Bow Hunting Tips and Lessons

| Last Updated June 3, 2021

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“It’s not just the crossbow, any weapon takes time to learn.”

It was one of those perfect mornings that you just want to get out in the woods all by yourself and see what’s out there. I knew where the buck was from last year but I had never seen him. I knew he liked this one little corner area and that other hunters kept by passing the place where he liked to hang out.

I set up a perfect stand sight about 15 feet up in a pine tree overlooking a hardwood transition. I wanted to call him out of the hard woods as close to my tree as I could get. As daylight crept in I started grunt calling.

Now a lot of people don’t know this, but in quiet remote areas a buck will answer a grunt call, and this happened after about an hour. Now I knew I had him about 150 yards away so I stuck with the calling. Still he didn’t come out.

Ok if the buck won’t come out; let’s see if a doe will, I wasn’t being choosy on a crossbow hunt. I then started with a fawn in distress call, (a varmit call) this will usually bring in a doe if there is one around. Still, after a completed series, no deer.

After a few minutes I continued with the grunt calls, then about 9:15 A.M. he came out of the hardwoods. I had already pre-measured known distances with my Bushnell Laser Range finder; this is a device all bow hunters should have as it tells exactly what you need to know.

Of course he came out and stopped at the 45 yard mark and by his body language it didn’t appear he was coming any closer. Ok they told me 40 yards was a max shot for the crossbow. But my Horton would shoot 1 ½ inch groups at 50 yards. So I felt qualified to take the shot. Yea right seems like the buck a nice 8 point was far more qualified.

I’m amazed at how he did this and it is a true lesson learned. My delusions of grandeur materialized as I decided to pin him to the 45 yard tree. He lowered his head and started munching on something giving me a perfect shot. As the arrow left the crossbow, the loud report from the bow twang which cannot be silenced by any conventional means, reached the buck first by the speed of sound. In microseconds he reacted and not only jumped the string, but leaped completely out of the field of view of the scope, then the arrow centered the tree, but no deer was there, at all.

Well so much for the old wives tale that crossbow hunters will shoot deer at 100 yards all day. Until they make a silenced crossbow, a 30 yard shot is going to be tough even at 300 feet per second.

Crossbow Misconceptions

There are so many misconceptions about the crossbow that get spread around by anti-hunters and cannibals that many people don’t know what to think. I was told that 3-D targets would be ruined by crossbow arrows. This was an attempt to keep me from hosting the Louisiana State Championship, which was the first of its kind ever held in the United States. They said the crossbow bolts would go right through the target.

Sorry didn’t happen that way. Our first test was the Horton HD-175 against a PSE compound bow at 70 pounds. At 30 yards the compound bow penetrated the 3-D target about 2 inches more than the crossbow, all was about normal. We did find that one brand of aluminum crossbow arrow was a bit hard to pull out of the target, so we put on some silicone spray and that solved that problem. Crossbow arrows do not damage 3-D targets, lesson learned.

Now here is one myth I keep hearing over and over again, we need to get straight. “It takes no practice time, to get proficient with a crossbow.” That’s about as asinine as saying it takes no practice time to learn how to drive a car, because it’s easy to turn a key.

How to Prepare a New Crossbow

If you get a new crossbow there are two things you need to do before you ever shoot it. You must read the operators directions and the book “Today’s Crossbow” put out by the ACF. Then you need to realize that no hunting weapon is easy. A person who buys an untried weapon and attempts to hunt with it with little or no practical instruction or practice will do one thing for sure, fail.

Just for the record it takes about 6 weeks to get a soldier proficient enough to pass basic training with hundreds of rounds of ammunition fired. Put a deer rifle in the hands of one of these experts and they must be completely retrained, just because it is a different weapon.

Now make that weapon a muzzle loader or crossbow and without the benefit of an instructor and that soldier even though an expert with an M-16, will be completely confused. How do I know this? I teach soldiers to shoot crossbows, muzzle loaders and deer rifles at the Fort Polk Shooting Complex.

Now to become proficient at all hunting weapons, it takes years. Still before I chose to go hunting with any weapon I go to the range and re acquaint myself and get in a few shots, even with a modern rifle.

Now experience is worth something and so is natural ability. Therefore the attitude of the old shooter with a new weapon should be the realization that you don’t know anything about the new weapon and its time to learn. Now with the case of the crossbow; if you run into one of the anti-crossbow crowd most of which will tell you they are the voice of all bow hunting. If this should happen and they hint to you to get rid of your crossbow, you may as well be getting instruction from P.E.T.A.   Pass it on

Early Season Bow Hunting Tips

Opening day is a magical phrase to most hunters. However, many bow hunters stay out of the woods until temperatures drop and the rut kicks in. The rut may be the best time to see deer all day but early season bow hunting can offer great opportunities to put a buck on the ground before deer become pressured. These six early season bow hunting tactics can fill your tag before most hunters buy theirs.

