Prickly Bowhunting Topics
Updated: May 19
Why bicker over silly controversies when we should all unite?
I once found the carcass of a porcupine, flipped upside-down and completely eaten except for bones, head, feet, and hide. All around it were fresh mountain lion tracks.
When I asked a game biologist how a lion could eat a porcupine, he laughed and said, “Very carefully!”
The same goes when hunting Coues deer in the desert Southwest. There are cactus plants everywhere, including cholla, infamously called “jumping cactus” because they seem to leap at a passerby and stab with their painful spines.
I approach a few prickly bowhunting subjects with the same caution I use around porcupines and cactus.
Some archery topics have been hot-button issues for decades. Like religion gone bad, it is risky even to mention these things around some hunters. As a serious archer and writer, I learned long ago that blunt, honest opinions about a few subjects can push fanatic bowhunters close to coronary arrest. However, such topics must be discussed.
One touchy subject can be what type of bow you shoot. Even today, a small but militant and noisy clique of non-compound shooters continues to sneer at anyone using a bow with “training wheels.” If you respond, these guys are apt to react like self-righteous elitists.
A number of years ago, I was scheduled to be keynote speaker at a bowhunting banquet. I heard through the grapevine that a small, exclusionary bunch of stick-bow shooters was threatening to walk out on me in the middle of the speech. My crime? I enjoy shooting a compound bow as well as a recurve bow.
The prospect of an organized protest did not bother me, because I considered the source. It is a badge of honor to be snubbed by narrow-minded people. As things turned out, the gang chickened out on the boycott, but they silently glared from the sidelines as I talked. It was pathetic and comical all rolled into one. Pathetic, because hunters should stick together to combat our real enemy—the anti-hunters. Comical, because nobody with common sense can take bow bigots seriously.
In my experience, it’s more about the person behind the bow than the bow itself. Some stick-bow shooters are horribly inept, others are deadly. The same goes for compound shooters. Archery hunting is too complex to zero in on one aspect like the bow to praise or condemn the person using it. Success or failure is more about the hunter than the bow being used. Besides, whose business is it anyway what shooting tool you use? If it’s legal and you are having fun, more power to you!
Bowhunters argue a lot about ethical shooting distance, but this debate is a waste of time. Every archer has unique abilities, and nobody has a right to pass judgment on another’s deadly distance. From what I’ve seen, most archers complaining the loudest about longer shots would be hard pressed to hit an elephant past 20 yards. If you practice hard and tune your equipment, you can become an excellent longer-range archer.
Some modern shooters I know can consistently kill relaxed, stationary deer out to 40 or 50 yards. Even old-time bowhunters like Saxton Pope, Art Young, Howard Hill, and Fred Bear regularly shot game at 50, 60, and 70 yards…and made no bones about telling others. Young shot one of the largest grizzly bears in the archery records at 70 yards, and Bear took his former P&Y World Record Stone sheep with one shot from 60 yards. Even Ishi, one of the forefathers of modern bowhunting and “the last wild Indian in America”, told Pope and Young he felt comfortable shooting deer out to 50 yards with his crude mountain juniper bow and arrows flying a puny 125 feet per second. Every bowhunter’s level of accuracy is unique.
In my experience, those who can do—and those who can’t complain about it. If you don’t believe what’s possible, check out P&Y’s Statistical Summaries from various two-year recording periods. Shot length varies greatly from archer to archer and species to species, with some western and northern animals like mule deer and wild sheep more than doubling the average 19-yard shot distance to a whitetail deer.
If you want to get closer than you really need to for the pure challenge of it, I can respect that. Eyeball-to-eyeball bow-shooting distance is the adrenaline rush we all crave. How close you consider “eyeball-to-eyeball” might depend on the situation. Twenty yards can seem really close on a whitetail below your stand, and 50 yards might seem really close on a mulie buck you are stalking in knee-deep sagebrush. It depends on your point of view.
No matter what, you should never shoot beyond your own personal sure-kill distance. And do not pass judgment on others. Some archers are astonishingly good at making liars out of narrow-minded, short-range advocates.
