Change it up
To successfully arrow big game, don’t think like a rifle hunter
Bowhunting big game requires more patience to get within shooting range than hunting with a rifle does. After all, bullets can harvest animals at greater distances than arrows can. But to be successful in bowhunting is not simply a matter of waiting longer for game to come within range—patience is only part of the equation. As with rifle hunting, the tactics of calling, spotting and stalking, and ambushing can all be effective. To increase your odds of success with a bow, however, you need to tweak these common strategies accordingly.
For an ideal calling set-up when bowhunting, place yourself in an area where the animal will feel secure and not hold up outside your shooting range. Such areas include small openings no wider than the effective shooting range of your bow. If these areas aren’t available, set up near the entry trails of larger openings. That’s because the animal will likely come to the edge of the clearing but no farther, unwilling to expose itself to potential danger.
The same principle applies to thickets or other areas where your quarry has no escape route from predators. Try to make it easy for the animal and call from a place where the path of least resistance intersects with your shooting lanes. These approaches differ from rifle set-ups, where the hunter can see for hundreds of metres in multiple directions, but they should result in a quality shooting opportunity as the animal approaches.
Spotting and stalking
Spotting and stalking is another common rifle-hunting technique, but with bowhunting, you must close a far greater distance, and that makes for a much more intense hunt. You’ll need good cover with an accompanying favourable wind, and a patient, calm animal. Sometimes, the only available cover will put you upwind, which is no good. Other times, the animal may be lying in the middle of a field, providing you with no ground cover to get close enough. Or, the ground cover could make too much noise as you stalk through it.
Adjust your tactics to help boost your odds
You also need to keep these considerations in mind when hunting with a rifle, of course, but they become all the more important when you have to close a significant distance to reach your effective bow range. To swing the odds in your favour, make sure you have the following factors in place before attempting a stalk: cover right up to your shooting location; a consistently strong and favourable wind; and a relaxed animal that will give you enough time to complete the stalk. If these three factors are not present, consider waiting it out until it all comes together. Either that, or keep searching for another opportunity.
Bullets shoot extremely fast and straight, and for the most part, they’ll plow through small twigs, leaves and shrubs. Arrows, on the other hand, tend to deflect easily off course with the smallest interference, such as thick blades of grass. That makes clear shooting lanes a must for bowhunters. When planning to ambush game from a treestand or blind—a common bowhunting method—you have the chance to clear shooting lanes well in advance, so take full advantage of it.
Often, clearing away any potential interference will provide many shooting lanes from the same fixed position, increasing your chances of success. Knowing the distance is crucial to making the shot count with an arrow, so pick shooting lanes with easy-to-remember reference objects as distance markers, such as trees, rocks or brightly coloured flora.
When selecting a spot to place your blind or treestand, avoid the edges of openings, as these are really only suitable for rifle hunters. Instead, it’s much better to set up ambushes on trails leading to the openings. Be sure to head afield before your hunt to scout the area and select a spot to set up your ambush. With a little clearing of brush, you can usually create a variety of shooting lanes to deal with most scenarios—and give you a clear shot when your quarry finally shows up.
Edmonton’s Gord Nuttall hunts big game with both rifle and bow.
New to bowhunting? also see Gord Nuttall’s tips on choosing the right bow: www.outdoorcanada.ca/newbow.