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Archery Hunting 101: Bow Hunting for Beginners

If you want to get started in bow hunting and are looking for an easy-to-use guide that will take you from A to Z and fully explain everything you would expect in a Bow Hunting for Beginners, Archery Hunting 101 guide, then you’ve come to the right place. I highly recommend bookmarking this page so you can come back to it often to research all the additional content I’ve put together so you can easily digest everything at your own pace. I’m Mike Manley and you might wonder why you should listen to me.


As a retired U.S. Army Green Beret, I’ve spent a significant part of my life in environments that tested my survival skills, patience, and precision. While my military training didn’t involve bow hunting, many of the skills I acquired—like stealth, patience, observation, and the ability to make calm decisions under pressure—have translated seamlessly into my journey as a bow hunter.

But don’t worry, this guide isn’t about military tactics—it’s about the art of bow hunting. Whether you’ve never held a bow before or are transitioning from target shooting to hunting, this guide will help you understand the basics and give you the confidence to take your first steps into the woods.

In this post, we’ll cover everything from understanding the importance of archery hunting, selecting the right equipment, learning to shoot a bow, and developing basic hunting skills, to understanding ethical hunting practices. Each section also links to more detailed articles on specific topics, providing an in-depth guide for those who want to delve deeper.

Archery Hunting 101: Bow Hunting for Beginners includes:
Bow hunting in the rain
Bow hunting in the rain on the opening day of Archery Season in Pennsylvania in October 2022.

Getting Started: Bow Hunting for Beginners

Why Choose Bow Hunting Over Other Forms of Hunting

Bow hunting is a distinctive hunting experience. It’s not just about the thrill of the chase or the satisfaction of a successful hunt—it’s about immersing yourself in the environment, getting close to the game, and connecting with a timeless hunting tradition. The challenge of bow hunting is greater than with firearm hunting. It requires more patience, stealth, and precision, which makes a successful hunt even more rewarding.

The Benefits and Challenges of Bow Hunting

There are many benefits to bow hunting that extend beyond the hunt itself. For me, as a retired U.S. Army Green Beret, bow hunting became an integral part of my transition from military service. After my retirement, I struggled with PTSD, a challenge that many veterans face.

In the stillness of the woods and the focus of the hunt, I found a sense of peace and purpose that helped me manage my PTSD symptoms. The act of bow hunting—stealthily tracking game, patiently waiting for the right shot, and immersing myself in the natural world—became a form of therapy. The solitude offered space for reflection, while the physical demands provided a positive outlet for stress and anxiety.

Bow hunting also taught me new ways to apply my military skills. The strategic planning, patience, observation, and precision required in bow hunting echoed aspects of my military training, providing a familiar framework within a new context.

However, bow hunting is not without its challenges. The very factors that make it rewarding—its demand for close proximity to the game, the need for precision and patience, and the physical demands of drawing and holding a bow—also make it difficult. But it’s these challenges that make bow hunting such a deeply fulfilling pursuit.

Whether you’re a veteran like me, looking for a way to transition and heal, or simply someone seeking a new outdoor challenge, bow hunting offers a rich and rewarding experience.

Introduction to Strategic Bow Hunting

As you begin your journey into bow hunting, one aspect you’ll come to understand and appreciate over time is the importance of strategy in hunting. Just like any other pursuit, hunting is not merely about the physical act – it’s also about the strategy that informs it.

Strategic Bow Hunting isn’t just a concept; it’s a mindset. It involves understanding the intricate details of the hunt and using that knowledge to your advantage. It’s about applying systematic, informed strategies to make your hunt more efficient, successful, and enjoyable.

Think of it as the ‘next level’ in your bow hunting journey. It combines elements of preparation, keen observation, and strategic adaptation, allowing you to be one step ahead of your quarry.

As you gain more experience and confidence in your skills, I invite you to delve deeper into the principles of Strategic Hunting. It’s a vast topic and one that I’ll continually expand on in future posts. For now, keep it in mind as a goal to work towards, a level to reach as you develop your bow hunting skills.

Basic Archery Equipment

Just like any sport or hobby, having the right equipment in bow hunting can make a world of difference. It’s not about having the best or most expensive gear; it’s about understanding what each piece of equipment does and choosing what fits your needs, abilities, and hunting style.

