The Basics of Bowhunting
By Ralph M. Huppert, II.
Many people who live in the suburbs have never been directly exposed to bowhunting. Now that the deer herd in Fairfax County has expanded to create critical problems, many property owners are searching for deer management solutions. This article is intended to provide the property owner an introduction to bowhunting.
When the subject of bowhunting is raised within the general public, the first thoughts and mental images most often are of traditional bows and arrows, which are made with wood. Today, however, available archery equipment is so much improved over it’s ancestral roots that with modern archery tackle in hand, today’s bowhunters enjoy success rates multiple percentages above those struggled for in the past. While modern compound bows bring bowhunting within reach of the average hunter, they are absolutely lethal and efficient in the hands of a highly skilled and experienced bowhunter. These same skilled and experienced bowhunters are the individuals we cultivate and employ at SWMNV.
Yet, for all of its mechanically engineered improvements in speed, accuracy and efficiency, bowhunting is still a fairly short-range sport; in order to consistently perform a quick, clean harvest, the hunter strives to be within 20 to 30 yards of the deer. For members of SWMNV, consistency is the key to success.
While there are several methods for bowhunting (still hunting, seek & stalk hunting, blind hunting and stand hunting), stand hunting is the preferred method of SWMNV. Stand hunting is performed from a perch (tree stand) 10 to 20 feet above ground level. Typically, the combination of elevation, the tree’s canopy and the hunter’s camouflaged clothing, allow the bowhunter to evade the keen eyes of the deer. Furthermore, when properly placed, the stand’s location – usually within ten to twenty yards of a known travel route – allows for a short, lethal shot.
Finally, the use of a tree stand allows for a greater margin of safety when the arrow impacts the ground at a steep angle. Most often, the arrow passes completely through the animal, passing through the vitals as it travels, and terminates its flight upon impact with soil at roughly a 45 degree angle. Regardless a hit or miss, from this position, the arrow’s velocity is terminated within mere feet of the archer.
Bowhunting as a Management Tool
Historically, gun hunting has filled the major role of deer management for Virginia’s Department of Game and Inland Fisheries, while bowhunting has played it’s minor. Unfortunately, many of Northern Virginia’s suburban areas are now too densely populated for gun hunting to be practical or safe. Yet, the state’s northern herd continues to grow and populate this area, even as it continues to further develop. It is increasingly apparent that one of the major attractions of suburban settings is the “edge” habitat created by 5 and 10-acre parceled developments with nearby stream valley parks. This, along with bountiful exotic flora (your Azaleas and expensive ornamentals) and almost zero threat of predation, is perfect for the Whitetail deer.
In these areas, bowhunting has taken on the new role of deer management. One advantage bowhunting has over other deer management techniques is its sustained nature. Because bowhunters view bowhunting as a form of recreation, they are perfectly anxious to do so, year after year, without cost. Conversely, virtually all other techniques, such as sharp shooting, trapping and birth control, require significant taxpayer financing. Furthermore, each is, in and of itself, controversial by virtue of its effectiveness or lack thereof. Finally, proposed birth control methods - which are still in the development and testing stages - are just plain questionable and suspect. None can be deemed a long-term solution for residential settings. Bowhunting, on the other hand, works now.
Safety and Liability Risks
Property owners who consider the use of bowhunting as a management tool may ponder the risks involved. To be honest, there are risks associated with bowhunting just as there are with any endeavor. But statistics prove bowhunting is an extremely safe sport. In fact, these same statistics show football, basketball, and soccer as having greater risk of injury than bowhunting. Surprisingly (to many people), the greatest risk a bowhunter faces is during his trip, to and from the hunt, by car!
What about the risk to non-participants (humans or animals such as pets)? Well, that risk is near zero. With thousands of bowhunters going into the field each year, regardless of what rumors some try to spread, there has never been an injury or fatality to non-participants in the Virginia’s history of bowhunting. This is because bowhunting is a short-range sport. With shots restricted to 20 or 30 yards, it is nearly impossible to mistake a human, or even the family dog, for a deer.
However, property owners will inevitably wonder what is their liability? In fact, it is small, as well. First, Virginia laws strongly favor the property owner. As long as the hunter is not paying the property owner to hunt, the hunter basically assumes the risk when using private property. Furthermore, Suburban Whitetail Management of Northern Virginia provides liability insurance, as well. So, no matter how you slice it (no pun intended), the property owner is both well served (by the state’s laws) and well covered (by our insurance).
