For as long as I can remember, bowhunting has had a special place in my life. When I was a young kid, my dad would take me to the top of the hill in our back yard to sit in on his shooting sessions. I can still see the DIY target he made using 2x4s and layered cardboard—not exactly pretty to look at, but it served its purpose. The 31” aluminum arrows he shot from his custom-made compound bow flew like slow pitched soft balls. I was twelve years old when he took me on my first bow hunt and I remember the experience of it vividly—sitting along a field edge next to a big red oak, with high hopes of seeing any kind of deer. That evening’s first sighting of a deer, with a weapon in my hand, was an experience that brought on a feeling that would become familiar to me. It’s a feeling so many hunters know—knees shaking, hands quivering, and heart racing. Familiar though it may be, it never, ever gets old. This overwhelming feeling is what keeps so many coming back to the woods.
It’s no secret that Pennsylvania is deeply rooted in hunting traditions. Some of those traditions have faded or changed in recent years. While change can be good, we need to do our part to build new hunters and revitalize dwindling public interest.
Possibly the hottest thing in the bowhunting world right now is the DIY style-hunt. There are tons of YouTube channels, podcasts, and social media accounts where anyone can consume content. While some of the content may need to be sorted in order to find the best stuff, much of it is solid information.
I totally understand the hype. The overall message of this content is that anyone can do it. And the reality is that, yes, anyone can do it: but it will come with its own set of challenges. Diving straight into any kind of bowhunting can be intimidating for anyone, even people who already have other types of hunting experiences under their belt. Being prepared for challenges as they come will help reduce the frustrations they so often create.
Knowing where to start and even what questions to ask can cause people to quit before they even get started. Where should I hunt? Where can I hunt? What should I wear? What weapon should I use? How do I be stealthy? How do I find a deer? How do I take care of the meat? What’s the best way to fill my freezer? Is a big buck worth waiting for? What kind of legal things do I need to know? The questions are endless and can be overwhelming. Don’t let that stop you. Do your homework. Take advantage of the helpful content at your fingertips, and like any new thing, take it one step at a time.
That may seem a little too preachy for some readers, but I’ll take it even further: if you’re that person that has been wanting to give hunting a try, don’t stop at the thought! There is truly an innate drive we have as humans towards hunting. Following that lifestyle can lead to extreme satisfaction, not to mention fun!
Truthfully, Pennsylvania has some of the most grueling, intensive, backbreaking hunting anyone can find. But with time and hard work, the rewards far exceed the effort. Starting with the right mindset and expecting to put in time, will ensure that you never feel that you’ve lost a second in the woods. Personally, I’ve never felt that I’ve wasted, even a second, if that time was spent bowhunting.
With this series of articles, I’ll be addressing the growing pains that come with being a DIY bowhunter. I’ll do my best to answer some of the tougher questions that arise when first starting out. Look out for topics that cater to the new crowd, all the way to up to topics with a more advanced perspective. My hope is that from reading these articles, you will be able to start on the road to a long and healthy relationship with bowhunting.
Look out for upcoming topics:
- Where to begin: We will touch on common legal requirements, basic and minimal gear advice, tools/techniques to extract an animal from the field, and meat care.
- Choosing an area to Hunt: Understanding types of public lands, e-scouting, pinch points, and terrain features.
- Setting hunting goals: Matching reality and skill set.
- Choosing the right time to upgrade gear: Beginners gear to advanced. What’s the difference and what should you carry?
- Balancing life and hunting: Dividing time for family, work, and hunting.
- Consuming hunting media and content: What content is worth your while and how to apply that content to the real world.
- Hunting mindset: Staying positive, get something out of hunting excursion, recovering from near misses and actual ones.
Follow Aaron on Instagram @aaron_hepler