Basic gear you will need when learning bow hunting for beginners in my archery hunting 101 guide.
My 2022 Bear Alaskan Compound Bow and Method Archery HMR Arrows.

Types of Bows

There are several types of bows you might consider:

  • Compound Bow: These bows use a system of pulleys or “cams” to assist with the bow’s draw. This means that the full draw weight isn’t felt by the archer and holding the bow at full draw takes less strength. They’re popular for hunting due to their power and accuracy.
  • Recurve Bow: The recurve bow is named for its distinctive shape: the bow curves away from the archer when unstrung. This design gives the arrow more power and speed. Recurve bows are commonly used in Olympic archery.
  • Longbow: This type of bow is one of the simplest and oldest designs. It’s a straight piece of wood when unstrung and forms a “D” shape when strung. Longbows are loved for their history and the challenge they present, as they often lack the technological advancements of modern bows.


Crossbows are a unique type of bow that combines the design of a traditional bow with the mechanics of a firearm. Instead of holding the string back yourself, the crossbow does it for you with a locking mechanism. This means once it’s loaded, it’s ready to fire with a squeeze of the trigger, offering some advantages in terms of aim stability and reducing physical strain.

Crossbows can be an excellent choice for those with physical limitations that prevent them from using a compound or recurve bow, or for hunters who prefer a shooting experience similar to using a rifle. Keep in mind, though, that not all jurisdictions allow hunting with a crossbow, so be sure to check your local laws before choosing this option.

As with any hunting equipment, it’s crucial to select a crossbow that fits your strength and skill level. Crossbows come in a range of draw weights and sizes, so take the time to find one that you can handle comfortably and safely.

For more details on Bows and Bow Setups, see the post links below:

Arrows and Their Components

These are the components of a hunting arrow.
These are the components of a hunting arrow.

The arrow you choose is just as important as your bow. Arrows are made up of several parts:

  • Shaft: This is the main body of the arrow. They can be made from a variety of materials, including wood, carbon, and aluminum.
  • Fletching: These are the feathers or vanes at the back of the arrow. They stabilize the arrow in flight.
  • Nock: The nock is a small piece at the tail end of the arrow that secures the arrow to the bowstring.
  • Broadheads: These are the points or tips of the arrow, designed to penetrate game. They come in various styles, including fixed-blade and mechanical designs.

For more details on Arrows and Arrow Setups, see the post links below:

Essential Gear

For more detailed insights on understanding the gear you will need for bow hunting, you may find these posts helpful:

My saddle hunting gear ready for archery season.
My saddle hunting gear prep and layout getting ready for deer season.

Importance of Choosing the Right Equipment

Choosing the right equipment is critical in bow hunting. It’s not just about what looks good or what’s most expensive – it’s about what suits you best. Your equipment should fit your body size, strength, and hunting style. Remember, the most successful hunters are not necessarily those with the most high-tech gear, but those who know their equipment well and can use it effectively.

Learning to Shoot a Bow

Learn how to shoot a compound bow using the 8 fundamentals or shooting a bow.
Learning to shoot a compound bow can be a challenge and very fun at the same time.

Basic Archery Form and Shooting Technique

The foundation of successful bow hunting is good shooting form. Here are some of the basics:

  • Stance: Stand perpendicular to your target with your feet shoulder-width apart. This gives you a stable base for your shot.
  • Grip: Your bow handle should rest lightly in your hand. Gripping too tightly can torque the bow and throw off your shot.
  • Drawing: Pull the string back to a consistent anchor point, such as the corner of your mouth or below your chin.
  • Aiming: Keep both eyes open and focus on your target. The sight pin on your bow should blur slightly.
  • Release: Let the string slide out of your fingers naturally. Don’t pluck at it, as this can also throw off your shot.

Practice Routines for Beginners

Practice is key in archery. To start, focus on form rather than accuracy. Once your form is solid, you can start aiming at a target. Here are a few practice routines:

  • Blank Bale Shooting: Shoot at a large target from a close distance. The goal here isn’t to hit a specific point, but to focus on your form and release.
  • Round Robin: Set up several targets at varying distances. Take a shot at each target in turn. This helps you practice adjusting your aim for different distances.
  • Group Shooting: Shoot several arrows at the same target and try to get them as close together as possible. This helps improve consistency.

