It’s bow hunting season once again! Whether you’re heading off to a hunting site to catch that perfect buck or you’re just interested in the sport, now’s the perfect time to read up on this exciting activity!
Even seasoned bow hunters need to review their knowledge of bow hunting every once in a while. What tools and equipment should you use? What is the best strategy to attract some bucks? How do you properly butcher a deer?
This handy guide gives you a comprehensive view of how to hunt deer with a bow. Read up, learn more, and immerse yourself in the fun and challenging world of bow hunting!
How to Hunt Deer with a Bow
BOW HUNTING SAFETY TIPS
To make the most out of your hunting day, there are a number of things you should do ahead of time. These include making sure that all your equipment is in top shape, scoping the hunting area to check if it is a good spot and is located away from residential areas, and properly installing a treestand that can carry your weight.
You should also make sure that you are wearing appropriate clothes, especially if you are hunting in very hot or cold weather. Regardless of the temperature when you do your hunt, remember to keep yourself hydrated at all times.
DEER HUNTING REGULATIONS
Securing the necessary permits and licenses ahead of time is important, whether you are hunting on private or public lands. Check out your state’s regulations and requirements early so you can file your permits and license applications before the deadline. Some states may also require you to attend an outdoor safety course before they allow you to hunt.
If you are hunting on private land, you still have to secure the landowner’s permission. Note that states may have different regulations for hunting on private lands and public lands, bag limits, and the type of deer you can hunt, depending on the hunting season. There may also be different licenses required, depending on the hunter’s age or resident status.
When to Hunt Deer
A whitetail buck lip curling during the rut on a foggy morning
The rut, or deer’s mating season, is considered by many as the best season to hunt deer because the deer, especially bucks, are wandering to search for does to mate with. Hence, they are often less cautious as they are focused on moving from place to place.
This does not mean that you cannot hunt before or after a rut. But since deer movement and behavior differ during these times, you may have to adjust your hunting tactics as well.
During the early season, deer focus on feeding. Bucks are most likely to move on their own or with a few other bucks. They may not use the same trails that does and fawns use. As the pre-rut approaches, bucks begin to check out the does. They will also start creating bigger rublines and scrapes to mark their territory, while checking on other scrapes more often.
During the rut phase, does come into estrous, which means they are finally ready to mate. Bucks will then be spending more time around and traveling with does. This means that bucks will also be spending less time in their bedding area or territory. After the rut (post-rut), bucks will spend more time on their turf, to rest and feed. Hunting pressure, however, could force a buck to bed in another location.
About a month after the rut, does that were not bred during the rut come into estrous again. This is the second rut, and during this time, bucks will be behaving more like during the rut.
Many bow hunters use this information to improve their chances of getting their target buck. If you plan to hunt early in the season, try to look for possible food and water sources of the deer. During the pre-rut, pay attention to series of rubs and fresh scrapes in an area, especially those with a licking branch. You can also create your mock scrape, to get a buck’s attention. When the rut and second rut begin, you can start setting up your blinds or stands along trails, funnels, and areas frequented by does. During the post-rut, you can try looking for areas where bucks are most likely to feed and bed.
How to Find Hunting Land
If you are in the U.S., the best way to find hunting land is to check out states with large areas open to public hunting. You can also visit your local government’s office to get information on the best hunting areas.
As an alternative, you may also check out private lands where deer feed, drink, or travel. Make sure to get the landowner’s permission first. From my experience, this works best if you go talk to the landowner and ask permission face to face instead of by phone or email. While some may lease their property, if you are able to establish rapport and build trust with the owner, they just might let you use their land for free.
Fresh Whitetail Deer track in the Mud
Most expert bow hunters spend a lot of time learning about their target deer or dear group ahead of the hunting season. Scouting is very important because it allows you to study a deer’s movement, what they eat, drink, or bed, so you would know where to set up your stands or ground blinds, or even plan your entry and exit.
What to scout for
Tracks. Tracks offer hunters clues about the movement of deer, such as their bedding area or trails they have used. Tracks going in one direction may tell you where deer are headed, while a two-way track may mean that the deer are going from a food source then back to their bedding areas. Tracks are also used to assess the size of a deer. In general, mature bucks have bigger hoof prints than fawn bucks. Tracks, however, are not always a reliable clue on the deer’s gender because old, big does may leave bigger hoof prints than young bucks.
