Top 6 Bits of Bowhunting Advice

If someone new to bowhunting whitetails asked for advice, what would you say? Here’s the author’s top six list.

Top 6 Bits of Bowhunting Advice

Killing a whitetail with a bow is challenging, even with the latest and greatest gear. These six bits of advice should get you started on the shortest path to success. (Photo from Bear Archery Facebook)

Think back to when you started bowhunting. Maybe you had an outstanding mentor. Maybe not. Whatever the case, you can probably think back over the years — perhaps decades — and realize now that you did something wrong along the way in terms of gear, technique, strategy or mindset.

I thought about this topic recently when I ran across an old photograph of me shooting a bow at age 4. That means I’ve been shooting bows of various types for 53 years. Do I know everything? Certainly not. But I have learned a few things over time. In no particular order, here are my top six bits of bowhunting advice.


1. Don’t Draw Too Much Weight

This wasn’t a problem when I shot toy bows as a young child, but it certainly was when my dad gave me a 45-pound-draw recurve for my tenth birthday. Because I wasn’t strong enough to draw the bow back smoothly and easily, I developed poor shooting form.

This advice is just as valid for compounds as it is for traditional bows. With today’s efficient compounds, you can kill any whitetail on the planet with a 50-pound-draw compound. You don’t have to draw 70 pounds. Sure, a heavier bow enables bowhunters to extend their effective range (provided they don’t lose accuracy). That said, if bowhunters limit their shot distance to 25 yards, a tuned 50-pound-draw bow matched with a medium- or heavy-weight arrow and a scary-sharp cut-on-contact broadhead (especially a two-blade design) will consistently penetrate both lungs of a broadside whitetail.


2. Learn By Killing Deer

As a beginning bowhunter, passing young deer in order to kill mature ones isn’t the smartest way to learn the required skills for success. As I look back over my long bowhunting career, it was a mistake to begin focusing on big bucks when I was in junior high and high school. I’d be a better predator today if I’d killed more whitetails during my earlier years. Regardless of whether you shoot a fawn, doe or young buck with archery gear, you still learn something each time. It takes close encounters to learn when to draw, how to draw without being busted, where to aim, how to stop a moving deer, how to blood trail, how to field dress a deer, how to butcher an animal, etc.

I’ve tagged my share of whitetails through the years, but today I’d be a more deadly predator had I focused on meat instead of antlers during my first decade of bowhunting.

Post on the Mission Archery Facebook page: “Rachel Raley with her first deer ever. We love seeing the #MissionFamily enjoying firsts’ in the outdoors. Congrats Rachel!”
Post on the Mission Archery Facebook page: “Rachel Raley with her first deer ever. We love seeing the #MissionFamily enjoying firsts’ in the outdoors. Congrats Rachel!”

3. Play The Wind

If a whitetail walks downwind of your ambush location, the chance of it busting you is very high. Sure, there are times — like the rut — when deer seem to drop their guard, but typically if a deer smells you, then it’s game over. A whitetail has a tremendous sense of smell. You can try to fool their nose with odor-killing sprays, cover scents, odor-absorbing clothing, ozone generators, and other similar products, but the fact remains that whitetails will still pinpoint your location almost every time. Check the wind often and do whatever you can to keep it in your favor.


4. Don’t Spook Deer

This bit of advice is difficult for bowhunters to accept and put into practice. Sure, some whitetails have short memories, but mature deer learn from experience. If you bump deer off a food plot while walking out of the woods after dark, then it’s almost guaranteed that fewer deer will visit the same plot the following afternoon. And keep this in mind: Because of a deer’s exceptional sense of smell, the area downwind of your hike into and out of the woods is contaminated with human odor; the deer know you were there.

This bit of advice is so critical because it’s infinitely easier to kill unpressured deer than it is pressured ones. If you watch the various deer hunting celebrities on YouTube and elsewhere, and shake your head at the number of deer, and number of mature bucks, visiting food plots well before dark, the answer is hunting pressure. The deer on these large tracts of private land live a life without human interference. And when they do encounter a human, there’s not a negative consequence.

You probably don’t own 500 acres in southern Iowa and have the luxury of leaving a 5-acre standing cornfield in place for a weekend bowhunt in late December. And a few days prior to your hunt — your first of the season on this corner of the farm — you use a tractor and Bush Hog to mow a 15-yard x 15-yard section of standing corn just upwind of your $3,000 elevated box blind. Is this legal? Yep. Is it your reality? Probably not.

Do what you can to minimize spooking deer on the private and public lands you bowhunt. It won’t rival the petting zoo properties you see on some YouTube hunting channels, but it will increase the number of encounters you have with whitetails during legal hunting hours.


5. Pick Your Shots Wisely

An entire book could be written on this subject. To keep this article manageable in length, I’ll touch on the major points.

For starters, close shots are better than long ones. I don’t care how much you practice, and that you can hit a poker chip at 60 yards every time. Deer can move while you’re aiming, while your squeezing a release’s trigger, and while the arrow is in flight. All of these movements are magnified as distance increases. For example: If a stopped deer begins walking as you squeeze the trigger, and shot distance is 8 yards, you’ll still hit the deer’s lungs every time. However, repeat this same scenario but change the yardage from 8 to 38 and the result is an arrow to the paunch or even farther back. Not good.

Next, I recommend passing on deer that are alert, even if they’re broadside and the distance is close. A deer can jump the string regardless of your bow’s speed and the shot distance. If a deer has busted you in the tree, then the chance of it jumping the string skyrockets. In my opinion, it’s not worth the risk.

Finally, take shots on only broadside or slightly quartering-away deer. Yes, it’s possible to kill deer with close-range head-on shots, provided you’re on the ground and you have a bow/arrow/broadhead combo that will penetrate deep enough in the deer’s chest to combine one lung with liver.

In my opinion, quartering-toward shots should be avoided. Yes, a super-sharp cut-on-contact broadhead delivered on a heavyweight arrow from a heavy-draw bow can penetrate a deer’s scapula and travel through a deer’s chest. From a treestand, however, even this could result in a single-lung hit, which isn’t always fatal. It’s better to wait for a broadside or slightly quartering-away opportunity.


6. Aim Over The Leg

As I explained in detail in this article about where to aim on a broadside whitetail, it’s a mistake to aim “behind the shoulder.” And actually, when most hunters say “shoulder” they really mean leg. To avoid all confusion, look at the target images below that feature deer anatomy. A well-placed arrow (green dots) should strike under the scapula (or shoulder), not behind it. If you aim behind the front leg, as shown with the red dots, your arrow will miss the lungs and strike liver only, or perhaps the paunch. Neither of these outcomes is desirable.

On a broadside whitetail, if your arrow strikes on the green dots shown below, you’ll have a short blood trail.

As shown on the deer targets above, if you aim at the red dots, then you’ll miss the lungs. Instead, aim for the green dots.
As shown on the deer targets above, if you aim at the red dots, then you’ll miss the lungs. Instead, aim for the green dots.


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