I can vividly remember the first hunting video I ever watched. It was “Bowhunting October Whitetails,” and it featured the Wensel Brothers, Gene and Barry. The impact of that production on my life as a hunter was profound. I had killed very few bucks with my bow at that time, but I immediately adopted the “don’t pick the fruit before it’s ripe” mantra portrayed in that video.
I started passing young bucks, ditched the old-school homemade ladder stands I’d been using and scratched and saved to buy one of the Loc-On portable treestands I’d seen in the video, and I switched from a standard compound to a recurve compound to better mimic the Wensel Brothers.
A few years later, I lost the wheels completely, built my own traditional bow, and started hunting with it. I’ve since gone back and forth between a compound and a traditional bow with most of my time spent over the past decade or so using a compound. But next season that may change again.
Over those years, I’ve learned plenty about whitetails and how to hunt them with a bow. But the most important lessons I’ve learned about actually putting arrows through deer were learned while toting a traditional bow. Here are just a few of them.
I’ve written before about the slight feeling of vindication I’ve felt of late as the bowhunting world has made “heavy” hunting arrows the new topic of conversation. This is in large part due to the YouTube work of a guy named The Ranch Fairy, but it’s something I’ve preached on for years to the few people who listen to me. I’ve never been a fan of light, fast arrow setups, and the reason for that was steeped in my familiarity with traditional archery setups.
Trad bows—whether they’re true stickbows, recurves, or a hybrid of the two—are slow by any measure you can come up with. The recurves I built would struggle to top 175 feet-per-second (fps) with most hunting-weight arrows (around 650 grains or so) passing through the chronograph at around 155 fps on a good day.
The funny thing is that when those arrows impact a deer, they generally bury themselves to the fletching or zip right on through. They’re also plenty quiet in the air and help reduce hand shock and vibration at the release as well.
I figured, if they perform like that at the turtle speeds my trad bows would deliver, they’d certainly do all the better moving at the much-faster speeds delivered from a modern compound. And, of course, they do.
Keep in mind here that I’m a bowhunter who thinks shooting much beyond 40 yards at anything with the ability to move isn’t really a great idea. So I don’t place much value on considerations like arrow drop at longer distances. What I want are arrows that will deliver a ton of energy, maintain their momentum after impact, and deliver quick, efficient kills. Heavy arrows do that.
Even though I tote a compound to the woods more often than not these days, I still carry a pretty simple bow. True, the compound I shoot is far more complex in terms of the technology it offers in its cam, riser, and related components. But I stick with a simple fixed-pin sight system and have nothing more than a short, basic stabilizer and a detachable quiver to go with it.
No side-balancing sabers or 18-inch appendages poking off the front of the bow. I don’t need a custom-molded nose rest or a laser-guided motion detector. All of those gadgets, in this bowhunter’s opinion, simply mean more opportunity for something to fail at a moment when failure is not an option.
The thing I miss the most about carrying a traditional bow in the field is the utter lack of gadgets, fail points, and clutter. Simple tools fail less, require less maintenance, and are ideal for serving a singular task. Learning every inch of your bow is a whole lot easier when there are less inches to learn.
I can’t say that I’ve field-tested every single broadhead made over the past two decades, but I can say that I’ve come damned close to it.
From fixed-blades to mechanicals to hybrids, I’ve shot, examined, and evaluated a whole bunch of broadheads. No matter the make or model, the consensus has remained the same: Broadheads made with fixed-blades, the fewest parts and of the strongest materials always rise above their competition.
Personally, I opt for fixed-blade heads with replaceable blades. This is because I’m absolutely terrible at putting a sharpened edge on steel. I’ve tried and tried and tried some more, and it’s simply an art I doubt I’ll ever master. Thus, I leave the sharpening to the experts and employ broadheads that feature blades I can replace and know to be razor-sharp from the factory.
If I was more adept at sharpening, I’d stick with a one-piece head made of high-quality steel (or titanium if price was not a consideration). These types of heads are required equipment for traditional bowhunters because they’re heavy, stout, durable, and penetrate like crazy even when propelled at slower speeds. Again, heavy arrows work better, and no heavy arrow is complete without a beefy, strong, super-sharp fixed-blade head at the front of it.
This point isn’t quite what you think, so pay attention.
When shooting a trad bow, I shoot in a fairly standard instinctive style, meaning I don’t use any part of the bow or arrow as an aiming point or reference. I simply draw, hit my anchor, and release.
That said, I’m not a “snap” shooter, meaning I don’t release the arrow the moment I hit my anchor. Sometimes I do. And sometimes I may hold the bow at my anchor point for varying lengths of time depending on whether the target is moving or until I feel I’m pointing exactly where I want to be pointing. It’s hard to explain, but I suspect most instinctive shooters understand what I’m getting at.
How does this parlay into the compound shooter using sights? Because I shoot my compound in a semi-instinctive fashion that I believe greatly reduces the odds of target panic or trigger-punching. Here’s how I do it.
When shooting a recurve or longbow, I’m simply pointing the arrow where I want it to hit and sub-consciously accounting for target distance and angle. It’s very much like throwing a baseball—you don’t “aim” when throwing a ball. You simply throw it. But you throw that ball at a different trajectory depending on how far you need it to travel in the air. This is, essentially, how I think about instinctively shooting a bow.
When shooting my compound, however, I use a fixed-pin sight. But I don’t focus heavily on the sight pins. Instead, I come to full draw with both eyes open. I know I’m looking through my peep sight because I have worked at making sure my anchor point is solid and repeatable without thinking about it. When I come to full draw and hit my anchor, I know my head is where it needs to be, and I know I’m looking through my peep.
From there, I’m looking at the spot I want to hit and pointing the proper sight pin at it. But I’m not focusing specifically on the pin. Honestly, I’m not even sure I see the pin all that much, but I’m sure I do to some degree. Instead, I’m looking through my peep, through my pin, and focusing on the spot I want to hit. Then I simply keep pulling until the bow goes off.
Had I not spent so much time working to become a better instinctive shot, I suspect I’d have had more issues along the way with common compound issues like target-panic or trigger-punching. Instead, I shoot in a semi-instinctive mode and (knock on wood) have never dealt with any of those issues.