By: John E. Phillips

Are You a Bowhunter, or Do You Just Hunt With a Bow?

When you go into the woods with a bow, are you simply scouting for gun season? Are you taking the only weapon with you that’s legal during that time to bag a deer, and hoping to get lucky? Will you be as surprised as the deer if you do happen to bag him? What does the term “bowhunter” mean? Does a code of ethics and a particular style and philosophy of hunting exemplify the word “bowhunter,” that doesn’t include those who merely hunt with their bows? I believe the men and women who carry the mantle of “bowhunter” are a different breed from the average sportsman who takes up a bow for a special season to hunt deer and then forsakes the bow when gun season arrives. Let’s look at the criteria for the bowhunter, and the differences between the men and women who are in this fraternity and those who merely hunt with bows.

What is Your Proper Draw Length?

Those who hunt with bows may have draw lengths that are almost correct. They pull their bows back to where the bows feel comfortable for them. But they may not always get to the back wall of the bow – the point at which the bow is pulled to its maximum draw. Bowhunting is an exact science. If you can pull the bow still further back or stop short of an exact draw length, you will shoot inconsistently. The bowhunter knows his or her exact draw length. He pinpoints the one spot where he must anchor his bow every time he shoots. He spends the time required to make sure his draw length is correct. If he changes from shooting with his fingers to using a mechanical release, he’ll readjust his draw length to be certain his anchor point is consistent and that he can shoot the arrow in the same place each time he draws his bow.

How Do You Decide Which Arrows to Use?

Often someone who hunts with a bow goes to the local sporting-goods store and chooses several arrows to shoot for the upcoming season. If he decides to test three or four different broadheads, he’ll pick out several to affix to his arrows. When you look in his quiver, you’ll see a wide variety of broadheads, arrow lengths, vanes and feathers for fletchings. He’s planning to shoot everything on the market. He wants to make sure he has one of each different style of arrow, broadhead and fletching to suit different situations. If the weather’s bad and he hunts in the rain, he’ll shoot vanes for fletchings. If the weather’s pretty and clear, he’ll shoot feathers with no consistency to the type of arrows, broadheads or fletchings he carries in his quiver.

However, the bowhunter will pay as much attention to details about his arrows as he does to any other piece of his equipment. Each arrow will be exactly the same length and spined the same. Every arrow will carry the same broadhead, because the bowhunter has tested several-different types of broadheads and determined which broadhead flies best in his bow. Each broadhead has been painstakingly sharpened. Each arrow has been spun to make sure the shaft is straight. He doesn’t have a favorite arrow he always shoots first, because each arrow in his quiver performs in exactly the same way. Once a bowhunter shoots an arrow at a deer, he either resharpens the broadheads or replaces them. He spins the arrow to make sure it’s still straight. If he finds an arrow not straight, he eliminates it from his quiver. The bowhunter knows that to increase his odds for taking game and to shoot consistently on every shot, every arrow in his quiver has to be identical and must perform the same way that every other-arrow in his quiver does.

When Do You Practice?

The person who hunts with a bow each season usually leaves his bow in his case during the off-season. The week before the season comes in, he takes his bow out and begins to practice and shoot almost constantly. But his muscles haven’t had a chance to become strong, and his body’s not accustomed to drawing and holding the bow steadily. He hasn’t shot quite enough to consistently hit the target at under 30 yards each time he shoots.

But the bowhunter keeps his bow handy, handling it almost as often as he does his briefcase or his toolbox. He always shoots at least once a month. If possible, he shoots once a week, even during the off-season. He doesn’t view himself as just a bowhunter. He considers himself an archer. Shooting the bow and arrow is his hobby. He likes to be able to test his skill with his equipment during the off-season – perhaps by shooting 3D archery. Shooting accurately is much-more important to him than taking a deer. He knows that consistency in shooting only comes from practice. When he shoots, he derives as much joy from shooting paper or life-size targets as he does from hunting. He doesn’t just shoot to prepare for hunting. He shoots because he enjoys the sport of archery. Hunting is just one more facet of that sport.

During the off-season, he’ll be testing new broadheads, various kinds of releases and any new or better innovations that will improve his accuracy and/or his consistency. One to two months before the opening day of deer season, he’ll be shooting from a tree stand to adjust his shooting for the height of his stand. He will determine at what height he shoots most effectively and consistently will put his tree stand at that height when he’s practicing or hunting. He realizes to continue to shoot accurately, the height of his tree stand is critically important.

He doesn’t change his equipment right before the hunt. Any new equipment has been added and checked-out months before hunting season. He generally shoots life-size targets at varying distances. If he’s unsure of his range during practice, he’ll use a range finder to better improve his skills at judging distance.

How Do You Scout?

The person who hunts with a bow rarely goes into the woods after the season. He won’t be interested in where he should set-up his tree stand until the coming season. He’s a short-term hunter. Once bow season is over, so is his enthusiasm for bowhunting.

The bowhunter is what the name implies – a bowman first but also a hunter. He enjoys twin sports – archery and hunting – and combines these two sports to become a bowhunter. He goes into the woods after the season, before the leaves start to come out. He looks for trails, scrapings and rubbing signs and the best places to hunt the next season. He searches for the bucks that have eluded him. He hunts for the most-productive spots to put up his tree stand the next year and derives his joy from finding those best places. He continues to hunt and learn about deer movement, while determining the best point to intercept the deer. He’s willing to hunt after the season without his bow to learn all he can about deer. The hunt itself brings joy and excitement to him. He knows once he’s located his tree stand site, all that’s required for him to be successful is to have a favorable wind and shoot the same way he’s been practicing all year long. He enjoys the hunt without the bow as much as the sport of archery without the hunt.

