The perils of duck hunting are great - especially for the duck. -Walter Cronkite

An Introduction to Hunting with the Bow and Arrow

by John Hamilton

Hunting with the Bow and Arrow is very different to hunting with a rifle in many respects, and whilst there are several areas of expertise that are similar there are as many that require a very different mindset.

One of the many considerations needs to be in the area of ballistics. Where the average hunting rifle has a trajectory that will place the bullet at a height of 15-20mm above the line of sight, at a range of some 100 – 150meters, the hunting arrow will be in excess of 1500mm above the line of sight over a similar range. This means that a hunter armed with a rifle can miss-judge the range to his target by 100 meters and still place his bullet in the vital area of an animal that is standing broadside on. However the same hunter armed with a bow and arrow has to judge the distance to his target more accurately and his margin for error is limited to only 1 or 2 meters if he is to avoid wounding or missing his target. Therefore it stands to reason that the hunter armed with a bow and arrow has to be able to get infinitely closer to his quarry than the hunter with the rifle.

The equipment used for hunting with the bow and arrow also needs to be given care-full consideration. There are two main types of bow available to the modern day bow-hunter, these are the compound and the traditional bow. There are three types of bow which fall into the traditional class, the primitive bow, the long bow and the recurve bow. The primitive bow is generally made from a single piece of wood and is only for the very dedicated and experienced bow-hunter that really wants to get back to his roots. The re-curve and long bows are more widely used in the hunting field of today. These two Bows have their own special considerations in as much as they have been designed to be shot differently.

The Long bow is designed to be shot from the heel of the hand and consideration must be given to the distance between this point and the arrow rest, which is generally on the shelf of the sight window for instinctive traditional shooters. The Long bow is by nature of it’s limb design, which allows the bowstring to touch the limbs only at the ends where the string is attached, a very quiet instrument, and when properly tuned and set up the noise of the released arrow is almost inaudible.
The Recurve bow is designed to be shot from the heel of the thumb and this has the effect of reducing the distance between the hand and the arrow rest, thereby enhancing the ability of the archer to point the arrow more naturally at his target.

The limb design of the Recurve bow allows for more energy to be stored in comparison to the Long bow. However this also means that the bowstring has to touch the limb in the Recurve area when the string is released thus making the Recurve a slightly noisier design than the Long bow. Whilst this increase in noise is minuscule, it must be borne in mind when setting the bow up for hunting.

So whilst the Long bow is marginally quieter and the Recurve is marginally faster, the main consideration is one of personal preference, as both designs have their own aesthetic qualities.

The Compound bow is a very different instrument and is certainly more complicated to set up than either of the traditional bows and quite possibly more complicated than the average hunting rifle. The Compound bow came into being in the early 1960′s and the designs have progressively maximised on the growth in technology with regards to the overall design and the materials used in the construction of the various components. The compound bow is generally accepted as being the bow that has generated the most interest in hunting with the bow and arrow. It has given rise to a multi-million Dollar industry in the USA, with all of the gadgetry and the more practical accessory development growing on a daily basis. Some of these gadgets are designed to boost the hunter’s ability and others are more likely to boost his ego. The Compound bow utilises the mechanical advantages of the block and tackle in order to store energy in the limbs, which are made of modern materials that can withstand the resultant forces. The handle or ‘riser’ section has also been developed and modified to maximise on the performance and efficiency of the weapon. We have also seen the progression from plain round wheels at the limb ends, to high rise hatchet cams and through the energy cam design to the more modern design which utilises the single cam and single wheel principle. However all of the development is not without some form of compensation. The increases in arrow speed, energy storage, draw weight let off and the many others have had to be paid for in reliability, arrow stability, shootability and practicality, all of which can have negative effects on the hunters’ success rate.
One of the drawbacks of the Compound bow is that it must be shot with the bow held in the vertical position; this is because of the relationship of the wrist to the arrow rest and the arrow rest to the sighting arrangement. This is deemed to be so critical for consistent accuracy that the manufacturers of the various sighting systems built in spirit level tubes to aid the archer.

The methods used for drawing the bowstring and releasing the arrow are also varied but the three main components used today are the finger tab, the finger glove and the mechanical release aid or trigger. The tab and glove can be used on any style of bow but the release aid is used mostly on the compound bow as this allows the archer to maximise on the efficiency of his equipment. There are also several variations in the design of the release aid, but they all achieve the same end.

Another archer’s aid is the arm guard, which serves two purposes namely, it protects the bow arm from the bowstring and helps to retain loose clothing from interfering with the string movement. Whilst not an essential piece of equipment for the Compound or Recurve shooter, the Longbow-man regards it as a must due to the nature of his grip on the bow.