Prepare For The Elements

Walking into the stand with a jacket on during a warm autumn afternoon is going to lead to a lot of sweat and even more scent. Carry your jacket in a backpack and walk in with a light layer to stay cool. Scent is bad but the biggest scourge of early season bow hunting is mosquitoes. A ThermaCell is required equipment for early season hunting. Without one you’ll spend most of your hunting hours swatting skeeters.

Scout Minimally

I often preach the advantages of great scouting. However, early season bucks are generally set in their ways unless they are disturbed. Keep intrusion to a minimum. Unless a property has undergone a major habitat change or crop rotation, deer are likely to bed and feed in the same areas they did in years past. This is why it is important to keep good post hunt notes. Use last season’s hunts as early season scouting.

Hunt Sign

Bucks are not as nomadic in early season as they are during the rut. Generally, if you find fresh sign there is a good chance the deer that made it lives close by. If you find big rubs or scrapes, you can rest assured that a big deer is using that area. Conversely, if you’re only finding small rubs it doesn’t mean you won’t see a large buck. Bucks are often still in bachelor groups during early bow season. It is not uncommon to see a trophy buck running with younger bucks this time of year.

Take Your Time

One of the toughest parts of early season bow hunting is bucks aren’t chasing does tenaciously yet. That can also be an advantage. Deer move through cover much slower in September than they do when bird-dogging a doe in November. Take your time before you let an arrow fly to allow a buck to move into your opening. Take a look around too. You might feel good about that 130 inch buck when you hit your release. But when a 180-incher runs past after he hears the thwack of your arrow in his buddy, the original deer shrinks dramatically.

Location, Location, Location

Early season bucks follow the bed-feed-bed cycle fairly closely during early season. If they are not pressured they tend to pattern consistently. Morning hunts should be closer to feeding areas than bedding areas and evening hunts should be closer to bedding areas. Bigger bucks will be last to leave bedding areas in the evening and if your stand is set up right on the feeding area, you probably won’t see the big boys. Even worse, when you climb out of your stand there is a good chance you’ll spook big deer entering the field.

Hunt Water

Hunting water sources is great early season strategy, especially during dry years. However, setting up a stand over a pond or creek is usually not the best way to hunt water. Find the trail bucks are using to get to the water and set up there. Bigger bucks are hesitant to expose themselves in the open during daylight hours. If you want to arrow the big boys, wait for them as they wait for dark.

Tips for Hunting Whitetail

“Mehhhhhh” Is A Last Resort

If you’ve watched any outdoor television, there is no doubt you’ve seen hunters grunt at deer to stop them for a shot. Korn says this should only be used when there is no other way to stop a deer. “If a deer is moving past my stand I’ll wait for it to stop naturally. Grunting at that deer is only going to make it alert.”

Paul doesn’t wait until the last second to grunt at a deer just in case it doesn’t hear him the first time he grunts at him. However, he believes you should allow the deer to stop on its own until you only have a few shooting windows left. “An alert deer is one that will duck the string,” says Korn.

Shoot Low On Alert Deer

If you do grunt at a deer or it hears something and is in an alert posture, Korn advises bowhunters to shoot low. “I aim for the lower third of the vital area. If the deer ducks the string, your arrow will still double lung the deer. If it doesn’t you will also double lung the deer and the lower hit will provide a great blood trail.”

Big Bucks Don’t Duck

Korn still shoots for the lower third on bigger bucks but believes they won’t duck as much as younger deer. “A big, mature buck thinks he is the king of the forest.” Their dominant nature and their age get the best of them. A four and a half year old buck is essentially like a middle aged man. He’s established and strong, but not as quick as he was at 20. This isn’t exactly a rule but more of a generality. Some big bucks will still duck the string, especially at longer distances. Sound travels much faster than arrows.

Draw When You Get Busted

A mistake most hunters, even professionals, make is giving up when a deer busts you. “I see this four or five times a week on outdoor television. The deer is right under the stand and senses something isn’t right. He sprints off and the hunter gives up. Then the deer stops 30 yards away and looks over his shoulder.

 By the time the hunter can get drawn again, it’s too late.” Korn says hunters should draw immediately when a deer busts them. He doesn’t advocate taking a running shot. But most deer will stop to survey the area within 20 or 30 yards. “If you’re already at full draw you can get a shot,” says Korn.

Bow Hunting During Gun Season - What You Need to Know

It’s not always the case but most bowhunters got their start chasing whitetails with a firearm. The opportunity for more days in the field and a more intimate experience in the woods often draws gun hunters to bowhunting. Once they get a taste of hunting with archery equipment, many never want to back to the boom of the thunderstick. Thankfully, many states are making it legal for bowhunters to continue archery hunting during the gun season. The state of Wisconsin made it legal for the first time in 2012.

