Choosing the Right Archery Gear
For bowhunting, two sticks and a string is all it takes as long as it complies with your local regulations. For most bowhunters, it’s not that easy and many questions have to be answered when choosing equipment. When it comes down to it, your bow, arrows and broadheads are possibly the most important tools of the hunt. Where does an archer inaugurate the search for equipment?
Let me stress, unless you know exactly what you are doing in putting together a new archery set-up, do yourself a favor and go to a qualified archery pro-shop. Many people go into huge discount houses or order things through the mail. They pick out a cheap package set-up and practice until they can hit a pie-plate at ten yards. Please, if you know somebody like this, educate them. Likely, without them knowing it, they are one of the worst things to ever happen to bowhunting. These are typically the hunters who wound animals and give bowhunting a "black eye."
Your first choice needs to be the bow—this can be intimidating to some, there are so many different makes and models to choose from how do you begin? There are speed cams, one-cam options, round wheels, energy cams and a number of other choices when it comes to risers, limbs and other doohickeys. You need to know your draw length, what type of string and cables you want, draw weight and amount of let-off you prefer.
My advice would be to describe to the pro-shop what you would like to do with the bow and how much you would like to spend, and have them give you several options. If they come back with "this is the only bow for you," turn around and walk out. There should be several options available in just about any price range that will hit an "X" or harvest a whitetail just as well as the next. Pick up the various options, draw them back and choose the bow that feels the best in your hands.
Exactly what you’re going to do with your bow has a big factor on how you set it up, how you practice and what limitations you hold yourself to. Are you hunting whitetail in the dense Midwest timber or are you pursuing mule deer in the open prairie?
Once you’ve picked out a bow that fits you well and feels good in your hands, now you’ll need some arrows. I suggest looking into carbon arrows. From the testing I’ve done, and from hunting with them now for over 20 years, there’s no question in my mind they are better than aluminum, wood or any other arrow material.
With the introduction of "Internal Component" technology a few years ago, carbon arrows are a huge leap forward from what I used to hunt with 20 years ago. But in my opinion, even the old style carbon arrow is better than new arrows made out of other materials. Carbon recovers to its original state faster, it absorbs more force from the bow, it retains more energy in flight, and it has less drag in flight and upon impact; thus, much better penetration. It is stronger, faster and flatter shooting than other materials. Also, since carbon is "lighter per spine," I’m reducing weight without sacrificing energy. It simply performs better in every category than any other type of arrow I’ve ever shot.
Making sure your projectile is flying at its optimum efficiency and your bow is tuned properly is very important. Aside from your shooting form, your arrow rest is one of the biggest factors towards getting your shafts to fly correctly. Here again, tell the pro-shop what you’re going to do with the bow and whether you are going to be shooting fingers or a release aid, and they’ll be able to help. I would highly recommend one of the newer-style drop-away rests. The advancement in the technology of this style from the old double-prong, spring-tensioned rest is huge. Having nothing touching the arrow as it is leaving the bow is a huge bonus, especially for those archers who have the tendency to "drop" the bow immediately after the release to watch the arrow fly or follow a set of fleeting antlers.
Anytime an arrow is flying anyway but perfectly straight energy is lost. Needless side-to-side or up-and-down fishtailing of the arrow needs to be corrected. The easiest way to examine this is to "paper-tune" your set-up. Basically, stand a couple yards away from a large sheet of taut paper and shoot an arrow through it, scrutinize the tear in the paper and adjust your rest properly. Ideally, you want to see a pencil hole for the shaft and three tiny tears from your fletchings (obviously for a shaft with three fletchings). Any tear in the paper one way or another are adjustments to be made. One choice to make is whether to shoot a release or use fingers. Some "old-school" instructors want their students to learn by using their fingers and then graduate to a release aid after the basics are mastered. I guess they want their students to get the "feel" of the string. A couple stats to keep in mind–a finger shooter will typically want a longer axle-to-axle length to the bow to eliminate finger pinch, and they will also characteristically want to hold a little more weight at full draw so they will usually have bows with less let-off. Given the choice, most bowhunters will choose a release aid because it gives them the ability to hold more weight for a longer time.
As far as sights…personally I like to keep it simple for hunting—something that can be tightened down and won’t come loose. With the flat trajectory of the carbon shafts, I only use one pin out to 30 yards. If I’m going to be hunting game, that may require a longer shot, like out West on an elk or pronghorn hunt, then I’ll add a pin or two depending on how far I need to reach—and I’ll practice and sight in at the appropriate distances until I feel confident in making the shot. I like fiber optic pins. They gather light so they can be seen even in very low light conditions.
Finally, what about the business end of your arrow? For many years I preferred a fixed blade head as opposed to a mechanical style. It was tough to find an expandable head that penetrated well enough or would inflict the same amount of blood loss as a fixed blade head. The older "jack-knife" style of mechanical head also had tendency to cause arrow deflection on sharply-angled shots. I have changed my tune over the past few years—because of the design of some newer expandable heads, like the Rage SlipCam design; they are achieving better holes and better cuts than most fixed blade heads.
I know some of you who already own bows don’t dust them off until a few days before you’re ready to go hunting…the lines in the pro-shops the week before opener indicate that. Bows perform best when they are shot periodically. Your bow should be checked at least once per year to make sure everything is flying right. Get out there and have fun between seasons. Archery is fun for the entire family.
Todd Amenrud is the Director of Public Relations for Mossy Oak BioLogic, Editor-in-Chief of Gamekeepers, Farming for Wildlife magazine and a habitat consultant.