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With millions of archers heading into the woods each year, the hunting bow is more popular now than at any other point in recent history. If you’re just getting started in the bowhunting world, then choosing your first hunting bow is a monumental decision. Not only do you need to find a bow that fits your size and hunting style, but you also need to learn how to use this bow and all of its accessories.
Even if you’ve spent years hunting with a rifle or shotgun, bowhunting is an entirely different experience. And even some of the most experienced hunters will feel like they’re starting from scratch when they first pick up a bow and arrow. So what are the different types of bows you can choose from? And how do you know which hunting bow is the right fit for you?
An Introduction to Bowhunting
Before dipping your toes into bowhunting, you’ll need to invest in a beginner’s hunting bow. While introductory bows and rifles cost about the same, you won’t have the high recurring cost of ammunition that comes with a rifle. And unlike a rifle, which you need to take to a gun range to practice shooting, you can practice archery on most private property. Even small backyards can be used for target practice, as long as there are no local ordinances that restrict the use of weapons.
One important thing to consider when getting into bowhunting is your upper body strength. Draw weight refers to the amount of tension in the string of your hunting bow. Higher draw weight means the arrow will have more speed and force. But it also makes the string harder to pull back. While you can down small game with lightweight bows, they are not easy targets to hit. Big game, on the other hand, offers a much larger target. To down these animals, though, you will need a draw weight minimum of 40 pounds or more.
Of course, many hunters use both a rifle and hunting bow depending on the season. However, if you truly want to hone your hunting skills, you will need to choose one of these weapons to focus on at a time. Once you’ve mastered the hunting bow or rifle, you can then pick up the other and add it to your arsenal. Also, if you have an experienced bowhunter that can help you learn, take advantage of this valuable resource. But if you don’t, you can access plenty of information at your local archery retailer or even online.
Which Hunting Bow Is Right for You?
When it comes to finding a hunting bow for yourself or a loved one, the bow’s size is extremely important. While some bows come in universal, adjustable models, most only fit a specific size range. If you’re shopping for a child, keep in mind that you will need to purchase new bows as they continue to grow. Most adults can (in theory) use one hunting bow for their entire lives. Both the bow’s height and draw length are important factors when it comes to choosing the right bow. Professional archery retailers can help ensure that you are purchasing the right size for your body.
Another thing that a good archery retailer can you help with is selecting the correct draw weight. You want your hunting bow to feature a draw weight that you can comfortably draw back. The type of game you plan to hunt will also determine the appropriate draw weight for your bow. Choosing a draw weight that is too heavy will result in weak shots when out in the field.
But choosing the right hunting bow isn’t just about finding one that fits your arm span and draw strength. Before you can go into an archery retailer and purchase a bow, you need to decide what type of bow you actually want to use. Hunting bows can be broken down into three general categories: longbows and recurve bows, compound bows, and crossbows. While compound bows are the most popular of these options, plenty of hunters use a longbow, recurve bow, or crossbow. Each of these types of bows is best suited to a certain style of hunting. And for most bowhunters, their bow of choice will depend on the type of hunting experience they desire.
Longbows and Recurve Bows
Longbows and recurve bows are the most basic in appearance. To the untrained eye, these hunting bows are little more than a piece of curved wood and a string. But these bows served countless Medieval armies on the battlefield. And for the devoted bowhunter, they can provide an extremely rewarding hunting experience.
Longbows get their name from the fact that they stand almost as tall as their user. These bows feature a straight piece of material, normally layered wood and fiberglass, pulled into a curve by a taut bowstring. Recurve bows, on the other hand, are shorter. Recurve bows also feature outward curves at each limb that resemble the neck of a violin.
The price of a longbow or recurve bow can vary greatly depending on the materials, quality, and age. You can certainly find suitable used bows at garage sales or online. But keep in mind that these weapons may need repairs before they make a good hunting bow. New traditional bows can range in price from around $200 to $850. However, high-end models might cost even more.
What are the pros of a longbow or recurve bow?
One of the biggest benefits of using a longbow or recurve bow for hunting is the sheer simplicity. The compound bow and crossbow designs feature many pulleys and moving parts that can break or dislodge. When heading out with a longbow or recurve bow, all you need is an extra string and stringing tool. Even if your string gets cut or snaps, you can easily replace the bowstring and continue shooting.
Longbows and recurve bows offer faster shooting compared to a compound bow or crossbow. Plus, an experienced traditional shooter can shoot a longbow or recurve bow with almost total silence. These bows are also lighter and easier to carry than their more complex counterparts. While this won’t matter much if you’re hunting locally, this can be a big advantage for those hunting in dense, backcountry areas.
What are the cons of a longbow or recurve bow?
Generally, traditional shooting with a longbow or recurve bow is more difficult than learning to shoot with a compound or crossbow. When hunting with a longbow or recurve bow, all of the power is coming from your drawback and release. If you don’t have the strength and skill needed to land a kill, it won’t happen.
You also need to get much closer to your prey than with most other projectile weapons. Many bowhunters enjoy this more traditional hunting style. But if you usually hunt with a rifle or more complex bow, it may take a while to learn how to stalk and close in on your target. If you’re hunting potentially aggressive game, then using a longbow or recurve bow can also prove more dangerous than other methods.
Who should use a longbow or recurve bow?
Longbows and recurve bows are best for those who want a primal, hands-on hunting experience. While more modern bow options certainly aren’t easy to use, traditional bows require a very different skill set. Without practice and patience, you’re unlikely to land anything when hunting with a longbow or recurve bow.
However, if you’re hunting for an alternative source of meat, then a longbow or recurve bow probably shouldn’t be your top choice. Experienced hunters can consistently land a variety of large and small game with their traditional bow. But this level of success takes years to develop. New hunters who want a higher chance of bringing home a kill should opt for the compound bow or crossbow.
