt does after a certain date on one side of the highway that runs between the properties. Literally a highway is a boundary! It wasn't always this way - it changed over the last few years, so make sure to review and stay up-to-date on the laws.
- Decide your method. Blind? Treestand? Spot and stalk? Your location determines everything. There are areas that I cannot physically spot and stalk due to the thickness of the brush, which results in tree stands and ground blinds in open meadows. Hunting over water or a food source, or legally baiting an area eliminates a lot of question because you know exactly where they're going to go. Your next decision is whether you want to be on the ground or up high, which brings me to another point - give yourself clear shooting lanes so there's nothing interfering with the flight of your arrow. I like to carry this handsaw with me to touch up my spots once I get comfortable.
- Always play the wind. ALWAYS. Regardless of your method, this is a good habit to make. Even if you're turkey hunting where scent doesn't matter, you'll ruin your chance at a hog, coyote, bobcat, or other animal that CAN smell. Increase your chances on every hunt by learning to play the wind.
- Make observations. Before I ever got behind the weapon, I spent many years with my dad in the field. If you can just go watch the animals you're hunting, you can learn a lot: their behavior, how they interact with each other and how alert they are to their surroundings. The best is when you can smell them! I will never forget the unique smell of an elk, tahr, or pig. They each have a very distinct odor about them. Observing also gives you an opportunity to see how YOU react when you're that close. Your heart rate may speed up or maybe you start shaking. I think it's neat to try to calm my breathing in those moments and learn to relax for when the time comes to draw back.
- Do your homework. Learn as much as you can about that animal as your hunt approaches. You may notice an animal's behavior while you're out scouting or even sitting in the blind, but you may not know WHY it's acting that way. Make note of that and read articles about what you observed. One of my weaknesses is calling. I haven't learned to turkey call or elk call, which are two species that are heavily effected by how we communicate with them. I've started to learn more about what certain calls mean while I'm in the field, and it's made me a better hunter. Even if I haven't learned to communicate, I can understand the difference in what I hear, then make a move based on that observation.
- Never quit asking for help. Seek out like-minded people, organizations and events to dive into a wealth of knowledge. Your local Parks & Wildlife department are always available for questions and/or concerns also. They will help you plan a hunt and remind you of current laws. Organizations can open up many doors as well, such as NWTF's Women in the Outdoors program that I've attended for two years now. I would also look into local camps. I recently attended Outdoor Texas Camp to help teach archery and could not believe the knowledge being shared with kids between 9-16. They were learning things that I had never even tried which is pretty impressive. Another great camp I've been associated with is Raise 'Em Outdoors. These are great environments to learn! We live in a time where resources are everywhere - YouTube isn't near as prevalent as it has been in past years but it's still very useful. Podcasts are all the rage and give you so many different perspectives. My favorite part is hearing about other people's hunting stories because it helps me prepare better when I know what others have come across. I think, "Wow, that could happen to me! What would I do in that situation?"
- Be prepared to fail. Due to the world we live in, most people do not show their failures, their misses, etc and talk about them. We need more of it, but it's a touchy subject because it's hard to admit when we mess up, especially at the expense of an animal. I promise, no matter how good of a hunter you are, there will be failure. When I first started bow hunting, I was on a hot streak for quite awhile. When the time came where I messed up and didn't recover an animal, it hit me like an 18-wheeler. It was something I hadn't experienced before. I honestly can't recall ever losing an animal even with a gun. I almost put my bow down that day, but I'm glad I didn't. It happens more than you think! If you miss an animal completely, celebrate that you didn't wound it. It's all about perspective. Get back up and keep going.
Again, these tips are for the very beginner hunter. In no way does it sum up everything there is to know about the outdoors, which is why I'll continue writing as I learn. Best of luck to everyone that's heading to the field for the first time this fall. Shoot straight!!