I’ll own it: I was super nervous the first time I went bowhunting. I didn’t know whether I could actually shoot at a deer. Out of respect for the animals, I wanted to be sure my one shot would be ethical and accurate.
My first bowhunt came several years after I started shooting, so I was well-practiced. I had also passed my bowhunter education course with flying colors. Even so, I still had tons of questions, and was either afraid to ask them, or couldn’t get the answers I wanted from more experienced bowhunters.
I was unsure of everything: what to wear, what to pack, what to do in the woods. Would I be able to climb a tree? How would I feel being out in the woods with no other humans nearby? Fortunately, that first bowhunt was an amazing experience, and I’m happy to share what I learned.
What Do I Wear?
People wear lots of different things when bowhunting, but let the weather guide your choices. If you feel cold when first stepping outside, you’ll soon freeze while sitting in a ground blind or tree stand. Do yourself a big favor: Shop for boots and clothes that match the climate where you hunt.
As for colors: Camo might be the standard among bowhunters, but I found great-looking black and gray clothing options, too. Endless choices abound for men and women, so, you can personalize your clothing colors and patterns, and still blend into the woods.
What Should I Pack?
Assuming you’re hunting with a compound bow, be sure you bring your entire bow setup with you. That sounds basic, but one forgotten item can end your bowhunt before it begins. Further, make sure your bow is tuned with its attached quiver and arrows, and that you’ve practiced with it fully rigged. You’ll also need extra broadheads, broadhead installation/removal tool, primary and backup release aids, and a holder for your bow if you use a hook/holder.
Also bring “other” items such as a flashlight, Kleenex, cell phone, bottled water, warm and sturdy footwear, unscented insect repellent, hand and foot warmers, and weather-appropriate clothing that can be worn in layers. DO remember your hunting license and tags, too!
How Do I Control My Scent?
Relax. Zillions of products deliver good scent control. Depending on your body chemistry and the game you’re hunting, you might find some products more effective than others. Buy some products two to three weeks before your hunt and try them out. For example, some unscented hair-care products work better than others.
Depending on your hair’s texture, you might have a Very Bad Hair Day in the woods if you use the wrong product. Above all else: Have an “all-purpose” scent-elimination spray you can apply before walking into the woods, and avoid going anywhere “smelly” while wearing your hunting clothes. Those clothes should go on RIGHT before you head for the woods, and not a minute before.
I’m Scared of Heights. Must I Use a Tree Stand?
In most cases, you can hunt from a ground blind. Connecticut, however, requires bowhunters to hunt from tree stands. Read the state and local hunting regulations before going out. Either way, don’t force yourself into a tree stand if you’re uncomfortable with heights. Ground blinds are a good choice, and you can always work your way up, literally.
A good way to practice? Have someone hang a stand and safety rope in a backyard tree long before your hunt, and practice climbing with a partner watching. Use your safety harness, and clip onto the safety rope before beginning your climbs. Quality climbing systems keep you secure the entire time you’re off the ground.
What Was That Noise?
Probably a squirrel or a chipmunk. No, really. In the woods, everything sounds louder because there’s less background noise than in urban areas. This is a huge part of what bowhunting is all about: connecting with nature. It might seem a bit spooky at first, but hey, you’re out in the woods before the sun.
Soon, you’ll feel and see the woods come alive around you. Birds, mice, squirrels and wind-rustled leaves all sound like a massive 10-point buck approaching. Don’t laugh at yourself too much when eagerly clutching your bow, only to see a chipmunk scurry into view.
Um, What If I Have to Go to the Bathroom?
This is why veteran bowhunters tell you to drink apple juice, not orange juice, in the morning. It reduces such “urges.” Seriously, you need to stay hydrated, and so you will need to urinate. Whether you’re in a tree stand or ground blind: don’t torture yourself, relieve yourself. Recent evidence shows deer are not spooked by human urine.
Field & Stream wrote this cute article about taking a bottle into the woods, but it’s only helpful for those with the right anatomy. However, we also found this “You Go Girl” female urinal that lets you pee while standing up. Pack some Kleenex, look around to make sure no deer are nearby, and then step behind your tree or blind.
What If I See a Bear, Wolf, Coyote or Mountain Lion?
This question became relevant to me when a pack of coyotes attacked and devoured some poor, hapless critter about 20 yards behind my ground blind one night. I don’t think I’ve ever been so scared as they yipped, barked, growled and howled. I was super glad my scent-controls did the job. Realistically, most bowhunters go many years in the woods without seeing a “dangerous” animal. In most cases, these animals will be more scared of you than you are of them, so don’t panic.
For reassurance, you’ll find many articles online that tell you how to handle bears, coyotes and mountain lions. Above all else, always carry a cell phone and tell someone where you’ll be before heading out – no matter where you hunt or what you might encounter. In all likelihood, the greatest danger you’ll face is tripping over a stick or falling down a hill. Even so, depending on what and where you hunt, carry pepper spray if it brings peace of mind.
Will I Be Bored in the Woods?
In a word, no. You shouldn’t be. You will probably feel at peace, excited and jolted by adrenaline every time a squirrel forages nearby. But you shouldn’t be bored. And if you think you might be, follow our suggestions for combating bowhunting boredom. Just know that your time out in nature is the greatest experience many bowhunters enjoy. If you instead go straight to your iPad and headphones, you’ll miss out on lots of cool stuff.