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Archers in Alabama get the jump on other hunters

JoElla Bates demonstrates how to use a longbow. Photo by John N. Felsher
JoElla Bates demonstrates how to use a longbow. Photo by John N. Felsher

By John N. Felsher

Many sportsmen take up archery because they grow bored with long-range rifle hunting and want a bigger challenge. Some hunters yearn to recapture a piece of a vanished time while others simply want to expand their hunting opportunities.

Alabama archers may start hunting deer about a month earlier than gun hunters. Depending upon where they hunt, archers in Alabama may hunt deer from Oct. 15, 2013, through Feb. 10, 2014. In addition, archers may access more lands. Some public areas only allow archery hunting. Bow hunters can often safely and quietly target deer in small suburban woodlots where firing a magnum rifle at daybreak may cause quite a neighborhood uproar.

“I started rifle hunting for deer in 1996 and bow hunting in 2000,” said Katie Pugh, an avid bow hunter from Lowndesboro, Ala. “When moving from rifle hunting to bow hunting, an archer needs to work more on the ability to control scent and become stealthier. Archers must get closer and wait for the right shot at the right moment to put a deer down quickly.”

Even an experienced whitetail hunter can’t simply buy a bow and a few arrows off the shelf with any great expectation of hunting success. True, archers use essentially the same skills as rifle hunters to bag deer, but shooting a bow requires considerably more ability and practice than firing a rifle. Plus, archery equipment works best when customized to the shooter. Improper or ill-fitting equipment could greatly diminish accuracy and effectiveness.

“People who shoot ill-fitting bows will always struggle with accuracy,” said Joella Bates, a five-time archery world champion from Waverly, Tenn. “A bow with a proper draw length for a given archer will shoot more accurately and cause less fatigue than an improperly sized bow. I highly recommend that anyone who wants to start bow hunting go to a reputable archery shop to get measured for the proper draw length bow.”

Sportsmen today may choose from essentially three types of bows: longbows, recurves or compounds. Light and powerful, traditional longbows resemble medieval weapons that turned the tide of battle against armored knights centuries ago. Generally shorter than longbows, recurve bows somewhat resemble longbows, but power arrows by the reverse shape of the bow.

By far, most modern hunters use compound bows, which fling arrows with sets of cams and pulleys. These devices can achieve astonishing arrow speeds, power and accuracy. Archers can add such devices as multiple sights, stabilizers and other accessories to compound bows to hunt anything from carp to elephants.

“If someone had told me 30 years ago we’d be using the stuff we’re using now, I would have said, ‘no way,’” said Dan Hart of Huntsville, Ala., who shot for the University of Florida archery team in the early 1970s. “Compounds were just coming onto the market when I started shooting a bow. I highly recommend someone shoot a compound bow to start. A compound is much easier to shoot than a recurve.”

Once archers buy whatever bow type, they must practice frequently to hone their proficiency at placing arrows in a precise spot at a given range. Practice as if hunting. Wear the same clothes and shoot from the same positions with the same equipment as if hunting.

“Bow hunters need lots of practice regardless of the equipment they are using,” Bates said. “Practice in a hunting situation. Someone who hunts from an elevated stand should practice from an elevated stand at the same height to keep the draw length the same and look through the sight at the same angle.”

With Christmas approaching, sportsmen may find an entire introductory package complete with a bow, a few arrows, a sight and a quiver for about $400 to $500. Archers should also consider buying finger and arm protection, an adjustable release aid and a laser rangefinder. Misjudging a shot by just a few yards could result in a miss.

Archers may also invest in exercise equipment to develop their upper body strength. Some devices use surgical tubing to create a sort of mini-bow. Archers pulling on these devices work specific muscles required to shoot bows.

“One of the biggest hurdles many beginner archers must overcome is a lack of upper body strength,” Bates said. “People use different muscles pulling back bows than doing just about anything else. I recommend using a Bowfit, which simulates the same motion one would use when drawing a bow. People who shoot bows frequently usually do so from one side of their bodies. That could cause uneven muscle development and some spinal issues. People should exercise both sides of their bodies. They can exercise with a Bowfit while watching TV without releasing arrows.”

While not every archer will become a world champion, just about anyone can learn the sport. After making initial investments for bows, arrows and other essentials, archers can practice practically anywhere for little cost. Then, they can get the jump on unpressured deer before others take to the woods.