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.

6 thoughts on “On bow hunting

  1. Got any muzzle loader kit recommendations? I’m a California bowhunter btw and agree it’s not cheap. Neither is rifle hunting. I hadn’t considered muzzle loaders.

    The opportunities are greater for bows out here since they are so quiet and there are many people against hunting. Also, it’s tough to find a rifle range but not tough to find 40 yards to practice archery.

    It all depends on where you live and what your circumstances are.

  2. @ PRCD:

    In Californina, your cheapest entry into muzzleoading would not be a kit, but an inline. Here are two inlines that are CA-legal for under $200. However, if you still want to go with a kit, this one and this one are both below $300.

  3. Thanks. I guess what would make black powder attractive to me is the cheapness and ease of reloading or bullets. Judging by what you’ve posted, it’d be cheaper just to get better optics for my 6.5 mm Swede Mauser. Those black powder rounds don’t look cheap. I heard people are reliably hitting stuff out to 150-200 yards with muzzleloaders.

  4. In recent years, many states have opened up crossbow use as well. Normally, the crossbow is restricted to qualified disabled hunters.

    A compound bow takes a great deal of practice – 40 to 50 shots an afternoon after work was my average, and I am no Michael Wadell. Two years ago it was made legal for anyone in my state and I bought a Wicked Ridge Warrior model for 400 online. I had to put it together, but it was not much of a problem.

    Over all, crossbows involve less effort investment than compound bows. Most states allow you to put a scope your crossbow (albeit a weaker scope than a rifle), and once you have it sighted-in then all you have to do is check it before the season and your proficiency (not to mention success) is greatly improved. Crossbows also have a longer range and the bolt (arrow) has better kinetic energy farther out. I was unloading mine in the back yard last year using an old bolt that I was done with. I decided to shoot into the ground in front of an oak that was 50 yards out. There is an average wooden fence behind the oak, but I figured I would never need it. Even though I was not using a field tip (practice tip) or any other tip – just the bolt – it skipped off the ground, glanced off the oak and buried itself up to the fletching in the wooden fence. That is a lot of pounds per square inch. (and I learned not to do that anymore, thanks)


    They are heavier than a compound, and less easy, due to their shape, to maneuver through the thick stuff. You also have to learn how to load your crossbow from the stand, if you use one. If you don’t use a stand, they are hard to load quickly and silently and loading crossbows require a lot more movement (and a separate draw string) than it would take a compound bow. And as mentioned, they are less easy to unload than a compound. Plus, compound users hate you. Not a real bowhunter, you don’t work as hard at it cuz you are lazy, etc.

    I am sorry if I hi-jacked your post.

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