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  • Writer's pictureDante Zuniga-West

3 Things You Can Learn from a Bowhunter

Recurve bowhunter Nathan Sutterfield at full draw!

As with most people who begin hunting, I started off with a basic rifle setup. 20 years later, while I have hunted with bow, I must confess, I am primarily a rifleman. I like long range shots, handloading my own bullets, and I prefer the harvest to go loud and fast. But I have good friends who are bowmen. And some of them aren’t just any kind of archers either, some are recurve bowmen. For the uninitiated, this means that the friends I am talking about do not use compound bows; you know, the type of bows with oblong-shaped wheels on the top and bottom of the weapon? They aren’t into that. These friends of mine shoot bows that are similar to something you’d have seen in the hands of a Native American many years ago before western expansion. And again, for the newcomers, there is somewhat of a divide between hunters who choose stick and string over rifle and ramrod. That being said, there is another level of distance between traditional archers and their compound counterparts. Hunting with a bow is challenging, hunting with a recurve bow is incredibly challenging.

For me, the entire point of spending time in the big woods is to learn. I’m not into division and I’m fully comfortable in saying that there are tons of better hunters out there. I’m not Steven Rinella or Cameron Haynes, I didn’t grow up doing this. I moved out to the middle of nowhere and learned through watching and failing. And while I prefer hunting with firearms, it would be flat out stupid of me to pretend like my bowhunting brothers don’t have much to teach. So, I recently decided to tag along with one of the most disciplined, innovative recurve bowhunters I know. This hunt, where I went along as a spotter/scout, taught me a great deal. Here are a few takeaways that I think every rifle hunter can benefit from:

1. Stalking

As the old saying goes, bowhunting starts where rifle hunting ends. It took me a minute to wrap my head around that, but after my friend and I endured a series of botched stalks that began well within rifle range, I started to get it. For a recurve bowhunter, stalking is likely the single most important element of the hunt. A rifle hunter (particularly muzzleloader hunters) would be wise to adopt the elements of stalking that a traditional bowhunter must employ. Silence and patience are paramount. To get in close enough for a shot with a recurve bow, inside 15 to 20 yards, the hunter must sometimes take half an hour or more to sneak up on an animal, undetected. Staying laser focused on the animal and studying its demeanor while paying careful attention to terrain features is what it takes to get in close. This encompasses things like moving your eyes first, then your head when you hear something that you want to look at. This kind of stalking means lifting your foot in what feels like slow motion to carefully place it down on a soft patch of earth.

2. Camo is Key

All true hunters love the aspect of camouflage. It is a staple of our trade. But a recurve bowhunter must pay special attention to camouflage on account of how up-close and personal the hunt will be. Not only does this mean choosing the correct patterns and coloring for one’s clothing, but also covering one’s face and hands with camouflage as well. On this hunt, we employed burnt corks to blacken our faces and necks before sneaking into the bush, making us less visible in the lowlight at close range.

3. Shot Set Up

For a recurve bowhunter to be successful, shot setup is critical. While this is also the case for a long-range rifle hunter, it is even more important for a traditional bowhunter. This is because the range that the shot will be taken from is so much closer and the projectile used is far more susceptible to the complications of foliage and terrain. Watching a recurve bowman tailor his ambush site to produce the most effective shot set up possible is something every rifle hunter can benefit from. Taking the time to scout the area you will be shooting from and manicuring it to minimize obstructions is the takeaway here. Pack a pair of hand-clippers on your next hunt or consider showing up a week in advance with some loppers to cut a path that can be quietly traversed in the dark. Do some pullups, get better at tree climbing and/or start studying different portable treestand setups.

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