Droppings. Deer droppings look like dark oval-shaped pellets. Deer poop offers a lot of information that hunters can use. For instance, moist and warm droppings hint that deer have just been in the area. Hard pellets may mean that the deer have been feeding on bushes, and hunters can use this information to search for deer’s possible food sources.
Trails. Finding trails is not a guarantee that does or mature bucks will pass by an area again. Still, they offer important clues. Before the rut, does and bucks use different trails. This pattern changes during the peak of the rut, as bucks will travel more closely with does.
Rubs. Deer rub their antlers against trees or bushes to remove the velvet from it. You can gauge the size of the buck depending on the diameter of the trees and the sizes of the rubs on it: Bigger bucks will often rub against bigger trees, and their rubs would be higher from the ground as well. You can use these rubs as clues where to set up your trail cameras so you can check the size of these bucks.
Scrapes. Deer scrape the ground using their hooves and then urinate on it to leave their scent. Often, above these scrapes are low-lying branches which the deer had also licked. When scouting, keep an eye out for “scrape lines” that are several yards apart. Scouting before the breeding season may be the best time to look for scrapes, and check out nearby areas where you can set up your blind or stand.
Beds. Another clue hunters can look for are bedding spots. These are often found in areas that offer deer some cover or protection, such as tall grasses and bushes. Deer spend most of their time bedded, especially during winter, to clean themselves and sleep. Being creatures of habit, deer tend to bed in the same area for days or even months.
BOW HUNTING EQUIPMENT
Bows for Deer Hunting
Choosing the right bow depends on many factors, including your level of experience in shooting arrows, draw length, your fitness, or even the size of your target game.
1. Compound Bow
Compound bows, because of their system of pulleys and strings, create a “let off” for archers. This means that at the end of a draw, archers will have to hold far less draw weight. Aside from requiring less effort, a compound bow also gives archers more time to focus on their aim or wait a little longer for their target. Compound bows shoot arrows fast, and have a high relative accuracy.
- Rests. Rests keep arrows steady until these are released and are therefore important in maintaining accuracy. A type of rest, the drop-away arrow rest, is designed such that it has no contact with the shaft when the arrow is released, thus improving the bow’s accuracy. When choosing a drop away rest, consider how securely it can hold an arrow in place at any bow angle, its ease of installation, camouflage design, how quietly it can be loaded, and durability.
- Sights. Sights are mounted to a bow’s riser so hunters can see where their arrows are pointed, helping them improve the accuracy of their shots even over long distances. Bow sights are either single pin or multi pin. The bow sight you use really depends on your hunting style and preference. But in general, you would want sights that can be adjusted easily and quietly and are very accurate.
- Stabilizers. Bow stabilizers minimize vibrations, thus helping improve your accuracy. Stabilizers come in different lengths, designs, weights, and quality so make sure to choose one that fits your budget and your preferences.
- Quivers. The quiver serves as a case for your arrows. Some quivers can be strung across your back, or be carried on your side. There are also quivers that can be attached to your bow, allowing you to draw an arrow faster during a hunt.
Arrows come in different lengths. Hunters may choose short arrows, because they prefer higher speed, but others go for longer arrows, because of its better penetration potential. Another thing hunters consider is the material out of which the shaft is made. Most hunters prefer carbon arrows because these are lighter, compared to wood or aluminum.
Broadheads refer to arrowheads that are either fixed blade broadheads (i.e., the blades are fixed), or mechanical broadheads (the blades open upon impact on your game). Fixed blades can penetrate the bone of targets, while mechanical broadheads, which are preferred for deer hunting, create bigger wounds.
A release allows you to release your bowstring faster and minimize torque. It also helps you achieve a consistent release, since you are using a mechanical tool instead of your fingers each time you let go of the bowstring. Whether you are using a handheld or wrist strap release, make sure to bring an extra in case your release breaks during your hunt.