Good and Bad Bowhunters
Bowhunters are like any group of people; there are plenty of very good ones, and there are a few bad ones, but most fall somewhere in between. SWMNV opens its doors for good or excellent bowhunters who additionally are self-motivated in striving for excellence at their craft.
SWMNV seeks the following from potential members:
Regardless their prior experience or skill level, all SWMNV candidate bowhunters are required to complete the International Bowhunter Education Program course. This internationally recognized course covers bowhunter safety (both general and task specific), animal behavioral characteristics (with focus on reaction to bow shots), proper shot selection (as pertains to the animal’s known vital area, it’s demeanor and it’s position in relation to the shooter), first aid & survival tactics, bowhunter ethics & behavior, as pertains to both the hunting community and public opinion, and much more.
SWMNV bowhunters understand from the start; we expect a majority harvest of antlerless deer. There is no ambiguity within our mission statement or written requirements. Deer herd management, through the harvest of does, is our primary objective. Therefore, bowhunters must agree to focus their primary efforts on the harvest of does. While a good deer management bowhunter will be perfectly willing to harvest does, either in or out of the regular season (utilizing appropriate permits, of course), we understand - as should you, the property owner - that he also has his eyes and aspirations on eventually, one day, hopefully harvesting a handsome buck for his wall. We understand and share his aspirations. However, within SWMNV, the opportunity to harvest a nice buck must be seen as the reward for managing does, not as the bowhunter’s main objective. The experienced bowhunter is to SWMNV, what SWMNV is to the property owner – a tool. This is not a typical hunt/social club, nor was it designed to be.
The bowhunter must have harvested at least five big game animals with his bow. After all, experience is paramount to improved skills. Frankly, all bowhunters have made mistakes at one time or another. But any mistake provides an opportunity to learn valuable lessons in proper planning, discreet judgment and self discipline. SWMNV seeks honest bowhunters who have learned these lessons and value their worth. Furthermore, we encourage our members to share valuable experiences and lessons learned. Although this organization is not a social club, it has been designed to maximize team effort.
Bows are not guns. There are multiple variables inherent to shooting a bow accurately with consistency, which do not apply to guns. Accordingly, excellent archers simply are not “a dime a dozen”. It takes years of practice to become proficient with a bow, but it takes years of intense and dedicated practice to become excellent. Archers within the organization have proven their dedication. SWMNV conducts a shooting test that challenges even the best archers. Archers must shoot two of three possible arrows (with hunting broadheads attached) into a 6” circle from twenty yards away. Then, they must repeat this feat from thirty yards. There is no prior “warm up” practice allowed. This test helps to ensure focus on quality over quantity within the organization’s ranks.
If you’re mildly curious, I suggest the reader place a dollar bill (or six inch circle) against a wall, back up to twenty yards and imagine you are the archer. Then, back up to thirty yards and repeat. Keep in mind that SWMNV archers pass this test annually. Also keep in mind that, while SWMNV stresses taking shots no farther than twenty to twenty-five yards, our thirty yard test bolsters our confidence in the abilities of our archers. In our minds, an archer who is capable of consistently shooting with such accuracy will have no problem hitting his intended mark at twenty to twenty-five yards. And shorter shots are always preferred by all involved.
While it is certainly possible for a property owner to find a bowhunter who is skilled, experienced and ethical, it is not easy to be confident in your choice until you can assess results. When choosing Suburban Whitetail Management, you are choosing an organization that trains and qualifies bowhunters specifically for suburban management hunting. We verify member safety training and experience; test their shooting skills; interview each bowhunter individually, asking questions based on bowhunting ethics, skills and knowledge; require each bowhunter to attend an orientation that sensitizes them to the unique problems of hunting within suburban settings; bring the bowhunter together with the property owner, provide insurance and written agreements to reduce any misunderstanding; and finally, Suburban Whitetail Management continues to monitor the performance of each bowhunter and the satisfaction of the property owner. And all of this is FREE to the property owner. If you think bowhunting may be a viable solution for your problem, consider contacting Suburban Whitetail Management for help. SWMNV is a unique bowhunting organization that promotesshared skills & experiences through team effort and herd management vs. trophy buck hunting.