It’s one of the classic arguments in the whitetail hunting world.
Are rifle hunters the preeminent talents of hunting, or do bows breed superior hunters? In choosing a deer hunting weapon, there are more angles to consider than most people – even some hunters – ever like to think about. For beginners or for the uninitiated, it seems like the most expensive rifles from the most respected gun manufacturers should pave the way for the most prosperous season in a hunter’s life. That’s not the case. For one thing, the rifle doesn’t make the hunter, but the hunter makes the rifle. For another, many hunters are now coming around to bows as the superior weapon for all deer hunting escapades. And while rifles offer more range and power, bowhunting enthusiasts definitely have a few strong points on their side.
First, there are the obvious benefits of bowhunting, factors like longer deer hunting seasons, increased stealth, and more time on a thriving deer hunting property before the cracks and pops of rifles arrive and put all of the best bucks on sharp nocturnal alert. Indeed, a talented, accurate, and vigilant bowhunter will almost always have a more successful hunting season than a talented, accurate, and vigilant rifle hunter. Some credit this higher level of success almost exclusively to the greater number of opportunities that present themselves to bowhunters throughout the fall, from longer hunting seasons to a higher number of hunting locales to choose from. After all, we’ve all encountered land owners who don’t like the thought of guns on their property, but are perfectly fine with the thoughts of bows and arrows.
In that case, bowhunters are just opportunistic, right? It’s not like they are actually the superior hunters, or that their weapons are better-suited for the job of bringing down a trophy buck than our prized rifles. Right? Well, maybe not. That line of thinking has led to a million arguments between different factions of hunters, and there will likely never be a victor because hunters are a passionate bunch and because no one wants to think they are hunting with the less effective form of weaponry. However, the statistics still stand, and bowhunters often have more meat on the table or stored in the freezer – and more trophy kills to show off in photographs, as well – come the end of hunting season than rifle wielders. Those points alone should be enough to make any tried-and-true rifle hunter reconsider the merits of hunting with a bow.
Of course, there are plenty of cons that come with a bow that rifle hunters don’t have to deal with. For one thing, you’re far more likely to drop a deer on first shot with a rifle than with a bow. The power and range of a gun are valuable allies to have on your side when you are in the woods, not only because you don’t want to go chasing after a deer after wounding him (or her) with a not-so-well-placed arrow shot, but also because, if a huge mature buck wanders across your path some 80 yards from your tree stand, you still at least want to have a chance of bringing him to the ground. Most bows would fall well short at that range, but if a marksman with a rifle in his or her hands were in the same situation, they would probably be going home with the biggest trophy buck of their hunting career.
Undoubtedly, if you are a bowhunter, you will eventually experience a situation like the mature buck scenario outlined above, and such a moment can be enough to make any hunter want to swear by rifles for the rest of their lives. However, there are lessons to be learned from hunting with a bow and arrow that can make almost anyone a better hunter, so whether you adopt bowhunting for the rest of your hunting career or just try it out for a season or two, there is certainly a reason why many regard a well-made compound bow as the finest example of hunting weaponry on the market.
The lessons you can learn from a bow can range anywhere from the value of adding an entire new skill to your arsenal to more simple boosts in patience and killer instinct while in the field. Because bow accuracy is often more difficult to master than rifle accuracy – and because getting a bullseye shot is even more important to assuring that archers kill their prey – bowhunters often come to respect patience and careful planning in ways and dimensions that are difficult for longtime rifle hunters to appreciate. Instead of shooting first and asking questions later, bowhunters will often hold their arrows for a few extra seconds or even a few additional minutes. While this strategy doesn’t always pay off, it just as frequently opens up opportunities for better and closer shots, and even sometimes allows a hunter to change targets in a pack of deer from the doe leading the line to the buck bringing up the rear. While many hunters often extol the virtues of taking the first shot available, the questions of range and power in bows change the game, and the result is often that archers learn to balance patience and killer instinct better than they ever could with a gun in their hands.
Another great checkmark in the bowhunter’s favor is that bow and arrow shooting simply lends itself better to practice drills than rifle fire. Thanks to the reusability of arrows and the quiet, undisruptive nature of bow and arrow fire, you will be able to practice your shots right in your backyard without alarming your neighbors or alerting the authorities to dangerous behavior. With a bow, as you weather the unbearable wait leading up to hunting season, you can still hone your skills and shake off the winter rust by trying shots from a wide variety of ranges, angles, and other varying conditions. Once you get out in the woods, you will feel so comfortable with your bow that you will be able to start bringing prime whitetail trophies right away. And since bowhunting is typically more challenging than rifle hunting anyway, you are going to need those days of practice.