If you are serious about hunting, you would want to practice your shooting skills before the hunting season begins. Shooting at targets—whether bag targets or layer blocks—can help you work on your aim without ruining your arrows. You can also choose a 3D deer target to practice shooting at the deer’s vitals.
There are several types of arrow saw in the market that vary in size, feature, and price. Some hunters also prefer building their own arrow saw, which they can customize according to their budget and preference.
Crossbows are horizontal bows attached on top of a stock. Compared to a compound bow, it does not take as much expertise to learn to use and aim crossbows accurately. Because of its higher draw weight, hunters often use it to hunt bigger animals.
Sights and Scopes
To make sure your shots will line up properly, you need to find time to sight your scope before you go out to the field. Crossbow scopes come in two types: red dot scopes (with no magnification) and optic scopes, which have illumination and magnification capabilities. The illumination settings are very important if you are hunting in low-light conditions, while magnification helps you see distant targets more clearly.
Arrows and Broadheads
Crossbow arrows are often categorized into two: field points and broadheads. Field points, or “target points,” are often used for target practice, as they are not really designed to pierce through a live buck. Broadheads, on the other hand, are more often used for actual hunts because their blades could pierce a target with relative ease, assuming they are fired off properly from the crossbow.
A cocking device is important to correctly pull a crossbow’s string back and evenly distribute its tension throughout the weapon. The way you cock your crossbow would greatly influence the accuracy of your shot. Hunters usually prefer a crank type device since it’s quicker to use in the field, especially if you’re going after a quick-footed deer.
Gear for Deer Hunting
Treestands are elevated platforms fastened to trees. These give hunters a better vantage point, while also minimizing chances of being spotted by their game. There are a variety of treestands available in the market, each with their own pros and cons. These treestands generally fall into three types: hang-on treestands, ladder stands, and climbing stands.
Hang-on or lock-on stands come with climbing sticks which hunters can use to climb up the tree and install the stand. These are easier to carry than ladder stands, and can be installed against trees with large branches. As installing hang-on treestands takes a while, some hunters prefer to use this stand when they are familiar with the hunting area.
As their name suggests, these treestands come with a ladder. Hunters climb these ladders to reach the platform and seats. While this treestand is easy to use, it is very bulky and cannot be set up against trees that are not straight. There are different types and brands of ladder stands in the market, and these vary in terms of quality, portability, and platform size.
Climbing stands have two main pieces which hunters latch onto a tree and use to gradually move up. These stands are ideal for hunters who are not familiar with the hunting ground and may have to move to different locations during a hunting session. Climbing stands vary in terms of portability and weight capacity, so make sure to buy the best climbing stand that will make your hunting experience safe and convenient.
2. Ground Blinds
If you are planning to hunt on the ground, bringing ground blinds can help you blend with your surroundings and avoid being detected by a deer. Ground blinds also serve as your shelter from a sudden downpour or the harsh heat of the sun. Compared to treestands, ground blinds allow you to move more freely as you target your game, relax comfortably as you wait. and hide your scent and movement from animals.
Ground Blind Chairs
Your choice of seat while waiting inside your ground blind may vary, from a simple stool, a target block, or comfortable chair with backrest. When deciding on a chair to bring or buy, consider its weight, especially if you prefer one which you can easily carry on your back. Also check if it produces no sound when you sit on it or swivel your chair. Depending on the ground blind you will use, you might also want a chair that allows you to swivel at 360 degrees. Lastly, if you are setting up your ground blind in uneven terrain, choose a chair with legs you can adjust independently.
Binoculars can help you observe your target deer even from a distance. When choosing a pair of binoculars, get a model with powerful magnification and illumination. Consider as well its durability and design. Some binoculars are small or light, making them comfortable to carry around your neck all day, even as you climb your treestand or target your prized buck. Depending on the weather, it may be good to have a pair of fog-proof or waterproof binoculars, so you can use it even when it rains.
Spotting scopes allow you to better see and target your game. While red dot scopes might be simpler to use, I prefer to use an optic scope, since I can use it even in low-light settings. When getting a scope, make sure to check its magnification, since this may help improve your accuracy by a lot.