I will write in more detail about appropriate bow-shooting distance in upcoming blogs. But my theme will always be the same. Sportsmen should stop bickering about senseless subjects when PETA, HSUS, and other anti-hunting organizations just love it when hunters turn against each other.
A third prickly subject in bowhunting is butt shots. A few archers roll their eyes and condemn such hits as irresponsible and ineffective. Never mind that the late, great Fred Bear regarded a solid butt shot as highly effective, and never mind that I have personally never seen a deer, elk, or any other big game animal lost when hit solidly in the ham. With all the blood-rich arteries in this area, a keen broadhead usually produces a good blood trail and fairly quick death.
Fred Bear described one such shot he made when the two of us sat over lunch at a sports show back in the 1980’s. Fred hit a beautiful caribou in the rear by accident, but the animal left a blood trail a yard wide and dropped in less than 100 yards. I have had similar experience with butt hits the vast majority of the time.
Even marginal rear-end hits can kill. For example, I once nicked a Sitka blacktail just above the hock after the deer jumped the bowstring from 20 yards. I was not even sure the arrow had hit until blood began cascading to one side as the buck ran away. He staggered less than 50 yards and flipped upside-down. My razor-keen blade had sliced the very end of the femoral artery for a spectacular kill.
I do not recommend that anyone shoot for the rear end on purpose. But if an animal jumps the bowstring, or if you blow the shot, remember that butt shots do work. Do not walk away in disgust. Watch where the critter goes, wait awhile before taking up the trail, and go find your animal!
Archery A-Holes I’ve had several excellent hunting partners in my life, and a few who were not so great. The good ones were always independent, happy, and genuinely thrilled when the other guy shot an animal. The not-so-good archers tended to be insecure and jealous of another person’s success. They were not the most fun to be around—something I quickly figured out after a hunt or two.
My old pal Richard Long is one of the good guys. Rich is suffering health problems now that prevent him from hiking the hills or even drawing a bow. But I’ll never forget how Rich was always there to cheer me on, do his own happy dance when I shot a buck or bull, and jumped in immediately to butcher and pack out meat. On our many bowhunts, I always tried to do the same for Rich.
Good folks are happy for others. The same applies to well-grounded bowhunters. But there is definitely an ugly side to some people that rears its head when somebody else succeeds. You know the type. You nail a big whitetail, and get grumbling in return. You make a great shot on a target or animal, and receive a sideways glare. Both of you shoot animals, and the other hunter immediately pulls out his tape measure to confirm that his is bigger. Life is too short to put up with narcissistic A-holes!
On a grander scale, it is perplexing how unkind a small minority of bowhunters can become when someone else succeeds. Jealousy is a nasty part of human nature that rises up in some individuals, but nice people control it or do not feel it at all. Those are the ones I prefer to be around.
Take for example genuinely hard-working, successful, and pleasant bowhunters in the public eye like Michael Waddell, Fred Eichler, and Cameron Hanes. I hear sniping at such high-profile friends of mine, yet all the ones I admire have richly earned the fame they enjoy. The same was true for icons of yesteryear like Fred Bear. As a young man, I heard rumors about Fred poaching deer on private property, walking away from crippled critters, and otherwise screwing up. I knew Fred in his later years, and such bad-mouthing was jealous lies. There has never been a nicer, more ethical bowhunter than my idol Fred.
Negative BS is an unavoidable part of public life. Nobody is going to bite your butt unless you are in the lead…and there always seem to be plenty of backbiters to do the biting. What naysayers cannot imagine is the amount of hard work and long hours it takes to reach public popularity.
I believe in the old, time-tested adage—“If you cannot say something good about somebody, don’t say anything at all.” This applies to all the prickly subjects I’ve covered in this blog. Petty sniping between bowhunters is worthless and self-destructive. Like bad bowhunting partners, A-hole behavior will undoubtedly continue to pop up like poison ivy around hunting camps and on the Internet. But there’s absolutely nothing good about poison. Archers need to tamp down the animosity and band together for a happier, healthier sport. Unite, not fight!