On Bow Hunting

I promised I would write about bow hunting.

I raised some strong disagreements when I wrote that muzzleoaders were ideal first hunting weapons for cash-strapped young men just starting their families. Reactions varied from agreement, to asserting that the .308 is a superior hunting round to any muzzleloader, to asking “why not just bow hunt?”

I agree that a good .308 is a better deer gun than any muzzleloader. However, it is also much more expensive. If you have one, by all means use it. But don’t be the guy who, after listening to a backpacker explain that he uses a heavy knife to split wood to avoid the weight of carrying a hatchet, buts in with “A splitting maul is really the best way to spit wood, it works way better than a knife or a hatchet. You should really use a splitting maul.”

So why not just bow hunt?

Why not indeed! There are many advantages to hunting with a bow over a rifle. Bows are silent, and have less range, which means you can hunt with them in places where you might not be a able to hunt with a firearm. Every state has a dedicated archery season, and in many states you can bow hunt during the regular “gun deer” season as well. Traditional bows can easily be made my hand, and arrows can be re-used, making a bow potentially far more economical than even a muzzleloader. Finally, an arrow damages far less meat than a bullet, making sure you get the most out of your kill.

With all these advantages, why am I not recommending a bow as the first hunting weapon for cash-strapped young men looking to put meat on the table? After all, that’s more advantages than the muzzleloader I recommended instead!

Well, simply put, the bow has some drawbacks that balance out those advantages (as do muzzleloaders). While plenty of deer have been killed with bows at 40-50 yards, and accomplished archers may kill deer beyond that, a new hunter’s reasonable kill range is 20-30 yards. Contrast that with inexpensive inline muzzleloaders, which have taken plenty of deer at 150-200 yards, and give the new shooter a reasonable kill range of 50-100 yards. Clearly, the bow is going to take more skill in stalking and approaching game to get a reasonable shot.

And a brand new-hunter may have the ability to get within 60 yards of his quarry without spooking it, but not the ability to get within 20 yards without spooking the target.

Secondly, while you can make a traditional bow that will kill a deer, powerful modern compound bows are not cheap–generally more than double the cost of an inexpensive inline muzzleloader. And while I think the majority of young men have the confidence to do the minor sanding and finishing necessary to assemble a muzzleoader kit, I think that far fewer young men have the confidence to build a traditional bow from scratch.

So, if you want to bow hunt, I say go for it. But my recommendation to young men short on cash and wanting to start hunting for food for their families remains the same–buy a muzzleloader.

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