While one of the most exciting and challenging methods of pursuing game, bowhunting can intimidate newcomers. But you shouldn't let the immense lexicon of jargon, mathematical equations and technical variables dissuade you from getting involved in the up close-and-personal world of archery.
Here's what you need to know when weighing the numerous options available at a bow shop or big-box store.
There are two main components that you will want to sink your hard-earned cash into: the actual bow you choose to shoot and all the accessories used to outfit it. Getting by on the cheap means spending at least $300 on a bow and $100 on accessories; but don't expect a great-shooting piece of equipment or a consistent experience.
"You can get started for $400 for everything, but that's the cheapest. Anticipate $300 for decent components, and that means everything-arrows, a loop, peep, release, sights, etc., and about $600 is what you should be spending for a bow. There are some decent bows out there in the $400 to $500 range," said Josh Jones of Spokane Valley Archery in Greenacres, Wash. "In today's market, I tell people that if they can't afford to spend $600 on a bow that quite honestly they should save their money until they can. You're getting into a good bow at that price point; below that and you start running into cost-saving measures."
As you ascend in a bow's price point, figure that for each $100 spent, you're stepping up a rung in quality. Then, whether you spend $400 or $600 for a bow, count on at least an additional $100 for the cheapest components, $300 for middle-of-the-road parts and $500 for a top-end setup.
When weighing your budgeting options between the bow and accessories, your decision should be prejudiced toward the bow. "Realistically, the bow is more important because you can upgrade the accessories later for much cheaper," said Jones. "The more you spend upfront on a bow, the nicer a bow you have. It's much easier to upgrade a $50 release to a $100 release or an $80 rest to a $120 rest down the road.
Whether your cam is aggressive or not, you also have to decide between a single, dual or hybrid cam, and keep everything maintained. When your bow is properly set up the first time, the cam(s) is properly orientated and in tune with the rest of the bow. As your string stretches over time however, the timing of your bow moves out of sync.
"If you buy a bow and think you don't have to touch it again, you're wrong. Every bow needs maintenance," said Jones. "If the string stretches, it will need maintenance regardless of what type of cam it has."
When the string stretches, you lose power and consequently, energy; a bow that might have been set at 70 pounds could drop to 65 pounds as the line lengthens. Loss of power is just one ramification of string stretch. Nock height, impact point and a slew of other problems rear up, touching off a chain reaction.
Types of Cams
Dual cam: A dual cam typically gives you the fastest bow, but all that speed comes at a price. More moving parts means there is more that can go wrong and more that needs to be timed together in order to maintain a consistent shot. Depending upon the type of dual cam on the bow, Jones says that you might feel two definite walls when it's out of time.
Hybrid cam: This setup is exactly what it sounds like: It's basically a cam and a half and provides benefits that a new shooter might appreciate. "Personally, I think the hybrid is the best overall for a beginner. It stays the same for the longest and remains closest to the peak weight and the impact point won't change as much when it is out," said Jones, noting that hybrid cams are typically found on bows selling for $400 or more. "Hybrid cams require the least amount of maintenance, which is good for a beginner because, typically, they don't get a lot of help."
Instead, start at a comfortable poundage and exercise those muscles by shooting a few arrows every day. As your proficiency and strength increase you can adjust the draw weight, but get your form correct first.
"You should be able to point your bow hand at what you want to shoot and not have to move it much when drawing back," said Jones, noting that it only takes about 35 pounds of kinetic energy to successfully hunt deer and 60 to 65 pounds to kill an elk. "If you have to struggle, back it off."
Arrow rest: "There's nothing more important than the arrow rest, it's what determines how straight the arrow flies from point A to point B," said Jones, who recommends a fall-away or drop-away rest with one caveat. "A fall-away rest will give you the most accurate shot when it's put on correctly. If it's not put on right then it's better to go with a biscuit."
Release: "A good release has the trigger as close to the jaws as possible so you're not giving up length," said Jones, who also recommends a buckle-type release over hook-and-loop for noise reduction.
Additionally, Jones said the most accurate releases are of the single-jaw variety, as opposed to the dual jaw, because there's only one moving part that will influence the string's release and, ultimately, your arrow's path of travel. The single-jaw releases tend to be more expensive, starting at around $80, but are something that you will work up to as your proficiency grows.