With great anticipation, hunters across the country will soon head out for what will be their first ever bowhunt. It’s an exciting time, filled with much expectation and wonder as to what soon will come. But there’s also plenty of anxiety as to the uncertainties that lie ahead. Even after 25 years of chasing deer with a bow, I still wake up with the jitters and excitement, nearly to the point of feeling sick. Some call it the “butterflies.” Regardless, there’s nothing quite like that first hunt. Good or bad, you’ll never forget the memories that will come with that first trip to the woods with a bow and a quiver full of arrows in hand. In hopes of making your first trip a great one, I offer the following advice for your first bowhunt.
Have the Right Gear
A lot of guys skimp on gear simply because they think it’s okay to hunt with inferior gear since they are a rookie. However, there are places you can cut corners and some you shouldn’t. I bought a handful of the cheapest arrows I could find and a 3-pack of fixed-blade broadheads the night before my first bowhunt. The broadheads cost $9.99 at Walmart. I don’t remember what brand they were. I just remember that they weren’t even sharp when I pulled them from the package. Don’t skimp on the gear that directly impacts the game you pursue (arrows, broadheads, etc.). Buy the best arrows and broadheads you can afford.
Practice With Your Treestand and Safety Harness
Be sure to spend plenty of time practicing with your treestand before your first hunt. Practice in daylight, but also practice in the dark. Know all the ins and outs of how to set things up. Know how to use your harness as well as a Lifeline system. Never climb without these. Don’t have a harness or Lifeline? No problem. Just hunt from the ground until you can buy one. Knowing how to use this gear will allow you to hunt with confidence.
Don’t Climb Too High
There will be plenty of time for hanging skyscraper stands that get you 30 feet off the ground. Don’t make your first bowhunt one of them. You’ll have enough to worry about on your first bowhunt without having to deal with extreme treestand heights and shot angles. Keep it closer to the ground as you get started. Deer get killed by hunters 10 feet off the ground every year. Focus on concealment in cedar trees and multi-trunk trees that’ll beak up your outline, even when close to the ground.
Always Use a Haul Line
Sure, you can strap your bow to your backpack, or run your arm between the limbs and string as you climb, but sooner or later, it will come back to bite you or your equipment. Make sure you always carry a haul line (rope/chord) to pull your bow up once you’re safely anchored in your treestand. Just remember to tie it to yourself and your weapon on the ground before you climb up.
Keep Your Max Range Close
It’s easy to think that just because you can stack arrows in tight out to forty yards on the practice range that you should also be able to do the same on live targets. But it’s different. Yes, it can be done. But far too often, it’s not done well. Live targets on the hunt are a whole different ball game. Adrenaline-fueled shots in the hunting situation can make 30 yard shots feel like a long-bomb. Commit to taking close shots on your first bowhunt. You’ll be more successful.
Use Your Rangefinder Before the Deer Show Up
Shoot some ranges with your rangefinder as you get settled in to your stand. You can get a good feel for a variety of distances all around your stand by checking the distance to trees, rocks or other terrain features. Don’t wait until a deer walks up to try and figure out the range. It adds more stress to the moment, and you’ll often get busted as you move about with your rangefinder. Know your distances ahead of time.
Set Realistic Goals
What are your expectations going in to your first hunt? Anything without spots, or are you looking for a booner? It’s your call – just make it realistic. I remember when a good friend of mine was first getting into bowhunting. He was a bit overconfident as he boldy stated, “I’m not shooting anything smaller than an 8-point buck!” He soon realized that mean’t he would be passing up a lot of deer – and meat. Don’t be afraid to shoot does when the opportunity arises. It’s a great way to gain experience and get a few punched tags under your belt. Just remember, what you see on outdoor TV is a far cry from reality. Don’t let TV determine your goals and expectations.
Wear a Headlamp and Don’t Be Afraid to Use It
I remember banging around in the dark on the way to my treestand when I first started hunting. I was pretty certain that using a light would scare every deer in the woods into the next county. So I busted brush, broke sticks and limbs and stumbled all over the woods trying to find my treestand in the dark. These days, I use a headlamp. I don’t think deer seem to mind it much, and I can be a lot more quiet as I sneak to my stand when I can see where I’m stepping.
Have a Plan to Get Your Meat Out Before You Pull the Trigger
It’s all fun and games until you pull the trigger! I’ve been on those hunts where I hoofed it back deep into a swamp and was rewarded with an abundance of opportunities to sling arrows. On more than one occasion, I got caught up in the excitement and had multiple does shot and on the ground. It wasn’t until after the adrenaline slowed that I was reminded that I was in for a miserable experience of hauling meat back out of the honey hole. There have been times when I didn’t bring my deer cart, ATV, or even a deer drag. Don’t make this mistake. It takes a lot of the fun out of the experience. Plan ahead. If you’re going in to kill deer, make sure you have a solid plan for getting that meat out of the woods in a timely manner to avoid spoiling the meat.
Shoot What Makes You Happy
I encourage new bowhunters to shoot whatever makes them happy. Don’t let friends or social media set the bar for you in your quest to kill your first deer with a bow. Shoot what makes you happy. And if you’re in an area that needs it, shoot lots of does. Doe management gets overlooked by far too many hunters these days as they hold out for a trophy buck. The fact is, in most states, we need to be shooting more does for herd management. It’s also a great way to to fill the freezer and gain experience as a bowhunter. Don’t be afraid to shoot does.
Few things are as exciting as beginning the bowhunting journey. We wish you the best and encourage you to enjoy the experience. Keep the items mentioned above in check and you’ll be on your way to becoming a safe and successful bowhunter this season.