Rangefinders allow you to gauge your distance from your target. When buying a rangefinder, make sure you pick one appropriate for a hunt. Second priority rangefinders measure the distance of distant objects, not the first object in your view (which may be branches or limbs). Find a model that is weatherproof and has an ergonomic design. Also check its range (a viewing distance of up to 600 yards is good) and lens capabilities (especially if you are planning to hunt in low light).
4. Trail cameras
Trail cameras are a great aid in helping you plan your hunt by helping you find your target bucks and be familiar with their movement in an area. When selecting a trail camera, make sure to bring a small camera that can capture photos without a sound or a flash.
Clothes for Deer Hunting
New hunters might wonder whether the color of their clothes will make any difference during a hunt. Deer can actually see some colors, but they are red-green color blind. Another helpful thing to know is that a deer’s eyes are well-adapted to low light. This allows them to quickly see predators at night, and to be more active during dawn and dusk.
Cold Weather Gear
When hunting in cold weather, some opt to buy thermally efficient clothes (which may be more costly). But if you are on a budget, you can just layer up, that is, wear more clothes. Make sure to choose fabrics with waterproof qualities such as nylon, polypropylene, and wool (although the later can be very heavy). In general, avoid cotton and any fabric that absorbs water well.
Hot Weather Gear
If you are hunting during very hot weather, it would be wise to avoid the 10-to-2 window. Deer and other animals too, would most likely be less active during these intensely hot hours. Schedule your hunt in the early morning or later afternoon, when the temperatures are lower and deer are also more likely to be active.
Wear loose clothing and go for light-colored fabrics, as these absorb less heat. But make sure to wear long sleeves and long pants, to shield your skin from harmful UV rays as well as insect bites. As added protection, apply insect repellant on your skin or carry a bug spray. You may also want to wear a hat with a wide brim and a pair of sunglasses to protect your head, face, and eyes.
When hunting, or even when you are scouting, you will be walking and waiting for a long time, so wearing a comfortable pair of boots is a must. Choose boots that are at least an inch above your shoe size, to give your toes more wiggle room even after putting on your socks.
If you are hunting in cold weather, choose boots with thick soles. You can also use insulated boots, or use shoe wraps and boot covers once you reach your hunting spot. When hunting in hot weather, choose footwear that is light and uninsulated, and a good pair of breathable socks.
Depending on whether you are planning a day hunt or staying for a night or two outdoors, choose a pack that contains the gears, meat, and other things you’ll need. Find one that has sufficient compartments, is lightweight, water-resistant, and is designed let you carry heavy loads comfortably. Check whether you can open or close its pockets quietly. If you are planning on using a treestand, you may want to consider packs specifically designed to help you carry your gear.
SETUP AND STRATEGIES
After you finish preparing your stuff, you can now finally start with the actual bow hunt. But all your prep work just might go to waste if you scare the deer away because of your presence.
There are several things you can do to keep a deer from getting spooked. First, you need to be aware of the wind’s direction in the hunting grounds. Because deer have a strong sense of smell, it could smell predators even from far away. Because of this, you need to make sure you find a spot where the wind direction doesn’t carry your scent to your target.
Whether you’re up in a tree stand or inside a ground blind, you need to learn how to stay still and not make unnecessary movements. Although camouflage clothes help, they won’t have much of a point if you move your arms and legs every five minutes. The less you move, the fewer chances there are for the deer to know that you’re there, and the more chances you have to aim and shoot at it.
Lastly, you need to be alert at all times. Sometimes a great opportunity to shoot a prize-winning buck would pass you by because you’re not ready for it when it comes. Always be on your guard, even if you’ve already spent hours sitting on your stand with no deer in sight. If you need to answer nature’s call, make sure you still have your bow with you, in case you come across a target you’d want to aim at.
Sure, half of the time, you need to wait for the deer to come to you. But you don’t have to be passive the whole hunting season. Instead, you might want to try different aggressive strategies to help you attract deer to your spot.
For instance, you can use grunt calls, which are replications of natural sounds that deer make. The grunt call is one of my favorite deer calling strategies, because it is effective whatever part of the hunting season you use it. I like using contact grunts, as I find that it’s the best way to announce your presence to a deer. More often than not, contact grunts could effectively make a buck stop in its tracks, allowing you enough time to make that winning shot.
