The Bow Hunter Quandary: To gun or not to gun

bow hunter

My wife and I first began our love affair with archery way back in 2006.  For years we wanted to do something together that involved more than a TV and a remote control.  One day while walking through our local Bass Pro Shop, she found a video with a HUGE elk on the cover and a lady standing next to it with a bow in her hand.  She yelled across the section to me ” I WANT TO DO THIS!!”  We spent the next two years preparing for what would ultimately become a great passion for the both of us. These are a few of the things we learned along the way.


There are innumerable considerations a new bow hunter must contemplate, and the scrutiny a new bow hunter must employ can only be described as monumental. Primary among these contemplations should be the tactics used in the field, the type of projectiles available to him, and some understanding of the history pertaining to the evolution of the bow hunter.

A Quick History Lesson

“The history of the bow is the history of mankind.”  Fred Bear, an avid bow hunter, bow manufacturer, author, and television host, is attributed with that statement. The bow first appeared some time around 25000 BC.  The bows of that era were typically constructed from horn, bone, sinew and gut.  Archery technology remained relatively stagnant until the advent of the recurve or composite bow.  The first composite bows were used between 3000 – 1000 BC in the Nile Region, and were constructed from of multiple pieces in V-shaped splices, joined with animal-based glues. Biblical-era Israelites created a superior bonding material which has yet to be surpassed. As time progressed, the wooden bow was enhanced to fit the needs of archers on foot, thus the longbow was created. The battle of Crecy, (August 26, 1346) reveals the devastating impact the longbow had on warfare.  1,542 Frenchmen were killed, while only 50 Englishmen fell. Holless Wilbur Allen of Missouri revolutionized the bow in 1969.  He implemented a levering system comprised of cables and pulleys into metallic limbs mounted to steel riser. His newly fashioned compound bow delivered faster arrow speeds with harder impacts than that of any other bow type. Coupled with advancements in arrow construction and broadhead design, the compound bow has become the dominant choice of modern bow hunters.

The first stone arrowheads were discovered in Africa, but fire-hardened arrow points, flint tipped arrows, and feathered arrow shafts have been found throughout the world.   Until the introduction of ultra-light polymers such as carbon fiber, arrows were constructed from wood or aluminum. Today, carbon fiber arrows saturate the market as bow hunters look for stronger materials that can withstand the tremendous launching-power of modern bows.  While feathers were the predominant fletching material, plastic vanes are now used, again due to the modern bow’s powerful release. As arrows have changed, so too have the heads that tip them.  Broadheads were once a crude chunk of stone or poorly crafted iron, but have evolved into an evenly balanced, precision-crafted instrument.  They can be found in two major categories: fixed blade or expandable blade heads.  The fixed blade still forms the basic triangular shape of its predecessors, yet its edges are sharpened to surgical-grade quality.  Modern fixed-blade heads typically employ up to four cutting edges. Expandable or mechanical heads are generally found in a conical shape, much like that of a bullet.  They can conceal as many as three separate blades that open as wide as two inches in diameter upon impact with the target.  Hunters that use a traditional or recurve bow can use any type of arrow, though most will choose a fixed blade broadhead; whereas compound bow hunters prefer the carbon arrow coupled with either fixed blade or mechanical heads.  Regardless of equipment choice, the hunter’s tactics rarely change when in the field.

Keys to the Hunt

A successful bow hunt requires stealth and subterfuge. Because of the inherent short-range, bow-hunters most often ambush their prey, at times from a mounted position in a tree or from under a covered blind on the ground. Camouflage and scent-cover is of primary concern to a hunter whether he is on the ground or in a stand.  Equally as important is proper shot placement.  Bow hunters pride themselves on taking an animal down by causing the absolute least amount of trauma to it. Unlike a bullet, the arrow kills by inflicting a bleeding condition on the prey, so proficiency with the bow is a must before attempting to use it in the field.  Unfortunately, it is rare to have an animal drop in its tracks once struck with an arrow, so a bow hunter’s tracking skills are utilized much more when recovering prey hunted with a bow.  Blood trails are incredibly difficult to follow, and more often than not dwindle to nothing more than a minuscule spot.  Traditional, recurve and compound bow hunters alike owe it to the animal to rigorously hone tracking skills and recovery techniques.

A Parting Shot

In conclusion, a new bow hunter should be at least familiar with the history of the bow he shoots, the equipment available to it, and the tactics required for success.  Bow hunting can be an amazing experience filled with adventure and excitement.  Fred Bear is quoted as saying, “A hunt based only on trophies taken falls far short of what the ultimate goal should be… time to commune with your inner soul as you share the outdoors with the birds, animals, and fish that live there.”


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Author: Rick Wilke

This native Coloradoan is the elder of the group. He is a husband and a step-father. When he’s not working he can be found producing videos for his and other YouTube Channels, playing a guitar, or watching his much beloved University of Denver Pioneers Hockey Team.

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