How Do You Place Your Tree Stand?

The person who hunts with a bow puts his tree stand up and hopes to see a deer, possibly even get a shot at a deer. He’s found some deer sign that tends to indicate a deer may pass by that spot.

The bowhunter will put up several stands, 2 to 4 weeks prior to the season. He’ll set-up stands where he can hunt deer no matter what direction the wind is blowing on the day he hunts. Each stand he hangs will be for him to hunt from at a specific time of day. He’ll have morning stands, which will face west. Then if he has a west wind or any variation of a west wind or a north/south wind, he can hunt from that stand. The sun will come-up at his back. As the deer moves toward his stand, the deer will be looking into the sun and will be less likely to see the hunter.

His afternoon stand usually will face east. Then the sun will be in the deer’s face as the animal comes to the stand. He can hunt from this stand if he has an east wind or a north/south wind. The stands he can hunt from more often, either in the middle of the day or at any time of the day, generally will face north or south. By having various stands facing different directions, then whichever way the wind’s blowing on the day he plans to hunt, he still has a stand where he can hunt. If the wind changes direction while he’s on his stand, he can move to another stand that will provide a favorable wind direction. Each of the stands he hangs will be in a spot where he’s seen deer previously.

The bowhunter will hunt from each of his stands before the season without his bow. He’ll become familiar with the deer in the area. If he needs to reposition his stand to make sure he’ll be within bow range of the deer, he does so prior to the season. From every stand site, he knows the deer he’ll try and take that come into that region. He’s seen most of the deer he feels will be utilizing that section of the woods during hunting season. When he goes-out on opening morning, he understands from which direction the deer should come, about what time they should appear, how far the deer will be from his stand, and which deer he will try and arrow. As precise as the bowhunter becomes when practicing with his equipment, he’s almost as exact with his hunting skills. 


Do You Practice Hit-or-Miss Hunting or Consistent Hunting?

The person who hunts with a bow will miss deer often or make poor shots. He’ll probably be heard to say that he didn’t have a good shot but threw an arrow at the deer anyway. He’s not certain where he’s hit the buck but is convinced he’s hit the deer.

A bowhunter will take home almost every deer at which he shoots. He’s developed a deep respect and admiration for the animal he hunts. He’s learned what his effective range is and what a no-shot is. He’s developed a code that dictates, “I won’t take a shot if:

  • “The deer doesn’t walk within my effective area;
  • “I don’t know for certain I can get a lethal hit;
  • “I have a marginal shot with a 50-percent-or-less chance I won’t bag the deer, or only will wound it;
  • “The deer doesn’t present a good broadside shot;
  • “The light’s too dim for me to see my sights, and the spot on the deer I’m trying to hit; or
  • “A small limb is between me and the deer that may deflect my arrow.”

he bowhunter realizes if he doesn’t take a poor shot, he can return to that same site and hunt that same deer at another time. He also knows if he takes a poor shot or wounds or spooks the animal, he may not be able to hunt that deer from that place again. When the bowhunter releases the arrow, he must be convinced he will bag the deer. He prefers to walk-out of the woods without loosing an arrow, rather than to make a poor shot and possibly cripple a deer.

The person who hunts with a bow may fatally arrow a deer. After 1-1/2-hours of searching, he may give-up the hunt. However, the bowhunter rarely, if ever, loses game. He has learned to mentally record the events just prior to the shot, the time he releases the arrow and the deer’s response until the animal is out of sight and hearing. Once the deer has vanished, the bowhunter mentally replays what he has seen. He knows where the deer was standing when he took the shot and which trees the deer ran by after the animal received the arrow. He’s identified a landmark where he has seen the deer last. He has watched his fletchings disappear into the deer’s side. He understands what organs the arrow should have passed through and realizes how long he should wait before he begins to search for the deer.

Because the bowhunter understands that even a lethal hit may not produce blood for 30 to 100 yards, even if he doesn’t find a blood trail, he doesn’t give up the search for the deer. If he can’t locate the deer before dark, he’ll return to the lodge, wait an hour or two and be back on the trail of the deer after dark with a lantern. If he doesn’t pinpoint the deer that night, rather than hunt the next morning, he’ll continue to look for the deer he feels he’s arrowed. He usually can tell from the condition of the arrow and the blood on the arrow the type of hit he’s made. He’ll exhaust every possibility to recover the deer before he gives up the hunt for the wounded animal.

Which Deer Do You Shoot?

The person who hunts with a bow is anxious to take any deer that walks under his stand. He’s not selective in his harvest. He’ll shoot a button buck, a spike or a young fawn. To bag a deer with a bow is much-more important to him than to select the animal he takes.

The bowhunter is very particular about which animals he releases an arrow at and won’t shoot a button buck or a young buck. He realizes he may have an opportunity to hunt that buck the next season when the deer will be an older age-class animal. He shoots the large does that need to be taken out of the herd. He knows before he goes into the woods the kind of bucks and does he will and will not shoot. If the animal that appears under his tree stand is not the size he has selected, then he won’t shoot. He’s learned that selective harvest fits his code of ethics better than amassing a large number of bowkills. He chooses to be proud of each animal he bags rather than bragging about the number of animals he’s arrowed.

This is an excerpt from my book “Jim Crumley’s Secrets of Bowhunting Deer” check it out at

To learn about hunting deer from John E. Phillips’ eBooks, print and Audible books, go to Find John’s Nook books at

For more please go to: John Phillips