Of course bowhunting rules. It adds months to your hunting season. It challenges you to bring your A‑game. And success means getting heart-in-your-ears, can’t-hardly-breathe close to your quarry. But that’s not what we’re talking about here. We are talking about rules of thumb, basic tenets—plus a strongly held opinion or two—that form a foundation of knowledge to help you (1) find the bow that is exactly right for you, (2) shoot it like you’re a modern-day Howard Hill, and (3) slip into bow range of more game than ever before.
Below are 25 such rules, plus additional video rules. They’re not meant to compose a complete list, because there’s much more to know about bowhunting than can be said here. But these rules give you enough information to make 2012–2013 the best bow season of your life.
You can kill game with a Bear Polar II. You can also listen to the Captain & Tennille on eight-track. If your compound bow is much more than 5 years old, it is obsolete. Here’s what you need to know to get the right new one.
Everything Is a Trade-off
A compound bow is a simple pulley-and-lever system. The energy you get out is proportional to what you put in. (Today’s bows are better in part because they are more efficient, meaning they give back a higher proportion.) As such, a faster bow is generally harder to draw. And some of the very things that make it fast can also make it harder to shoot well. It’s a give-and-take. Getting the bow that’s right for you means giving and taking wisely. —Dave Hurteau
Accuracy Is Paramount
Archers never tire of debating the lethality of various broadheads and the relative speed, smoothness, and quietness of different compound bows. None of it matters a hoot if you can’t hit what you’re aiming at. By the same token, with perfect accuracy you could kill deer with a sharpened oil dipstick shot from a washtub bass.
Accuracy matters most. Not a given bow’s accuracy (most are accurate enough in the right hands), but your accuracy with a given bow. As a rule, below-average to average shooters need a bow that’s more forgiving of operator error, which usually means something on the longer and heavier side (more stable and easier to hold on target) and on the slower side (easier to hold at full draw without creeping forward and apt to have a longer brace height). Good shooters, who don’t need as much forgiveness, can reasonably opt for something shorter, lighter, and faster. The trick is finding a bow that you can potentially shoot accurately, and then shooting it until you do. —D.H.
Don’t Give Up Accuracy for Speed
You can set up a bow to maximize one or the other. Unless you are such a good shot that you can give up a little accuracy and still be hell on wheels in the deer woods, favor accuracy.
[A] Cranking up your bow’s draw weight increases arrow speed. But if you shoot better with it turned down—turn it down.
[B] Some hunters shoot a draw length that is too long but don’t want to give up any speed by shortening it. Just give it up. Too long a draw puts too much of your face against the string, can make it difficult to maintain a consistent anchor point, and can cause you to lock your bow arm out straight, as well as creep forward with your string arm. It’s not worth it. Not sure if your draw is too long? See a good bow-shop pro. —D.H.
Beware the Short-and-Light Craze
As stated, longer, heavier bows are easier to shoot accurately. (That’s why competition models go 40-plus inches.) The hype is that an ultralight, supershort bow is easier to carry and maneuver. That’s fine, I suppose, but I don’t understand why a 6-pound rifle is a wand and a 41⁄2-pound bow is an anchor. And I don’t know any archer who has ever said “I would have killed that deer if my bow were 2 inches shorter.” —D.H.
When You Find a Gem
There are a handful of very short, very light bows that break this rule and are real shooters. (One, from my recent tests, is the new Mathews Heli-M). If you find one that suits you, God bless.
Faster Is Better
If you can shoot it accurately—a big if (see Rules 1, 2, and 3)—a faster bow has major advantages. All things being equal, it shoots a flatter arrow, making exact range estimation less critical. And if it spits the average hunting arrow of around 400 grains out at an honest 280 fps or better, then it should let you shoot one pin out to 30 yards without having to hold outside the vitals, which simplifies things enormously in the field. But the biggest advantage to a blazing bow, in my opinion, is that it lets you shoot a heavier arrow sporting a heavier head without giving up too much in trajectory. This adds up to more momentum and better penetration, neither of which makes any difference if you make a perfect shot. But if you screw up, they can turn an otherwise nonlethal shot into a filled tag. —D.H.
Accessorize for Accuracy
No matter what your skill level, the right accessories can improve your shooting. This Hoyt Vector Turbo (35-inch axle-to-axle, 4.2 pounds, 340 fps IBO, 6-inch brace height) is a bow I use both in the field and on the 3-D course. Here’s how I set it up.
When It Costs You Venison
Just don’t let sexy IBO claims blind you to the fact that a faster bow demands better shooting form. Also, shooting a very light arrow and head will give you greater speed—but less momentum and penetration. If you like venison, that is a bad trade-off.