The number of setbacks and roadblocks that a bowhunter encounters in their pursuit can often make the idea of success feel out of reach. One thing after another has to go right for the bowhunter to have favor, and typically more than a couple of these things are only in the control of Mother Nature. Try as we may, the fate of the mountains gives us what it wills.
On a recent archery hunt, I witnessed the struggle first-hand as my good friend Gabe encountered hurdle after hurdle. Being a new bowhunter, those obstacles hit Gabe pretty hard. But each of those setbacks was also a learning opportunity.
So, in light of any new archery hunters out there, I’d like to run through some simple but effective tips to keep in mind when for your next hunt. While the learning journey of a bowhunter is never-ending, these practical tips will undoubtedly help bring you closer to success.
Resist the Rush
Archery hunting is a game of patience. Whether we’re talking spot-and-stalk hunting or ambush hunting, a bowhunter's impatience keeps many animals alive each year. Once we finally find the animal that we’re after, it’s pretty exciting and easy to rush into things. Given the high level of excitement and anticipation that bowhunters feel, the impatience is understandable. In these instances, we need to take a breath, assess the situation, and gather our thoughts. We need to "move half as fast and think twice as much."
The close-range encounter that you are about to enter may be intense, but by taking some time beforehand, as well as during, you’ll make more calculated, intentional, and effective decisions. Bowhunters rarely need to race to the finish line; a walk will do just fine.
Resist the Rush — An example from our recent hunt...
A few hours before dark, I spotted a group of javelina working their way across one of our desert washes. At this point, Gabe had been waiting for his opportunity at a javelina for several days. He wanted it so bad that his very own lust for them blinded his inhibition. Gabe raced down the hill much faster than he needed to. Doing so actually led him to fall, which made a ton of racket, which inevitably spooked the little buggers out of the area. Before this point, the animals were in a perfect spot for him to sneak in on them to get a shot. This was a prime opportunity that was sadly thrown out the window, due to rushing. Lesson learned and onto the next one.
Have a Plan
A hunt is man versus nature. We can control ourselves, but we can't control the animals, the elements, and the forces of fate. Because we can't control everything, we must take control of what we can. A key area we can take control is by thinking critically and creating a plan towards success. As Benjamin Franklin said,
"If you fail to plan, you are planning to fail."
We could easily talk about planning for a hunt before that hunt begins. But let's zoom-in on one of the ways that bowhunters commonly make mistakes that lead to missed shot opportunities during a hunt. I am referring to carefully planning a stalk. Take the time before you begin a stalk and plan a route that offers a concealed approach to the target. Be sure to note specific landmarks to help keep you on the route, and to also keep the animal's location pin-pointed as best as possible. Having a plan can be the difference between backstraps and bow hikes.
Have a Plan — An example from our recent hunt...
On the first evening of our Arizona hunt, a small buck presented an opportunity for a stalk. Gabe set off, pedal-to-the-metal, with wings on his feet. He was moving towards the buck before taking note of landmarks and planning his stalk. He simply started heading in the direction of the deer. In the grand scheme of things that makes sense, but it’s the details that count. Naturally, this attempt all fell apart, as he ended up in the wrong area. Meanwhile, I sat back and watched the small buck stay right where we saw him from the get-go. If Gabe would have taken the time to plan a route to the buck, he very well may have gotten a shot opportunity. What he got instead was a brisk hike back to camp right before dark.
Always Be Ready
Time is a precious thing, whether we’re talking archery hunting or spending time with family. In the case of archery hunting, seconds mean much more than most give them credit for. Seconds equal minutes, minutes equal hours, and hours equal days. Being as ready at all times will allow you to make the most of every second, minute, and hour, which will provide more bowhunting opportunities.
To make the most of your time, you need to think ahead and understand when to nock an arrow, when to draw your bow, and more. When spot-and-stalk hunting, for example, I have found it extremely helpful to have my rangefinder in my hand once my arrow is nocked. This saves the time it takes to grab the rangefinder, but also spares you the movement of having to do so. Always strive to keep your movement to a minimum. That's why it is also important to draw your bow before the animal is in your shooting lane, or within your shooting range, whenever the situation allows it. Do everything you can to be ready before a shot opportunity presents itself.
Always Be Ready — An example from our recent hunt...
After relocating the same group of javelina that spooked from Gabe’s tumble, I was able to guide him in with hand signals to their new location. Again, this was a perfect scenario. Gabe was above the animals with the wind blowing uphill in his face. He had plenty of natural cover to conceal his movement as he got closer, and he used it well. He made his way to within 30 yards from the herd, which was pretty exciting to watch from my perspective. As an on-looker, I could see the whole thing play-out as a shot opportunity started to present itself. A javelina was making his way from behind a tree and towards an opening that provided a clear shooting lane. Gabe should have been bending the limbs back on his bow to be ready, but he didn’t anticipate the opportunity. Gabe waited until the animal was actually in the shooting lane, and now that the javelina had a clear line of sight to Gabe’s movement as he drew his bow, that "skunk pig" ran for the hills unscathed. Mother Nature won again, as she should.
Better Next Time
When my buddy Gabe arrived back from his failed stalk, I could see the ultimate “bummed” look on his face. He’d worked so hard to get that one opportunity, and when it came together, things didn’t quite go how he wanted. I told him to pat himself on the back, because there are hunters that will go years without even drawing their bow on an animal. It is only so often that we get to drawback on an animal and test ourselves in these situations. They aren’t scenarios that we can just practice over and over again at home. That simple fact about the scarcity of opportunity is probably the hardest thing about bowhunting. We learn from repetition, but repetition is hard to come by. The only way to get better is to keep your head up, keep trying, and never give up. Take these tips into your next opportunity and your chance of success will be great. Soon or later, your arrow will find its mark, and the feeling will be about as sweet as they come.
Josh Kirchner is the author of the book, Becoming a Backpack Hunter, as well as the voice behind Dialed in Hunter, a blog that not only documents his own journey, but provides gear reviews, tips/tactics for western hunting, and encourages other hunters to chase and achieve their goals. Josh is a passionate bowhunter that has been hunting with his family since he was a small boy. When he is not chasing elk, deer, bear, and javelina through the diverse Arizona terrain, he is spending time with his wife, daughter, and two herding dogs.