Bowhunting – that first time
The essentials novice bowhunters should keep in mind...
Ihave been hunting with bows for 11 years now and want to share some of my experiences with prospective bow hunters and give them some tips.
After buying a bow, get the help of professionals to set it up and tune it properly – the helpful people at the archery pro shop will assist you. Never, ever try hunting with a bow that is not properly tuned.
Your next step will be to learn to shoot your bow. Again, get professionals to help you. The right stance and form are very important. From the start you need to get this right, because bad habits creep in sooner than you can say ‘hunt’.
Once your form is correct, practice regularly (every day). Some people say that you should only shoot at game from distances at which you can hit a tennis ball-size target. This is a good guideline that I still use today.
When practicing, use full-colour, life-size targets of the animals you intend to hunt. Such targets are freely available and they have the vitals drawn on them (usually faint red lines that are not visible from normal shooting distances). These targets are very good training aids, they will teach you where the vitals are and help you to identify the correct spot to aim for.
Remember that you will use arrows fitted with the so-called field points for practice and broadheads (arrowheads with cutting edges) to hunt with. It is important to ensure that the
field points and broadheads shoot to the same point of aim, otherwise you will need to constantly tune/zero your bow before a hunt. Mechanical broadheads (ones where the cutting edges fold open as the arrow strikes the target) normally shoot to the same point of aim as field points. I still regularly make sure before a hunt that my field points and broadheads shoot to the same point of aim. Fixed blade broadheads are a different story – not all of them will shoot to the same point of aim as the field points. Ask your archery pro shop for assistance.
In the past I never used fixed blade broadheads because they are difficult to tune but I have changed my mind and have hunted the majority of the last 20 animals with fixed blades. The OZ-CUT broadhead from Australia proved itself on multiple occasions and is now a part of my setup. It is very easy to tune them and they are tough as nails. I have used the same broadhead on five different animals, sharpening the blades after every use.
When you are ready to hunt choose your first animal wisely. Women and youngsters are not capable of shooting powerful bows with high poundage draw weights. Although you can successfully shoot animals in the blue wildebeest class with a 50lbs bow (I have done it) rather settle for something smaller and less tough when you shoot your first animal.
Impalas and warthogs are favourites because they are affordable but many are wounded by first timers because these animals are very quick to react to any suspicious sound and often manage to “string jump” an arrow. (When they hear the sound of the bow string as the arrow is being released, they jump away, resulting in a badly placed arrow.) I have seen on numerous occasions how these animals can move five to eight inches before the arrow hits, even with a superfast setup at distances under 20 yards. Therefore my recommendation is that your first quarry should be a blesbuck or a kudu cow.
Another important aspect is to make sure that you don’t forget any of the essentials at home. I normally make a list before I start packing to ensure that I do not leave something behind.
Double check all the items that you intend to take with. Your bow trigger is something you will probably forget somewhere in the future whether at the lodge or even worse, at home. And without it, your »
» hunt is basically over. Make sure that your broadheads are properly secured in your bow case and that the blades are nowhere near the bow string.
Here is a summary of the items I believe you cannot go without: • A broadhead butt (some
farms do not have any butts) • Binoculars and a rangefinder • Skinning knife (make sure it
is sharp) • Wind indicator • Facemask and gloves • Beanie • A backup trigger • Measuring kit • Leafy suit • Flashlight
Make sure that your cameras’ batteries are charged before you leave, this way you will not have to remember to do it when you get to your destination. Always take a spare battery and the chargers anyway.
After arriving at the game farm, make sure what animals are on the hunting list. Never assume that you may shoot so-called pest animals such as baboons, jackals, snakes or game birds. I know people who have done that, only to be severely penalised by the farmer for shooting something which they were not allowed to.
Most farmers will ask you to shoot a few arrows to check your bow’s sights (zero). If they don’t, do it anyway. Just like with rifles, it is necessary to check your bow and shoot a few arrows. It boosts confidence and will warn you if anything has gone wrong since your last practice session at home.