For more details on how to shoot a bow and other best practices, see the links below:

How to Sight in a Bow

Aiming through your Peep sight. What your sight picture looks like.
Adjusting your aiming technique based on the pin you are using to shoot.

Sighting in a bow is an important step in preparing for a hunt. Here’s a basic process:

  1. Set up a target at a known distance (start with 20 yards).
  2. Aim at the center of the target using your top sight pin and take a few shots.
  3. If your arrows are hitting above the spot you’re aiming at, move your sight pin up. If they’re hitting below, move the sight pin down.
  4. Repeat this process for each sight pin, adjusting the distance of the target as necessary for each pin.
  5. After making adjustments, take a few more shots at each distance to confirm your sight settings.

Remember, shooting a bow is a skill that takes time to develop. Don’t get discouraged if you struggle at first. With practice, patience, and persistence, you’ll improve.

For more details on bow sights or bow sight setups, click the links below:

A Personal Note on Shooting Skill

Shooting a bow and arrow may seem worlds away from the firearms I trained with as a Green Beret, but I’ve found that many of the principles remain the same. The discipline, focus, and consistency required to shoot accurately are universal, whether your target is a paper bullseye, an enemy combatant, or a whitetail deer.

What I love about archery is that it demands both physical skill and mental acuity. It’s not just about strength or precision, but also patience, control, and a deep understanding of your equipment and environment. It’s a challenge that never gets old and a skill that always has room for improvement.

As you embark on your bow-hunting journey, I encourage you to embrace this challenge. Enjoy the process of honing your skills, learning from your misses, and celebrating your hits. Remember, every great archer was once a beginner. Keep practicing, keep learning, and you’ll find your mark.

Understanding Deer and Other Wild Game

Hunting isn’t just about your skill with a bow. It’s also about understanding the animals you’re hunting. By understanding their behaviors, movements, and signs, you can increase your chances of a successful hunt.

How to hunt hot deer sign like rubs, scrapes, tracks, and droppings.
Understanding deer sign and what it means to your hunt can make you a much better deer hunter.

Game Species for Bow Hunting in the U.S.

Bow hunting in the U.S. isn’t limited to deer, although they are a popular choice for many. In fact, there’s a wide range of game that can be ethically and legally hunted with a bow across the country:

Deer (Whitetail and Mule): These are often the first choice for beginner bow hunters due to their abundance and the relatively mild weather during deer hunting seasons.

Elk: Bow hunting for elk is a challenging yet rewarding experience. Their keen senses, coupled with often rugged terrain, makes for a true test of a hunter’s skill and endurance.

Bear: Black bear bow hunting seasons are open in many states. Remember, bear hunting brings its own unique set of challenges and safety considerations.

Small Game (Rabbits, Squirrels, etc.): Bow hunting for small game is an excellent way to practice your stalking and shooting skills. It can also extend your hunting season as small game seasons are often longer or don’t close at all.

Turkey: Bow hunting for turkeys is a popular choice in the spring. It requires a blend of patience, skill, and knowledge about turkey behavior.

Other Big Game (Moose, Caribou, etc.): In some states and at certain times, bow hunting seasons for other big game such as moose and caribou are open. Be sure to check local regulations.

Remember, each species requires a specific set of strategies and skills. As a responsible hunter, it’s your duty to learn about the game you’re pursuing, respect their habits and habitats, and adhere to all hunting regulations. This is an essential part of this bow hunting for beginners guide.

Basics of Animal Behavior and Movement

Different animals have different behaviors and movement patterns. It’s important to know when the animal you’re hunting is likely to be active (dawn and dusk are often prime times), where it’s likely to be found (near food and water sources, for example), and how it’s likely to react to potential threats.

For example, deer are crepuscular, which means they are most active during dawn and dusk. They also tend to follow established trails between feeding and bedding areas. Understanding these habits can help you determine where and when to set up your stand or blind.

For more details on deer movement and behavior, see the posts below:

Importance of Scent Control

Animals have a keen sense of smell. Scent control is critical in bow hunting because you’re often trying to get close to your quarry. Any unnatural smells, including human scent, can alert an animal to your presence and cause it to avoid the area.

