If you’ve decided to take up bowhunting or bowfishing – or maybe you’ve been inspired by Katniss Everdeen to learn how to shoot a bow and arrow – you’ll need to have the right equipment. If you’re just starting, the best way to find a bow is to take an experienced archer or hunter with you to an experienced archery shop.
Use these tips to find the right bow for you:
Know your bows.
While “bow and arrow” might bring up visions of Robin Hood, modern bows are much more sophisticated and varied. Recurve bows are more like the traditional bow, as you draw them back by hand. The bow’s limbs curve slightly and point away from you when the bow is in shooting position. Longbows have straighter, more narrow limbs. A compound bow uses cables and wheels to ease the draw of the arrow and reduce the arm strength needed to shoot the arrow. Compound bows are often the best bows for beginners.
Measure your draw length and weight.
You’ll want a bow that fits you, so you’ll need an appropriate draw length – the distance between the bowstring and your grip on the arrow when the bow is at full draw. You can do this by measuring your wingspan – hold out your arms away from your body and measure from one fingertip, across your back and to the other fingertip. A number of charts online can help you convert your wingspan to draw length. If you’re looking for a bow for kids, bows without a draw length allow the bow to grow along with your kids. The draw weight is the pressure it takes to draw the bow back. Start with a bow weight you’re comfortable with and work your way up.
Find your dominant eye.
Just like you’re probably right- or left-handed, you also have one eye that you tend to use more than the other. That’s called eye dominance, and it’s easy to determine if you’re left eye or right eye dominant – and it’s not always the same as your hand dominance. Take both hands and make a hole or circle between your hands; hold the circle in front of your body with your arms extended and both eyes open. Frame an object in the distance with the circle and slowly bring your hands to your eye. The eye you bring it to naturally is your dominant eye. There are right-handed and left-handed bows – but go by your eye dominance. So if you’re right-handed but left eye dominant, buy a left-handed bow.
Target archery is the best way to get started in archery, allowing you to practice and gain experience with the bow before heading out to the field. Many archery ranges have archery facilities, or you can buy a target and practice in your backyard, if city ordinances allow. Kids can get started in the Archery in the Schools program, too. With some practice, you could even end up in the Olympics, like Iowan Miranda Leek.
If you plan on using your new archery skills to take a turkey, you’ll want to look for a compound bow. Because these bows can be held longer and shoot flatter, they’re a good choice for hunters using ground blinds. But be sure to match your bow to your blind and give yourself plenty of room for the limbs of the bow. Longbows and recurves are generally better for stalking, since they feature a quick draw and release. They’re also usually too tall for a blind. Once you have your new bow, be sure to practice with the new bow with your hunting clothes on.
Start with a compound bow – other bows take more time to become proficient. Compounds can be more forgiving and are easy to learn to shoot on. Get comfortable before the season starts and practice shooting with your hunting clothes on. If you’ll be using a tree stand, familiarize yourself with the harness on the ground first and practice shooting from a sitting position.
It’s not necessary to buy a separate bow for every use – you can use one bow for everything, including bowfishing. You’ll just need to modify the bow by adding an arrow rest for the heavier fiberglass arrow, as well as a reel to bring the arrow back in. Be sure to get familiar with both state regulations and local ordinances on bowfishing before you head out.
Learn more about shooting sports from the DNR's Shooting Sports program.