The snort-wheeze, on the other hand, is more effective when you use it during the rut. This call copies the sound of a buck who wants to challenge another buck into a sight. Then there’s the estrous bleat, which mimics the sound that an adult doe makes when she is ready to breed. This is usually effective in attracting bucks that pass by a doe’s bedding area during the season’s rut.
Finally, rattling antlers copies the sound of two bucks fighting each other. Doing this might make a passing buck think that there is already a fight going on. If it is curious enough, it just might go to your location to check out the fight.
Because whitetails generally like to interact with their fellow deer, decoys are usually an effective way to attract them out in the open. Note that if your target suspects that your decoy is a fake, it will avoid it by all means. However, if the decoy works, it will attract your prize and give you a great opportunity to shoot some arrows.
The better you are at hiding your scent, the bigger your chances of not spooking a buck or doe. Take the time to remove telltale signs of human scent from your clothing. Using scent-free soap and scent-eliminating sprays might also improve your chances.
Different lures work differently in attractive deer to your spot. For instance, doe urine might make a buck think that there are does in heat in your general area. Buck urine, on the other hand, might make a deer rear up for a fight over dominance. Cover scents, such as sliced apples and fox’s urine, are often effective in masking your human scent, making deer less skittish in your presence.
You can also use food plots as a strategic way of getting deer to come near you. Take the time to know what deer like to eat, and fit spots where there is an abundance of these foods. Chances are, deer would visit these food plots at one time or another. Then you can pick your prize and make your shot.
BOW HUNTING DEER
Where to Shoot Deer
Large buck lays on the ground after being shot with a bow and arrow
Part of the challenge of hunting deer with a bow is shooting your target in the right spot. Whether you’re a beginner or a veteran bow hunter, make sure you don’t just shoot blindly in hopes that you hit something. This is irresponsible hunting, which could cause injuries not just to yourself but other hunters as well.
When using a bow and arrow, aim for the deer’s vital points—the heart, lungs, and liver—to make your kill as humane as possible. Hitting somewhere else, like the rear, usually causes a slow, agonizing death. Because this is considered cruel, I strongly discourage you from doing this.
There are many shooting angles you can choose from when aiming at your target. For instance, broadside shots are possible if the deer is standing perpendicular from you. When this happens, you could aim in between the deer’s shoulder and midsection, which is around three inches from the crease.
A quartering-away angle is perhaps the easiest and most preferred angle by many bow hunters. This is because this angle exposes the deer’s vital points to the hunter. This angle lets you aim at the deer’s midsection, where the liver should be. On the flipside, a quartering-toward angle is when the deer is facing slightly toward the hunter. While this is usually harder to shoot ethically, it should still be possible to do it, as long as the angle is not severe. Avoid doing head-on or straight-away shots because these are not ethical.
Hunting Deer in Different Weather Conditions
Weather conditions may affect the success rate of bow hunters. Because of this, it’s best if you make preparations based on the weather forecast, before you even go out to your hunting site.
- Sunny weather. Calm, sunny weather is usually perfect for hunting deer. Bucks and does tend to be less cautious and more sociable in good weather. As deer are more likely to browse and feed in open areas during sunny days, you may want to take advantage of this by concentrating on your target instead of spending time hiding your scent.
- Rainy weather. Although you might dislike rainy weather, hunting in the rain is actually a pretty good strategy for a bow hunter. Light rain won’t really affect a deer’s daily routine, sometimes even making them less cautious because they assume that natural and human predators wouldn’t be out at that time. However, heavy rains may have a counterintuitive effect, as deer themselves would probably find concealed shelters and just wait for the rain to stop.
- Windy weather. Deer often reduce their activities during windy weather because they couldn’t see and hear as much. While it might be hard to catch a deer out in the open, this is an excellent time to find them in sheltered beddings, usually around slopes and hillsides that block the flow of wind.
- Snowy weather. Deer become more visible in the snow and are easier to spot. However, depending on your attire, you might be more visible, too. While harsh snowstorms are not ideal, the break after this often sees an increase in deer activity, which may be a good time to get some bow hunting done.