There are several ways to control your scent, such as using scent-free soaps and laundry detergents, storing your hunting clothes in a scent-free container, and using scent-blocking sprays. You should also pay attention to wind direction and position yourself downwind of where you expect the animals to be.

For more details on the importance of scent control and how to manage it for hunting, click the links below:

Identifying Signs of Game

Learning to identify signs of game can help you locate animals and understand their patterns of movement. Here are some common signs to look for:

  • Tracks: The footprints an animal leaves behind can tell you what species it is, which way it was heading, and how long ago it passed by.
  • Scat: The droppings an animal leaves behind can also tell you what species it is and provide clues about its diet.
  • Rubbing and Scraping: Many animals, such as deer, leave signs by rubbing their antlers on trees or scraping the ground. These signs can indicate the presence of a buck in the area.

By understanding these aspects of wild game, you can become a more effective and successful bow hunter. It’s not just about the shot, but the entire process of tracking, understanding, and finally hunting your quarry.

For more details on identifying signs of game for bow hunting, see the posts listed below:

A Personal Note on Studying Game

As a hunter, I’ve always been fascinated by the study of the game I pursue. There’s a thrill in unraveling the mysteries of an animal’s behavior, deciphering the clues it leaves behind, and predicting its movements. It’s like a tactical mission or a chess game in the wild – the more you understand, the more strategic you can be.

But beyond the practical aspects of hunting, there’s something deeply rewarding about this process of learning. It fosters a profound respect for the animals and the natural world they inhabit. It has made me not just a better hunter, but a more aware and connected human being. It’s my hope that as you embark on your bow hunting journey, you too will find this joy and connection in understanding the game you hunt.

Common Beginner Bow Hunting Mistakes and How to Avoid Them

Me on a frustrating hunting day filled with mistakes.

After retiring from the Army in 2010, my dad, an avid bow hunter, persuaded me to take up archery hunting. Despite having hunted in my teenage years and completing the Hunter’s Safety Course, I hadn’t actively hunted for many years due to my military service. So, I geared up, buying a Ready-to-Hunt (RTH) bow from Bear Archery on eBay, a generic climbing tree stand, and some arrows from a local Archery Pro Shop. I even had them tune my bow and set it up for me. My hunting gear? My old military uniform and a sturdy pair of Muck rubber boots. After diligent practice with the bow, I thought I was prepared for my first hunting season. I was in for a surprise.

Rookie Mistake 1: Inadequate Scouting and Preparation

I got an early start on the first day of the season, hitting the trail by 5:30 AM. But despite having scouted out a spot with my dad and brother weeks before, I struggled to find my chosen tree in the pre-dawn darkness. Even with my trusty Army headlamp and a Surefire flashlight, that tree might as well have been a needle in a haystack.

Rookie Mistake 2: Struggling with the Tree Stand

When I finally located a suitable tree, I grappled with my noisy, awkward tree stand. After 30 minutes of climbing, descending, and adjusting, I finally settled into the stand, drenched in sweat and second-guessing my choice of tree. The shifting stand made me uneasy, undermining my confidence in its safety. I was a bundle of nerves.

Rookie Mistake 3: Underestimating Deer

Around 7:30 AM, a herd of 12 doe, including some young fawns and yearlings, appeared around me. I needed to stand up to take a shot at one of the larger doe, but I felt paralyzed, afraid to spook them. I was too low in the tree, too exposed, and all too aware of my lack of experience. The doe remained for 20 minutes, oblivious to my presence thanks to a favorable wind direction. But when I finally gathered the courage to stand, one of the doe snorted, and they all bolted, tails up. I was busted.

A Lesson Learned

I’ll admit, I took my initial bow hunting day for granted. With a military career behind me, I felt confident in my abilities and assumed that my training would directly translate into hunting success. I ignored some of my own training principles, believing I could sidestep the usual beginner’s learning curve. I was mistaken.

Bow hunting is a unique challenge, requiring a specific set of skills and knowledge. My military background, while helpful in some areas, didn’t fully prepare me for the realities of the hunt. That humbling first day in the woods was a wake-up call, a reminder that every new endeavor requires respect and dedicated learning.

