Understanding the challenges of bowhunting: part two
In the February issue of the Outdoors Guide we covered some of the major differences between gun and bow hunting and four of the challenges of bowhunting; namely, (1) the need to become a proficient archer; (2) the need to build up personal strength for shooting; (3) the need to learn the anatomy and shot placement for the animal hunted and accept bowhunting’s ‘no shot’ situations; and, (4) the need to become expert in shot interpretation and blood trailing. In this issue we explore some other major challenges of bowhunting.
Challenge 5:Bowhunting Equipment is specific to the hunter, and bowhunters must select bowhunting equipment very carefully.
Thousands of people can safely and comfortably shoot with the same rifle and get the same performance. A prime example of this was the LeEnfield 303 Rifle used by British and Commonwealth countries during the Second World War. The rifles were identical except that they had three different sizes of stock length, and with just these three sizes millions of solders were fit with these rifles during the War.
Unlike rifles, bowhunting equipment is very specific to, and will be limited by, the strength & size of the individual shooter. A shooter’s strength will determine the draw weight he or she can handle; and, a shooter’s size, particularly arm length, will determine the draw length that is suitable for that shooter. Shooters with shorter draw lengths are at a disadvantage. All other things being equal, shorter draw lengths translate into shorter power strokes and less stored energy being delivered to the arrow. This can only be compensated for by going to a heavier draw weight with the same or similar bow, or moving to a higher performance bow.
Arrows must also be carefully matched to the bow in terms of arrow length and arrow spine -- spine referring to a certain necessary stiffness depending on the draw length and draw weight of the bow. To hunt big game animals the arrow must then be tipped with suitable broadheads. There is a huge choice of broadheads out there, and not all of them are suitable for larger big game animals. You have to make wise choices!
Bowhunting equipment must also be capable of performing adequately for the type of animal hunted, and what is legal may not actually be what is required. For example, the MNR draw weight requirement to hunt moose is approximately 50 pounds. With today’s high performance compound bows it is possible to find a compound bow that, set at 50 pounds draw weight, will give you 45 to 55 foot pounds of kinetic energy – depending on the draw length of the shooter and the quality of the bow. However, a person can also pick up a low quality, inefficient longbow or recurve bow set at 50 pounds that might produce only 25 to 35 foot-pounds of kinetic energy – or less. There is no doubt in my mind that the latter shouldn’t be used to hunt moose – but the law says they are legal.
There is no substitute for getting expert ‘Pro-Shop’ advice on selecting equipment and getting it tuned properly for hunting.
Challenge 6: Bowhunters must accept the short-range nature of the sport!
In comparison with bullets arrows have comparatively low arrow speeds & high trajectories. High velocity bullets shot from rifles travel at 8 – 10 times the speed of arrows shot from high-performance bows. Low arrow speeds translate into high trajectories. For example, I conducted some arrow trajectory tests for an article a couple of years ago using a high-performance Bladerunner bow. This bow is designed to be completely center shot and can be adjusted using the same limbs between 40 and 70 pounds – and can be shot using the same spine arrows throughout this range.
I first shot this bow set at 50 pounds draw weight with separate groups of 422, 560 and 640 grain arrows respectively. The bow was first sighted in at 10 yards for each arrow weight group. Then, using only the 10-yard sight pin, each group was shot at 30, 40 & 50-yard targets, with the trajectory drops for each group carefully measured. The results are summarized in Schedule 1.
I then performed exactly the same tests with the same bow set at 65 pounds and using the same groups of arrows. The results are summarized in Schedule 2.
Note that, while the arrows shot at 65 pounds had less trajectory than those shot at 50 pounds, the 65 pound test arrow trajectories were still high, with the heavier arrows showing a drop of well over four feet between 10 and 50 yards,
In both tests about 33% of the trajectory drop was between 10 and 30 yards, and about 67% took place between 30 & 50 yards!
It should be obvious that there is no such thing as a flat shooting bow; some just shoot a bit flatter than others. High trajectories make bows very short-range weapons and bowhunters have to accept the fact that easy longer shots for the gun hunter are often no-shot situations for the bowhunter.
Aside from the trajectory problem there are other factors that make bowhunting a close-range sport. For example, arrows are easily deflected by twigs or brush, and in low light conditions some of these obstacles may be hidden from the hunter. Also, in those same low light conditions it is often much more difficult to pick a good aiming spot on the animal for shooting.
Lower arrow speeds present another problem. The speed of sound at sea level is 720 fps, and the fastest of hunting arrows travel at under half that speed. Alert animals can hear the shot and move before arrow reaches them – particularly at longer ranges - and this can result in wounds, and no hunter wants that! This is why the International bowhunter Education Program recommends 40 yards as the shot limit for most bowhunters.
Challenge 7: Bowhunters must learn how to get close & personal to the animal hunted.
Because of the short-range nature of bowhunting, bowhunters must develop specialized skills to get within very close range of the big game animal hunted. The objective is to have the bowhunter get into position for a clean shot that ensures a quick, humane kill.
Part of the learning processes for the bowhunter will include becoming completely familiar with an animal’s normal behaviour including travel patterns, feeding habits; etc., and then learning how to properly prepare for the hunt which will include both scouting and setting up hunts in a manner suitable for animal hunted. This preparation and setting up will most often include scent control, which can include the use of scent removal products, the addition of cover scents, and the use of attractor scents – all designed to beat a big game animal’s keen sense of smell at close range.
Understanding the rutting behaviour of the animal hunted is important for bowhunters, because this allows the hunter to have a pretty good idea of how the animal will behave under rut conditions. For certain animals, such as deer and moose, calling can be an effective technique during the rut. The bowhunter who learns how to call correctly will have a much better chance of bringing in an animal close enough for that humane shot we all look for. But you have to be able to handle the close up action!
Challenge 8: Bowhunters must be able to mentally handle being in close proximity to big game animals.
Believe it or not one of the biggest challenges of bowhunting is being able to mentally handle big game animals when they are in up close & personal. There are countless stories of hunters not being able to draw their bow back when confronted by a bull moose or a large bear. This can be intimidating for many hunters – particularly new hunters.
Any of us who have guided moose hunters over the years have our stories to tell of how some clients have reacted after being intimidated like this. I’ve had clients completely freeze and not be able to move at all; I’ve had others run away; I’ve had some bowhunters who were great target shooters miss moose at 10, 12 & 14 yards; and I even had one wet his pants. Having a big bull moose grunting at you from eight to ten yards is a rush – but it is not for the faint of heart. It is always wise to have a plan ‘B’ when hunting or filming big game animals such as bear or moose.
First, I hope that this two-part article has given you something to think about in terms of understanding the challenges of bowhunting. I also hope that I haven’t scared any readers off from trying bowhunting. There is nothing magic about bowhunting; but, it is different from gun hunting, with a few new challenges thrown in. Most hunters, if prepared to learn and practice, can become very competent archers and bowhunters, and have a lot of fun while doing so. It is a great sport, and I encourage you to try it – Like the old saying goes: “Try it! You’ll like it!”
Alex Gouthro is an outdoor writer & videographer from Thunder Bay, ON and he may be reached by phone at 807-767-0494. Comments & questions are welcome!
You are also invited to visit or contact Alex through his web sites at www.alexgouthro.com or www.gouthrosmoosemadness.com