Many gun hunters ask me why I became a bowhunter. The answer is easy. My father and both of my grandfathers were avid gun hunters, and they raised me with a deep appreciation for nature. About 40 years ago, when I was in my mid-teens, I discovered that these three role models had taught me how to hunt too well. Let me explain: In less than a week each year, I was filling my one and only deer tag in my native state of California, and I felt cheated, because I loved to hunt so much. Very simply, I took up bowhunting to expand my time in the field before I bagged a buck and finished the fun.
Some bowhunters look at gun hunters over high-held, snobbish noses. But I believe all forms of hunting are closely related and largely the same. Bowhunting is a closer-range refinement of pursuing deer with a gun, but it's no better or worse. At its best, bowhunting is a great way to lengthen your time in the field, supplementing or, in some rarer cases, replacing the sport you presently enjoy with a firearm.
Icing On The Cake
I like to hunt more than kill, and that's why bowhunting is so special to me. But I quickly discovered other bowhunting benefits that are every bit as important. And these are precisely the rewards I now tout to every would-be bowhunter.
For one thing, I found that shooting a bow can be fun, and you can practice in your basement, garage and in some cases, your backyard. And compared to squeezing the trigger on a scoped rifle, it's more of a challenge to shoot accurately with a bow. The comparison is similar to spinner fishing vs. fly fishing for trout. Both methods will effectively catch fish, but the latter requires more time and dedication.
And then there's the social enjoyment of shooting with your local archery club or a close-knit group of friends. Decades ago I fell in love with winter indoor archery competitions, and I also enjoyed outdoor field shoots at bull's-eye targets and paper animal silhouettes. These activities sharpened my shooting eye during winter, spring and summer, and they were also fun.
Today, organized archery is bigger and better than ever, with 3-D animal tournaments sweeping across North America. If you take up bowhunting, you're likely to enjoy the off-season target shooting that goes hand-in-hand with the in-season pursuit of game.
Surveys indicate approximately 80 percent of bowhunters are also gun hunters. These so-called “two season” or “three season” hunters have discovered the extra white-tailed deer tags and expanded seasons available to bow/rifle/muzzleloader combo hunters. Not only can you enjoy long pre-gun bowhunting seasons in many areas, you can also scout for upcoming gun seasons with a bow in your hand and one or more extra archery-only deer tags in your pocket.
The ever-expanding human population in North America makes archery hunting ideal. Most game departments allow archery hunting in places crowded with people because it's quiet and super-safe. And landowners who never grant firearms hunting permission often extend a warm welcome to bowhunters. If land access is a problem for you, bowhunting might be the key that opens the gate.
The peace and quiet of bowhunting is quickly addictive. Even in places jammed with archery hunters, folks are perched silently on stand or slipping like cats through the woods. The blaze-orange coats and thunderous boom of gunfire are noticeably absent—a relaxing relief in a high-stress world.
Next to the enhanced challenge of bagging a critter with my bow, I like the close contact with nature. I still love gun hunting, but I learned more about deer in a year of bowhunting than I did in all the years of rifle hunting that came before. While waiting for a bow shot, I observed dozens of animals at ranges inside 100 yards. I watched them eat, drink, scratch, sneeze, rut, fight, play and bat their eyelashes. As I sat on stand or glassed cross-canyon, I began to understand what really made these critters tick, and I became an active part of nature, like the squirrels, coyotes and birds. It felt good.
If you want a trophy animal, bowhunting is often your very best bet. Wise old bucks crawl into a hole after the first gunshots of autumn are fired, but these same animals are easier to pattern during bow season, less skittish of man and more likely to wander near your stand. And in places with lottery-drawing tags for bucks and bulls, archery tags are easier to obtain.
If you love the hunt more than the kill, and have yet to try bowhunting, you owe it to yourself to give it a shot. Once you see nature through the eyes of a bowhunter, I don't think you'll ever miss another archery season.