Traditional Bowhunting For Beginners

Hunting is as ancient as humanity. Until the last few centuries, the bow and arrow was the gold standard for taking game animals. 

Bowhunting is still a prevalent hunting method. The vast majority of bowhunters are using high-tech compound bows with stabilizers and sights. All this technology serves to make the shooting of a bow less of a challenge. 

Some bowhunters seek out an even greater challenge, which is hunting with the traditional bow.

There is a reason why traditional bows are referred to as ‘struggle sticks.’. There are no shortcuts to good shooting, and there is little room for error or ego. Hunting with my recurve bow has been a humbling experience, a path that has been paved with frustration and failure. 

If you are the type of person who is always seeking out a challenge, this pursuit may be one to consider. 

What is a Traditional Bow?

A traditional bow has a single string and no sight. The longbow or recurve bow are both considered traditional bows. 

Even among traditional bowhunters, there are many ways we define what a traditional bow is. Some people are happy using a bow made from high tech materials with strings woven from advanced fibers and shooting arrows made from carbon. Others harvest their staves, carve their bows, make strings out of sinew, and arrows from wood and stone. Then there is everything in between.

What Bow Should You Choose?

To be successful at this pursuit your bow needs to become an extension of your body. This means that you can not just order one off Amazon; you need to go down to a local bow shop and try some out. Traditional archery has no room for error. Keeping the consistency required is to have a bow that ‘feels right.’. You need to shoot several bows to get a feel for what works for you. Your local bow shop should have several that you can try. 

Longbows can be easier to draw and shoot. However, recurve bows are often cut closer to the center of the riser, making them more accurate. Longbows tend to be longer, whereas recurve bows are shorter because of the curve in the limbs. I like recurve bows for hunting because they are shorter and easier to maneuver through the bush.

My suggestion is to look at a takedown recurve bow that has replaceable limbs. This way, you can buy a low poundage bow that you can shoot without requiring a lot of strength. 

This will allow you to work on the fundamental mechanics of good shooting. As you get better, stronger, and your shooting becomes more consistent, you can upgrade the limbs to higher poundage. 

Your area will have regulations on the minimum poundage for hunting. I recommend that you start with low poundage, such as 20 pounds. 

These bows are not easy to shoot, so don’t spend a lot of money on your first bow because as you get better at shooting and gain experience, you will most likely upgrade.

How About Arrows?

bow arrows

Arrows can be made from wood, aluminum, carbon, or fiberglass. For traditional bowhunting, they are usually fletched with feathers rather than the plastic vanes you will see on arrows for a compound bow.

A beginner should purchase arrows made from either aluminum or carbon since these arrows will be easier to tune and are far more consistent in straightness and weight. 

Arrows need to be matched to the bow, this is a subject that one could easily write a book on. For the beginner, all you need to be thinking about is the ‘spine’ of the arrow. Which is how we describe how much the arrow would be expected to flex. Every model of bow will be different, and arrows will need to be matched to the bow. Again, this is something that your local bow shop or archery club will be able to help you with.

While wood arrows are what I shoot, I would not recommend them for the beginner. When you start, you need to give yourself every possible advantage. Modern arrows will take one level of frustration out of the equation.

Shooting

Before you buy a hunting license, you need to become proficient in the art of sending arrows accurately downrange into a target no larger than a dinner plate. Consistency is the most critical factor in shooting a traditional bow, and it all starts with your form. From the position of your feet to how you hold the bow and the string and how you draw and release, every little detail must stay consistent.

Think about shooting a traditional bow as a math equation. All the little details that you can control are the inputs of the equation. Things like your stance, grip, back tension, release, drawing the bow, the anchor, the bow itself, type of arrows, the fletching, draw length, the string, how you hold the string, your follow through, are a few factors that go into this equation. What comes out of this equation is how the arrow flies after it clears the arrow shelf. Every aspect of your shot process affects the arrow’s flight and needs to be as close to perfect as possible. 

If you haven’t shot a bow or have been shooting a compound bow, it is good to take a few lessons at your local archery club. Sometimes bow shops will offer lessons as a part of their services. 

Focus on each step of the shot process individually and work on making every component of your shot cycle perfect.

When you are just starting, don’t worry about aiming; focus on getting the arrows to fly straight and precisely. Your goal should be to get a tight group of arrows, and then you can focus on moving that grouping into the ten ring.

Analyze each shot and be honest with yourself about how well you are shooting.

Find an anchor point that you can lock into every time intuitively.

You should be pulling the bow with your back muscles, which we refer to as back tension.

Have someone film you shooting and then review and analyze the footage. It is amazing how easy it is to diagnose bad form when you see it on video.

Aiming

This is the subject of much debate; however, you need to find a method that you can make work to send arrows consistently into the target. There are two camps when it comes to aiming a traditional bow, which is instinctive and gap shooting.

Instinctive 

This method can best be described as throwing a baseball. You don’t aim a baseball; you can accurately throw a ball through repetition and muscle memory. The same is true of shooting a traditional bow. Through sending hundreds of arrows downrange, your body and mind form a synergy that eventually results in knowing how to hold the bow to send an arrow into the bullseye. 

Gap Shooting

This method works because the arrow’s tip is used as a reference point, almost like a firearm’s front sight. When shooting, you will notice the tip of the arrow will be below where you want the arrow to hit. As the distance between the bow and target increases, the higher your point of aim will need to be. 

There is a distance at which when you place the tip of the arrow over a point on the target, the arrow will hit that point. This is referred to as the point on distance. Each distance from the target has an associated gap between the point of the arrow and the point where it will impact. If you memorize the gaps based on the range, you can use the gap to accurately place arrows on the target.

Hunting

traditional bow hunting
Clay Schmitt

Wow. It took a while to get to the hunting aspect of traditional bowhunting, didn’t it? There is a good reason for this. For every arrow you send towards an animal, there are thousands of arrows flung into targets in your backyard or on the range. Shooting a traditional bow is a year-round commitment and a very perishable skill. There is no off-season, and you owe it to the animals to become proficient in your shooting before heading afield.

When it comes to hunting with a traditional bow, you will have to get close to the animals. Especially when starting, you will have an effective range of fewer than 20 yards. While you can hunt from a tree stand or a ground blind, the more exciting way to bow hunt with a traditional bow is to either still hunt or spot and stalk. This means you are going to have to get good at sneaking up on animals.

The one-piece of hunting advice I can give a beginner who is starting their journey into traditional bowhunting is to slow everything down and stay present in the moment. You could not rush your journey to get into the bush with a traditional bow, so do not rush the hunt. It will take a lot of skill to close the distance between you and your prey, but above all else, it will take patience and be very humble.

Concluding Thought

Traditional bowhunting shouldn’t be easy. If it were, none of us who carry a struggle stick into the woods would do it, but being a frustrating and challenging pursuit does not in any way diminish the enjoyment. The worst day flinging arrows in my back yard or at stumps out in the bush is still a fantastic day, and I would not trade shooting my bow for anything.