From Archer to Bowhunter: Making the Move

Punching holes in paper? Fine for practice. Plan to use that bow to bag a buck this fall? Better get serious now!

Fully prepared for the hunt with a silent bow and a deer decoy fitted with plastic on the tail for added movement, the author heads for his deer stand. He did most of the prep work in late summer.
Photo by Curt Wells.

Over the course of summer, a bowhunter is really just another archer determinedly shooting endless targets -- mostly paper -- in order to achieve a number of interrelated objectives: strengthening the appropriate muscles, perfecting shooting form, sharpening the aim, working on obtaining perfect arrow flight. The bow is tweaked and tuned until the correctly matched arrow reliably strikes the target precisely where it's supposed to connect.

But once summer wanes, thoughts of bow season creep into the archer's psyche, and the transformation of target shooter into hunter takes place. Likewise, equipment must undergo the transition from gear suitable for the archery range to fieldworthy tackle. No doubt about it: There's work to be done!

SILENCING THE BOW

Paper targets can't hear, but the noise that your equipment makes develops into a major consideration when hunting season arrives.

You'll never silence the sound of your bow to the point that an animal can't hear it go off on a calm morning. But when you shoot a deer, it doesn't suddenly realize it's been shot with an arrow: It simply hears the bow, spooks and runs -- and the louder your bow is, the farther that animal's likely to run. If it hears only a faint thump, or if a breeze suffices to cover the sound of your bow, that animal may not run nearly as far. If your bow is quiet, an animal may not "jump the string" as quickly or as intensely as it might if the bow sounds like a gun going off.

Most of today's bows come with silencing accessories. Dampeners in the riser or on the limbs help reduce vibration, and string silencers and other devices cut down on string oscillation and the noise that generates. If your bow doesn't incorporate these accessories, you can install them yourself. Limb silencers have adhesive backing or will wrap around the limb in some way. Most string silencers require a press of some sort to relax your bowstring; if you don't have a press, a pro shop can do the job for you. A stabilizer will reduce vibration and hand shock, thus improving accuracy.

These devices should be on your bow during all your practice sessions. String silencers alone may affect your groups, so don't wait until hunting season before adding them.

Another useful aid: adhesive fleece. Nothing can ruin an encounter with a big-game animal quicker than the hissing of an arrow drawn across a metal rest or the clinking of a shaft against the riser of the bow. My advice is to get some camouflage adhesive fleece and cover the entire shelf, including over the lip toward your grip; then, run it up the inside surface of the riser to the highest point an arrow shaft could reach if it were bumped at an inopportune time.

I also like to put fleece on the underside of my upper limb right up to the cable; my bow may be hung on or removed from a bow holder of any kind without it making any noise. In general, try to imagine anyplace on your bow that could make noise, and cover it with fleece.

ACCESSORIES

Accessories such as your sight, rest and quiver also need attention. Your sight should be strong and simple. Once your sights are set, tighten all adjustment screws; then, take a marker or scratch-awl and mark the exact location of both windage and elevation adjustment locations. If something moves, it'll be noticeable.

After doing the same with your arrow rest, put an arrow on the rest and grasp it out front, moving it around in every possible direction; note any point at which the arrow can contact the bow and cover that spot with fleece.

If you're using a drop-away rest, attach fleece or some other dampening material on any surface that the launcher will strike as it drops. Raise the arrow up to the sight guard and apply fleece wherever your shaft can make a spell-breaking clinking noise.

The object of all this is for the arrow to be totally silent as it slides across the rest when you draw your bow back. Teflon or plastic sleeves on the rest prongs will help, but you may want to cover them with fleece as well. A drop-away rest will shine here, as it doesn't rise to position the arrow until the last couple of inches of draw. Fleece silences your launcher -- and because the arrow spends little time on the launcher, the fleece lasts virtually forever.

So-called "containment" rests are great for hunting. You may have to tip your bow while stalking, or when you draw and shoot in a hurry or quickly adjust your position before a shot, and in such cases, your arrow could be knocked off a conventional rest, costing you a shot opportunity. The popular Whisker Biscuit containment rest captures the arrow, as do several drop-away rests. Other drop-away rests use clips to hold an arrow on the shelf until the rest picks it up; if set up correctly, these function in effect as containment rests.

Quivers too can generate noise. Two-piece models with hood and arrow-holder sections bolting to each end of the riser are the toughest and quietest, and present the lowest profile. One-piece detachable quivers are popular with those who prefer to remove their quivers. I practice with mine on and full of arrows (minus one) so I can know where my bow shoots with the quiver on. I prefer to have my arrows close at hand should some sort of contingency arise.

A quiver can vibrate and rattle, so you want one constructed with a minimum of parts that attaches solidly to the bow. Put some small vibration dampeners such as LimbSavers on your quiver hood if necessary. Line the inside edge of the hood and the rod that connects both ends of the quiver with fleece. These measures will help ensure that removing an arrow for a quick shot won't result in the broadhead or shaft clinking against a hard surface, giving you away.

Be sure to inspect your string and buss cables for excessive wear and apply string wax to protect them from moisture. Measure the axle-to-axle length and brace height of your perfectly tuned bow and write them down; if your string creeps, those measurements will change, thus tipping you off that something's wrong. You can also mark the position of your cams for future reference.

Check your bow limbs for cracks. If you start hearing strange noises while drawing, find out where they're coming from. If the bow needs some serious work, and you don't have the equipment or expertise to do it yourself, take it to an archery pro shop -- but don't wait until the

last minute, when every other bowhunter will have brought in a bow that needs to be worked on yesterday.

ARROW & BROADHEAD

Most of us favor certain broadheads for the confidence that they give us, and as long as they're scary-sharp, those are the ones you should go with. I prefer carbon arrows these days, as I don't have to worry about them getting bent. I recommend the use of plastic vanes, which present no clearance issues and so are superior to feather fletching, especially if you're using a drop-away rest. Impervious to weather and quiet both in the brush and in flight, vanes just make sense.

SAFETY

If you're not using a safety harness, you need to reconsider. Like a car seatbelt, a harness is something that you have to get used to wearing, but once you do, you won't feel right without it. Wear it underneath your outer layer or over the top, and you'll have free range of motion.

Have an LED headlamp to wear to and from your stand in the dark: You'll be able to see where you're going, other hunters will know you're a human, and it won't spook deer. And make sure that you have plenty of pull rope, so you're not struggling up a tree with bow in hand.

MISCELLANEOUS GEAR

Check all your tree stands to make sure that the seats, straps, ratchets and cinching devices are in good shape. Look over your climbing sticks, tree steps, ladder stands and climber cables. It takes just a few minutes to look for cracks or worn parts.

Decoys can add lots of fun to your hunting, regardless of your quarry. I put glass eyes in my deer decoys, and attach a piece of white plastic bag to the tail, which adds movement in the breeze. I put fleece on the hook end of my bow hanger so that it's quiet, and sometimes stand on a small kitchen rug to reduce foot noise on a metal stand. (The rug keeps my feet warmer, too.)

Get a portable broadhead target and throw it in your vehicle. Occasionally take a few shots with a practice arrow. It'll build your confidence, or tell you that something's wrong with your setup, enabling you to correct it before it costs you an animal.

Details: They'll make you or break you. Pay attention to them well before the season, and you'll be ready for that shot of a lifetime.

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