BUTCHERING AND STORING DEER
Butchering Your Deer
Some bow hunters send their catch to the local butcher, while some prefer to do it on their own. This may happen if you don’t have a pickup truck and need to transport your deer via car. Instead of putting the whole thing in your trunk, you could take the time to dress it in the field instead.
If you want to do the latter, make sure you know the proper way of butchering deer so you don’t end up wasting any meat. Gutting, skinning, and quartering a deer takes time and patience. Beginners might not feel very confident about field-dressing a deer, but as long as you know the animal’s basic anatomy, you could probably do a decent job at butchering it on site.
While the actual sizes of the cuts may vary, it is still important that you know where to cut and how to cut the meat properly. Make sure you also have the proper tools, to make your butchering process easier.
Once you’ve finished butchering your deer, you need to quickly package and store the meat properly. Otherwise, the venison would be contaminated and might cause stomachaches or other related illnesses.
If you plan to package your venison on your own, I recommend getting a good vacuum sealer and storing your meat in durable vacuum sealed bags. These keep better in the freezer, and you won’t have to worry about accidentally tearing the package and ruining your meat.
I don’t recommend using aluminum foil, paper, or even ziplock bags to store your venison, unless you’re planning to eat the meat in a week’s time or two. These packaging materials won’t really preserve the freshness of your venison and might even affect its flavors.
Roast Venison in Deer Sauce with Vegetable
How Much Meat Do You Get From a Deer?
Deer are naturally leaner compared to cows and hogs. They are usually more active, so they develop more muscle than domestic livestock. Knowing this, you should not be too surprised to find out that you might get less venison than what you are expecting, whether you send the deer to a butcher or you do the butchering at home.
For instance, an adult buck normally weighs about 160 pounds, giving you a realistic venison yield of around 56 pounds. An adult doe, on the other hand, usually weighs an average of 140 pounds, letting you have 50 pounds of venison, more or less.
What Does Venison Taste Like?
Venison tastes richer and minty compared to beef or port. Avid venison eaters sometimes call this taste “gamey,” which means the meat is more pungent and muskier compared to meat coming from domestic livestock.
Venison tastes gamey because of the deer’s lifestyle and eating habits. Unlike domestic animals that receive their food from their farmers, deer live in the wild, feeding mostly on wild fruits and plants, such as acorns, chestnuts, and soybeans. This diet causes the deer’s meat to taste earthier and a bit spicy.
Not everyone likes venison’s gamey taste. If you are one of them, make sure you take the time to remove these overpowering flavors from the meat first before you cook it.
There are so many ways to cook venison, from easy recipes that take less than an hour to make, to slow-cooked dishes that tastes better the longer you cook it. Whatever the occasion, there should be an ideal venison recipe that would go great with your other dishes.
Types of Deer Mounts
Many bow hunters like to keep a part of their catch as a trophy to remind themselves of their achievement. If you wish to preserve the head or other parts of your deer, you first need to decide which type of mount you want.
There are different types of deer mounts. The shoulder mount is the perhaps the most popular type of mount for deer. Neck mounts are cheaper than shoulder mounts, making it a good option if you damage the deer’s shoulder with your shot. A full-body mount, while it sounds great, is actually pretty hard to pull off, and is therefore very expensive. And then you have the skull mount, also called the European or Texas mount, which is basically the skull and horns of the deer mounted on the board.
Make sure you bring your deer to a good taxidermist who can preserve your deer without ruining its natural look. If you prefer to do the mount yourself, make sure you know how to do it properly, so you don’t end up with a rotten deer’s head a week after you hang it up on your wall.
I hope this guide helps you in your deer bow hunting plans. Remember to take the time to prepare your equipment and yourself before heading out to the field. Take precautions for your safety, and don’t forget the rules and regulations you need to follow.
Hunting season might end in a few weeks, but it is never too late (or early!) to start preparing for the next one. Hunting deer with a bow might sound taxing at first, but I guarantee that it’s an activity that would challenge not only your physical strength, but your mental fortitude as well.