Compound bows are currently the most popular hunting bow in the United States. While these bows share the same basic shape of the longbow or recurve bow, that’s where the similarities end. Compound bows feature string wrapped around pulleys mounted to each end of the bow. These pulleys add extra force to your arrows with less effort on your part.
Compound bows also frequently use accessories like sights and mechanical releases. Bow sights work just like a firearm sight. Instead of instinctively aiming your arrow like you would with a traditional bow, you can calibrate the sight to aim at a variety of distances. Mechanical releases replace your fingers when hooking and drawing back your bowstring. Rather than gripping the string directly, you grip the mechanical release (which is attached to the string). To release the string, you press a trigger or hinge on the mechanical release. This leads to a smoother, more consistent arrow release than with a traditional bow.
New compound bows can cost around $300 to over $1,000. Fortunately, if you properly care for your compound bow, it will last for years. But this initial cost is certainly not cheap. If you’re just starting out, you definitely don’t need to invest in the highest-priced model on the market. And depending on your location, you might be able to find a used bow to use until you’re ready to purchase a new model.
What are the pros of a compound bow?
The biggest advantage of using a compound bow comes from its complex design. While you can only shoot an arrow with as much force as you can draw back on a traditional bow, the pulleys on a compound bow multiply this force significantly. As a result, hunters who don’t have the strength to draw back a 60-pound string can still land large deer.
The accessories sold for compound bows are also a clear benefit for those who are looking for a fun and an efficient hunting bow. Sights allow for quick and accurate aiming, even for moving targets. And the use of a mechanical release helps ensure that each shot is clean and consistent. When targeting moving prey, these small tools can be the difference between landing a kill and going home empty-handed.
What are the cons of a compound bow?
Compound bows feature plenty of accessories and complicated design. Because of this, something breaking or a string snapping can ruin an entire hunting excursion. Unlike a traditional bow, which you can easily restring while out in the woods, compound bows are not as easy to fix. And if you’re going to be traveling to an isolated hunting location, loading up your pack with tools and extra accessories is the last thing you want.
Even when you are at home, compound bows require regular maintenance and tuning to continue shooting properly. While you can perform much of this maintenance yourself, for tasks like restringing, you will either need to invest in the appropriate tools or take your bow to a professional.
Who should use a compound bow?
Compound bows are great for hunters who want a reliable, more consistent archery experience. With a compound bow, it’s typically easier to take down large game without years of bowhunting experience. However, if you’re interested in bowhunting as a way to explore the more traditional side of hunting, a longbow or recurve bow will better meet your needs.
While hunting with a compound bow certainly doesn’t take as much patience and strength as using a traditional hunting bow, it still isn’t easy. If you want success with your compound bow, you must continue to practice outside of your local bowhunting seasons. Fortunately, just like with a traditional hunting bow, you can practice with a compound bow anywhere that archery is permitted.
In appearance, crossbows are very different from traditional bows and compound bows. Instead of featuring an upright handle strung vertically, a crossbow closely resembles a firearm, and you hold it horizontally. And while crossbows still use a bowstring, the user does not manually pull back on the string.
To shoot a crossbow, the user must first draw back the string. To do this, you must either use a manual winch or a crank. You then load an arrow into the crossbow’s chamber and fire by pulling on a trigger. Crossbows can vary greatly in price, with some models retailing for around $300 and others costing over $2,500.
What are the pros of a crossbow?
Since crossbows function much like a firearm, they are generally easier to use for those who have little-to-no archery experience. The arrows shot from a crossbow also have more force and accuracy than those manually shot from a traditional or compound bow. And once your crossbow is fully cocked, you do not have to waste energy or strength keeping the string drawn back.
While crossbows are still considered short-range weapons, their draw weights far exceed the average hunting bow. Most hunting bows feature a draw weight between 40 to 80 pounds. But with a crossbow, your draw weight could be as high as 100 to 200 pounds.
What are the cons of a crossbow?
When it comes to using a crossbow as a hunting bow, they are slower and noisier than their upright counterparts. The cranking action required to draw back a crossbow string can be an extremely long process. Because of this, letting off more than one shot at any given animal is nearly impossible. The sound of the bowstring reverberating within the crossbow structure also causes additional noise that can scare off prey.
In some states, crossbows are not a legal hunting weapon. While some states offer exceptions for hunters with disabilities or within certain age groups, Oregon bans the use of crossbows altogether. Also, some states do not qualify a crossbow as a normal hunting bow. If you plan to hunt during archery season, you must first check if your state allows crossbows during the archery season, only a portion of it, or not at all.
Who should use a crossbow?
If crossbows are legal during archery season in your state, then they are a great choice for hunters who want to expand their available hunting time. Crossbows can also be a fresh weapon-of-choice for firearms hunters who want a new challenge or experience.
If you are interested in a true archery experience, with a traditional hunting bow or compound bow, then crossbows probably aren’t right for you. The hunting style and mechanics of a crossbow are much closer to those of a shotgun or rifle than of a normal hunting bow.
Level up Your Hunting with a Bow and Arrow
Once you’ve narrowed down the type of hunting bow you want to use, the fun can begin. Archery isn’t just a versatile hunting method, it’s also a great excuse to get outside and practice your skills throughout the entire year. And, unlike firearms, you don’t need to visit a commercial firing range just to shoot your hunting bow outside of archery season.
Whether you take up bowhunting and decide that it is your true calling or learn that hunting with a rifle or shotgun is what you prefer, a quality hunting bow is a great investment. Once you’ve learned the basics of shooting and maintaining your bow and arrows, you will have access to a wider hunting season for many years to come.