Ever since that day, I’ve approached bow hunting with the same strategic and methodical mindset I applied in the military. It’s about understanding the environment, knowing your equipment, developing the right techniques, and continually learning and adapting. My military training didn’t make me an expert bow hunter overnight, but it did equip me with the discipline and perseverance to learn and grow in this challenging sport. And that’s what I hope to help you do with this guide.

Basic Hunting Skills

In addition to understanding your equipment and the animals you’re hunting, there are some fundamental hunting skills that every bow hunter should develop.

Bow hunting in tree and matching camo

Scouting and Selecting Hunting Locations

Scouting is the process of exploring an area to learn about the animals that live there and their patterns of movement. Look for signs like tracks, scat, rubs, and scrapes, as well as food sources and water sources. Pay attention to prevailing wind direction and consider how you will approach and leave your hunting location without being detected.

When selecting a hunting location, consider the animal’s habits, the terrain, and the time of day. Remember, what works for one animal or one location may not work for another. Each hunt is a unique puzzle to solve.

A Personal Note on Scouting

I often tell people that I spend 80% of my time scouting and just 20% actually hunting. I’ve found that scouting – putting in the legwork to understand the game and their environment – is often the difference between success and a long, quiet day in the stand. If you’re not confident that you’re in a good spot, you’re probably not.

Being mobile and adaptable is key. I frequently scout and still hunt throughout the archery season to ensure I’m always in the best possible position. My military background taught me the value of good reconnaissance – and in bow hunting, that lesson has paid off time and again.

Setting Up and Using a Tree Stand, Saddle, or Ground Blind

Tree stands, saddles and ground blinds can be effective tools for getting close to game without being detected. When using a tree stand, choose a tree that is straight and healthy, with enough cover to hide your silhouette. Set up your stand downwind of where you expect the animals to be.

Ground blinds should be set up well in advance of your hunt, if possible, to allow animals to become accustomed to their presence. Like tree stands and saddles, they should be positioned downwind of the expected path of the animals.

For more details on hunting setups and tactics, check out the posts linked below:

Importance of Camouflage and Stealth

Camouflage helps you blend into your environment, making it harder for animals to see you. This includes not only your clothing, but also face paint or a mask, and even the gear you carry.

Stealth is equally important. This involves not only moving quietly but also minimizing your scent (as discussed in the previous section) and being aware of the direction of the wind.

In the end, successful hunting is a combination of many factors: understanding the game, selecting the right gear, honing your shooting skills, and mastering these basic hunting skills. It’s a complex and challenging sport, but that’s what makes it so rewarding.

For more details on optimizing camouflage and stealth, check out the posts linked below:

A Personal Note on Hunting Skills

When I first started bow hunting, I brought with me a wealth of tactical knowledge from my time as a Green Beret. However, I quickly realized that hunting was a different kind of challenge. Unlike my military experiences, where the objective was often clear and immediate, hunting required a patience and subtlety I wasn’t used to.

I remember a time when I had perfectly scouted a location, set up my tree stand just right, and had the wind in my favor. I was perfectly camouflaged, all set for a great day of hunting. Then, I made a simple but costly mistake – I forgot to silence my cell phone. The ringing spooked the deer I had been waiting for, and it bolted before I could even raise my bow.

That day, I learned an important lesson about the art of hunting. It’s not just about the big things, like choosing the right bow or mastering the perfect shot. It’s also about the small things, and you will hear me say this a lot – the details that can make or break your hunt. Since then, I approach each hunt with the same meticulous attention to detail that I applied in my military missions. And let me tell you, it has made all the difference in the world.

Ethical Hunting Practices

Bow hunting isn’t just about the thrill of the chase or the satisfaction of a successful hunt. It’s also about respect – for the animals we pursue, for the environment they inhabit, and for the traditions and principles of hunting itself. Here are some key ethical considerations every bow hunter should keep in mind.

Hunting around 18 feet in the tree, high above the scent line.
Knowing when and when not to take a shot can be one of the most important things you learn in bow hunting.