HOW TO HUNT
To many people walk and stalk is the only way to hunt. However, I would not recommend that for the novice bow hunter, unless he or she is an experienced and accomplished stalker – remember that you need to get within 25m or so of an animal. Rather use the hide or tree stand that the farmer offers. I know ambushing game in a hide or tree stand is a controversial hunting method but I believe it is the most ethical way for a novice to start his bow hunting career. It is extremely difficult to stalk within 25m of an animal. You will be nervous and probably tired. The animal might spot you and you might rush the shot, resulting in wounding the animal.
I strive to be successful on foot and over the years have hunted 22 species on foot with my bow and arrow. But, and this is a big but, I also approve the use of blinds and tree stands as an ethical way to hunt game. My dad for example will probably never shoot an animal on foot with his bow. He is an experienced hunter and have hunted for more than 25 years with a rifle but he doesn’t get the time to practice enough with his bow to be a lethal hunter and to make an ethical shot on a walk and stalk hunt. And secondly he enjoys the calmness and quietness of sitting in a blind after a hectic week in the city.
To get back to my original story, the farmer dropped you off at a hide or tree stand and now the long wait begins. I always draw my bow in the hide to make sure that I am comfortable with each of the shooting windows. Make sure that the bow’s cams are not too close to the hide’s roof when you are at full draw. If you shoot and the cam hits the roof your bow will explode in your hands. In elevated blinds, make sure that you have enough arrow clearance, many hunters have hit the bottom (sill) of the shooting window. You will probably miss the animal and you are guaranteed to have a big fright.
Inspect the blind carefully before getting inside – make sure there aren’t any snakes to welcome you. I have spent a whole morning with a Mozambique spitting cobra in a hide without knowing it. When I finally noticed the snake, it was too late to escape and he spat at me twice. I got away OK, but it was a terrifying experience.
Take extra care to be as quiet as possible. Be very careful because grey loeries, guinea-fowl (AKA – police chickens) and baboons, are extremely alert and will definitely warn other game of your presence.
When your intended quarry is within range, wait until it is standing completely broadside or even better, quartering away slightly. Take a few deep breaths and don’t draw your bow before you are 100% ready. Double check for animals standing behind your target. Draw the bow, aim, squeeze the trigger and follow through properly. I have seen too many people mess up the shot because they lifted their heads on releasing the string to see whether the arrow has hit the animal. My recommendation is to take a friend with a video camera along. He must record when you shoot. You can then watch the footage quickly to see whether the arrow has struck in the right place and you will have a record of the moment that you can enjoy for many years to come.
PRIDE AND PASSION
Enjoy every moment of that first hunt because it will probably be the fuel for your bowhunting passion for the rest of your life.
Congratulations, you are now a bowhunter! You can be proud of this achievement even if you used a hide or tree stand on your first few animals. My first animal was a beautiful grey duiker, taken from the back of a bakkie when I was in my early teens. Sharing that moment with my best friend (my dad) is something I will not forget as long as I live. Even though it will be 11 years ago this July (the 2nd of July to be precise) I can still remember how proud I felt that day.
Yes, the ultimate hunt in my opinion is a successful hunt on foot with my bow, but for a novice it will most likely be a frustration. Take your time and master the art of shooting an animal from a hide or tree stand. Then, as you progress and your confidence grows, take up walk and stalk hunting.
Bowhunting will change the way you look at hunting with a rifle. I still hunt with a rifle but give me my bow any day of the week and I’m happy.
I am planning future articles about my experiences and the lessons I have learnt while bowhunting on foot.
My first animal with a bow and arrow 11 years ago – a day I will always remember.
A heavy setup is not necessarily needed when hunting big game. I shot this blue wildebeest bull with a bow set at 50 pounds. In the end shot placement is what counts.
A very nice blesbuck ram I hunted with my good friend Reino van Aswegen at Ngala Kulala Safaris. In my opinion a blesbuck is the best animal for a first-time bowhunter.
I decided recently to try out fixed blade broadheads. I used an OZCUT broadhead on this gemsbuck bull, which resulted in a full passthrough. I will be able to use this broadhead again after sharpening it.
I love using a tree stand when I hunt with my bows.