There are some good reasons for bowhunting during the gun season. Many states allow hunters to use gun tags regardless of weapon used during the gun season. If you’ve already filled your bow tag, this allows you to continue to bowhunt. Some states hold gun seasons during the rut. If you want to bowhunt during the rut you have no choice.

Benefits of Bow Hunting During Gun Season

Believe it or not there are some benefits. I know many bowhunters who mark their calendars for gun season as if it was as important as the rut. For example, if you’re hunting a private parcel near public land an influx of hunters will drive deer off the public land as they look for a place to hide.

Bowhunting during gun season isn’t just a matter of continuing the tactics you used during archery only season. Hunting pressure is going to increase significantly. Field edges won’t be very productive. Deer will head for the thickest cover they can find. Set up downwind of dense bedding areas and other places that are out of the way and make deer feel safe. Rub and scrape lines will also be less effective during gun seasons. Funnels are a better choice. Set stands along escape routes. If a neighboring property gets a lot of hunting pressure, hunt where you believe deer will run when trying to get away from those hunters.

Hot Spots

Another hot spot for bowhunting during gun season is urban areas. Many of these spots are “bow only” and a lot of hunters like to put the bow down for awhile to do some gun hunting. Your favorite urban public hunting spot will most likely be a lot less crowded during gun season. If there is gun hunting nearby many deer will flock to the relative safety of the urban hunting land.

Getting into the stand early is another great tactic. I don’t want to generalize about gun hunters because I still love to hunt with a gun. However, there are a lot of casual hunters that gun hunt. Many of them enter the woods at first light and may not be the most stealthy individuals while walking through the woods. If you can get into the stand an hour or so before everyone else does the woods around you gets a chance to settle down before the blaze orange army invades the surrounding lands. If your spot is really good there is a good chance deer will be around you at first light.

Gun season can be a great time to be a bowhunter. But there are some added safety precautions necessary. Most states require blaze orange for any hunter during gun season. Even it is not required it’s still a great idea. Also, decoys are a big no-no during gun season. Some people are willing to take shots from several hundred yards away and most can’t tell the difference between a deer and a decoy at that distance.

Tips for Bow Hunting from the Ground

The first time I killed a deer with my bow from ground level was almost by accident. I was tracking a deer I hit earlier that morning. As I looked down a trail for a white belly, movement caught my eye. Two does meandered down an adjacent trail. In my part of the state it’s legal to take as many antlerless deer as you want. I took a knee behind some brush and waited for them to close the distance. At 20 yards I drew my bow back and as they slipped to within ten yards I sent my Easton on it’s way. The arrow zipped through the boiler room of the doe and she fell just feet from where the arrow hit.

I didn’t set out to kill a deer that way. But the experience was exhilarating. It was up close and the action was right at my level. Hunting from a tree stand is a lot of fun. If you play the wind correctly and control your scent you can literally be invisible to deer. I’ve had the same deer walk around under my stand for hours. It’s exciting but getting down to their level is a challenge that can’t be matched. I rarely plan to hunt from the ground but after a slow morning I’ll often find myself on the move. Yes, I may be missing an opportunity in the tree. But sometimes the thrill of the hunt is too much to ignore.

I’ve often walked the woods with a rifle. Most hunters call this technique still hunting. You slip through the woods very slowly in an attempt to walk right up on a deer. Being silent and moving with the wind at your face is imperative. These same skills are required to effectively bowhunt using this technique as well. However, due to a bow having considerably shorter range than a gun, sneaking to within effective shooting distance is almost impossible. 

A better strategy for bowhunting from the ground is to find a well travelled trail and set up on it. But not all setups are created equal. Once you’ve found a likely trail, find a blowdown or clump of brush to hide behind. You want cover but a shooting lane is needed. Again, having the wind at your back is imperative. If you can get the sun behind your back, even better. If a deer has to look into the sun to see you it’s vision will be impaired. If the trail is on a hill try to be on the uphill side. As deer browse along a trail, they typically look down the hill more than up. All of these elements are important, but remember wind direction is the most important component in your setup.

Getting deer close usually isn’t too tough if you’ve found a high traffic area. The biggest challenge is drawing on deer from the ground. Wait until their head is behind a tree or they look the other way. If you’ve never killed a deer with your bow from the ground, don’t be too picky. It’s a tough challenge and any deer taken with this technique is a trophy. If you’re still getting started with bowhunting, I would suggest staying in the treestand. But if you’re looking for a new challenge, hunting from the ground is about as exciting as deer hunting gets.

My name is Caleb and I am obsessed with hunting, fishing, and foraging. To be successful, you have to think like your prey. You have to get into the mind of your target - and understand Big Game Logic. If you have any questions, or just want chat about your latest hunting score or big catch, you can reach me at Read more about Big Game Logic.