Arrows have also improved over the years and we have seen the development from wooden shafts through fibreglass, aluminium, aluminium-carbon composite to graphite fibre and kevlar all being used for arrow shafts. The arrow nock material has also kept pace with the developments and there are various designs, using a variety of materials, on the market. The feathers or vanes fitted to the rear of the arrow are known as the “fletching ” and these are also subject to variations, depending on the purpose for which the arrow is intended. As the principle reason for the fletching is to provide stability to the shaft, target arrows with field or target points do not require large fletching. However hunting shafts are fitted with broadheads and are subjected to wind planing, to a greater or lesser degree depending on the broadhead design, and therefore require larger fletching in order to compensate for this.

The fletching also has variations in the way in which it is mounted on the shaft, and this can vary from straight in line with the shaft to helical around the shaft, which will cause the arrow to spin in flight, much the same as the rifling in the barrel on a firearm. The important issue with all types of arrow is that the components must line up perfectly with the axis of the shaft so as to avoid any wobble in flight.

The methods of carrying arrows in the field offers the archer scant choice and of the three types of quiver available, back-quiver, hip-quiver and bow-quiver, the bow-quiver is by far the most popular. Like everything else there are variations to each of these styles and personal preference plays a large part in the individual selection.

Hunting broad heads also come in a variety of styles and sizes but your choice of equipment and chosen quarry will have an influence on the design or designs that you will use. The strength of the broad head is a critical factor as well as the blade resistance to penetration. Obviously a single blade will offer less resistance to penetration than a multi-bladed one, but the more blades there are the greater will be the cutting surface. Replaceable blades are also a consideration because factory sharpened edges are extremely sharp, however re-sharpen able broad heads can be honed to a very fine edge. It is a question of how much time and effort you are prepared to put into your hunt.

Having all the right equipment, set-up properly, and knowing how to use it is only the beginning. As has been mentioned already the bow-hunter has to get a lot closer to his quarry than the rifle hunter, if he wants to reap the benefits of his hunt. This means being able to stalk to within 25 meters (or closer) for the walk and stalk hunter or to be able to correctly appraise the intended direction of travel and select the right spot to wait, for those that want to still hunt. Then comes the moment of truth, can you draw the bow and hold till the shot opportunity is presented? Obviously the longer you have to hold at full draw, the more fatigued you will get and the less chance you are going to have of holding steady at the release. Of course while you are doing all of this you must not be detected by the quarry, neither by sight, sound or smell, so we have to add a dose of adrenaline for good measure. I am sure by now you are getting the picture. Most overseas clients hunt from a blind or hide, which allows for a small amount of relaxation in the areas of movement that will not be detected by the quarry. But as we all know African game survives on its ability to detect danger and will bolt at the slightest un-natural noise or the faintest trace of human scent.

It will be obvious from what has been read so far that a great deal of discipline is called for on the part of the bow-hunter and his behaviour has to be beyond reproach if he is to harvest his prize ethically. It takes a great deal of restraint to pass up a shot on a good animal after a long stalk, just because the shot opportunity was on the “iffy” side of right. As a bow-hunter your take off of game will not be anywhere near as high as that of the rifle hunter so good land owner relations are an absolute must, so you do not want to sour the pot by making decisions that will lead to wounded or un-recovered game. Remember that the land owner is allowing you to hunt in return for revenue he hopes to get for the game you take, and he will not take kindly to spending long hours tracking your carelessly shot animal.

Above all you have to live with your self and the consequences of your actions. You owe no apology for being an ethical bow-hunter.As with all hunting the Provincial Ordinance applies and the bow-hunter has to comply with its requirements. In addition to the laws and regulations that apply to rifle hunters the bow-hunter has to apply for a special permit that will allow him to use his equipment in Natal. There are two types of permit available, one is for each hunt that you do and specifies the dates, venue and species. This permit will only be issued if the landowner is registered with the conservation authorities. The other permit is issued annually to the bow-hunter that has passed an approved bow-hunting competency test and exempts him from having to apply for the first type of permit. There is also an additional section of the ordinance that applies to the bow-hunter and this covers the species that may be hunted with a given bow draw mass and the types of arrow points that may be used.

With all activities that involve the use of weapons, there are safety factors that have to be kept in mind at all times. You never dry fire a bow. Releasing the string without an arrow may cause the bow limbs to shatter. The bow and arrow is not a toy it is designed to kill. Never point your bow with an arrow at any thing other than your intended target.

Never walk in the veldt with a broadhead tipped hunting arrow in your hand, if the arrow is capable of passing through an animal, your body will present little or no resistance should you stumble. Leave the arrow in your quiver until you need it. Be aware of where your arrow will go if it misses or passes through the target.
Hunting with the bow and arrow requires constant practice with your equipment and demands that you learn as much as possible about your quarry and its habits. However like anything that is demanding there is a great deal to be gained from being an ethical bow-hunter. You will grow from the inside out and derive a renewed respect for our flora and fauna and the way in which our world was put together as well as our position in the food chain.