Understanding Fair Chase

Fair chase is a concept that lies at the heart of ethical hunting. It involves giving the animal a fair chance to escape, and not taking unfair advantage of it. This means avoiding practices like baiting, using radio or GPS tracking, or hunting animals in enclosed areas where they can’t escape. When you engage in fair chase, you’re not just hunting for sport – you’re participating in a primal, respectful relationship between predator and prey. I live by these rules and it makes the hunting experience so much more challenging, but more rewarding at he same time.

Ethical Shot Placement

When you release that arrow, your aim should be to achieve a quick, clean, and humane kill. This means understanding the anatomy of the game you’re hunting and aiming for a shot that will cause fatal damage quickly – usually a heart or lung shot. If you’re not confident that you can make such a shot, it’s better to wait for a better opportunity than to risk wounding an animal unnecessarily.

I can tell you there is nothing worse than not being able to recover an animal you have shot or watching them suffer and take hours to die, but this is also a part of bow hunting and something we as bow hunters can strive to minimize.

Respecting Wildlife and the Environment

As hunters, we have a responsibility to protect and preserve the natural environments we love. This means following ‘Leave No Trace‘ principles, like disposing of waste properly, minimizing campfire impact, and respecting wildlife and their habitats. It also means following all hunting regulations and seasons, which are designed to protect animal populations and maintain healthy ecosystems.

Hunting ethically isn’t always the easiest path, but it is the most rewarding. It ensures that we can continue to enjoy the sport we love, and pass it on to future generations in a sustainable and respectful way.

After the Shot

Successfully placing your shot is just one part of the hunting process. What comes next is equally important, and requires its own set of skills and knowledge.

Archery Hunting 101
Preparing to skin and quarter a large mature buck I had just shot.

Tracking and Recovering Game

Once you’ve made your shot, it’s time to track your game. Look for signs like blood trails or disturbed vegetation. Be patient and careful – rushing can lead to lost trails or scared-off game. It’s important to wait a bit before starting the tracking process to give the animal time to expire. When you do find your game, approach it cautiously to ensure it’s down.


After recovering your game, the first thing you should do is tag it, if required by your local hunting regulations. This typically involves filling out a tag with the date and location of the kill, and attaching it to the animal. Tagging is important for game management, as it helps authorities keep track of the number of animals taken.

Field Dressing

Field dressing is the process of removing the internal organs of the animal, which helps to preserve the meat and makes the animal easier to transport. This is a skill that takes some time to learn and practice. Always be respectful during the process – remember, this animal is providing you with food.

Transporting Your Game

Once your game is field dressed and tagged, it’s time to transport it. This could be as simple as carrying it out of the woods, or it could involve using a game cart or other equipment. Always transport your game in a way that is respectful and minimizes damage to the meat.

The moments after the shot are some of the most challenging, but also the most rewarding. It’s when the hunt becomes real, and the responsibility of taking a life is felt most keenly. Approach these moments with the respect and seriousness they deserve.

Buck looking for predators
Bow hunting one of these majestic animals can be one of the most rewarding, yet challenging things you can do.


Bow hunting is a journey, not a destination. It’s about the relationship between you, the bow, the arrow, and the game. It’s about respect for nature and the thrill of the chase. It’s about the patience required to wait for the perfect shot, the skill to make it, and the responsibility to handle what comes after.

We’ve covered a lot of ground in this post, from understanding the history and benefits of archery hunting to choosing the right equipment, learning to shoot, understanding your game, acquiring hunting skills, and practicing ethical hunting. We’ve also discussed what to do after the shot – tracking and recovering game, tagging, field dressing, and transporting your game.

Now it’s up to you to put these lessons into practice. Remember, every great bow hunter started out as a beginner. Don’t be afraid to make mistakes – that’s how we learn and grow. And don’t forget to continue learning and expanding your skills.

For more in-depth information on each topic, be sure to follow the links embedded in each section. These will take you to other posts on my blog, where I delve deeper into each subject.

If you’ve found this Archery Hunting 101: Bow Hunting for Beginners guide helpful, I invite you to subscribe to my blog for more insights, tips, and stories from my own journey as a bow hunter. Just fill out the form below, and you’ll be on your way to becoming a more informed, skilled, and ethical bow hunter.

Thank you for reading, and here’s to your journey in bow hunting!

skill of using a bow to shoot arrows. The word comes from the Latin arcus, meaning bow. Historically, archery has been used for hunting and combat. In modern

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