How To Hunt With Recurve Bow 101: Effective Tips for Traditional Archers

Young archer training with longbow

Shooting with traditional archery equipment — recurves and longbows — has seen a jump in popularity in recent years. Once a few people find out about how fun and challenging it is, everyone wants to get in on the action.

For many archers that have shot compounds and gone through a change of outlook toward hunting, traditional equipment is a natural progression. Others, of course, fall straight into the trad’ world and never look back.

Many people starting out pick up a recurve bow. They’re readily available, no matter what’s printed on a person’s paycheck. They also perform well and they just look cool.

Switching from a compound bow doesn’t feel like too much of a change either — the grip is similar, there’s a bit of weight in the hand, and the bow still maximizes mechanical advantage through the limb design.

All that being said, a longbow is just as deadly. This article discusses recurves, but hunting with trad’ gear is basically the same whether the limbs are straight or curved.

 

Respect Your Capabilities

man holding recurve bow

The most important thing when hunting — no matter the weapon — is to recognize, understand and respect your personal capabilities.

As a hunter, it’s our responsibility to kill every game animal we hit.

Never forget that it’s OK to miss — especially when shooting a recurve or longbow. The greatest bowhunters all miss shots. What’s not OK is to make a bad shot on an animal and then make a poor attempt at recovering it.

Accidents happen, not everything always works out how we want it, and sometimes we don’t find an animal. But unless we’ve busted ourselves trying to finish the job, we haven’t done enough.

With all that out of the way, the only way to minimize the chance of ever making a bad shot on an animal is to know how far, at what angles, and in what conditions we can make a perfect shot every time.

This knowledge comes from practicing — preferably every day — which is required for anyone really serious about hunting with a recurve or longbow.

man aiming arrow with recurve bow

Practice shooting in every conceivable position you might find yourself in in the field — crouching, kneeling; through, under, and over obstacles; sitting. The list goes on. If you shoot from a blind or a tree stand, practice shooting from it. All this helps us understand what we’re capable of in terms of practical accuracy.

Wander around and shoot at whatever catches your eye. Roving or stump shooting is the best practice for the bowhunter. No two shots are ever at the same distance or in the same situation — just as with hunting. “Killing” that leaf or cow patty can turn out to be some of the most fun you’ll ever have with a stick and string.

Accurate bowhunters shoot close. It’s definitely harder to be inaccurate if the target is only a few yards off the broadhead (but never impossible, so keep focused!). When shooting traditional recurves and longbows especially, your shots will most often be taken between five and 15 yards.

If you know that you can kill a deer every time at 20 yards, then go for it, but if you aren’t sure at that range, then only take shots that’re closer. That’s respecting your capabilities — and the sign of a true traditional bowhunter.

 

Understand the Game

deer in the middle of the forest

It’s very difficult to get within 20 yards of a wild animal you know nothing about.

Because traditional archery requires us to get so close, it also requires us to get to know the animals we chase. In return for the effort, we’re rewarded not only with some occasional meat, but with countless amazing and unique encounters with undisturbed animals in the wild. Good bowhunters are also good naturalists.

Understanding where, when and why the animals we hunt go to particular places and do certain things is part and parcel of hunting with a recurve or longbow. Once we get an idea of this, we can start working ourselves into the landscape so we stand the best chance of crossing paths with our quarry.

There is no shortage of information online on hunting particular game. Some of the stuff is good — a lot of it less so — and there’s no way of filtering out quality.

Whatever your preferred medium (video, forums, articles, etc.), one thing commonly mentioned by some of the most experienced traditional bowhunters is something along the lines of “back then, we didn’t have information, so we just worked it out ourselves”.

Any time this turns up — pay attention. Any information shared here has been gained through personal experience: trial-and-error. That’s the real deal.

In the same vein, as much research as we can do on our target species and how to get an arrow in them will never equal the knowledge we gain by going out and spending time watching them.

Get out there. You don’t even have to have a bow in your hands. Just watch, listen and think. You’ll be a better hunter for it.

 

Get to Know Anatomy

Different species have slightly different anatomy as it relates to their vital organs. For best effect when shooting a recurve or longbow, it’s necessary to put a razor-sharp broadhead through either the heart or lungs of the quarry.

Understanding precisely where these organs are located in the animal you’re pursuing is vital to ensure clean kills — and support confident shooting.

There are plenty of resources available to help with this, and researching multiple sources is the best way to get a broad understanding of shot anatomy. Always inspect the route the arrow took on any game taken so as to better understand its performance.

Make note of how the animal was standing, where the arrow entered and exited, and which organs and blood vessels it encountered.

hunter with an arrow aimed at a spotted deer on a narrow mountain path.

A sharp broadhead and well-tuned arrow can only do so much, however. Shot angles that would be appropriate for a rifle hunter are not always so for the bow. By far the best option for any animal is a perfectly broad-side position with at least the closest front leg extended forward.

On quartering shots, and importantly from greater heights in tree stands, fewer of the vitals are adequately exposed, and the angle of penetration becomes less likely to cause a quick death. These shots generally shouldn’t be taken.

Various animals also have natural obstructions to arrow penetration, whether thick skin, gristle pads or heavy bones. Being aware of how to avoid these hindrances to penetration is of utmost importance.

Learn more about deer kill zones.

 

Stay in the Shot

archer practicing in the field

One of the hardest things for recurve and longbow shooters to do when bearing down on a game animal is to stay present in the shot.

Because we practice so much, it’s natural for our brains to put everything we do into subconscious programming. This is great, as it lets our brain take over complex actions when we’re under stress — like when a deer is standing 10 yards away, completely unaware we’re at full draw.

The problem, though, is when we practice with a formulated shot process. We all have some kind of plan going through our heads when we’re practicing — how to grip the bow, string, pull back, release.

But when we surrender all control to our subconscious, it’s likely to charge through in double-time just to get it done before our conscious mind turns to jelly.

hand gripping longbow

This explains those times when everything just kind of happened before our eyes. The game came into range, and next there’s an arrow punching through its chest, sailing over its back, or worse.

While we’re just as likely to mess it up if we overthink everything, there’s a balance between working with our subconscious and being in control.

Letting the mechanics — draw and anchor — happen by themselves is good while we stay in the moment and take charge of focusing on a spot and making a good release. This way we’re aware of our target and can see where the arrow strikes — a useful result to aid in recovering animals.

Practice seeing the arrow strike the target. Remember to think about a smooth release. If you can, get a friend to stand by, shouting out “STOP!” at random times every now and then — especially when you’re at full draw. This forces you to be in the moment and control the release.

 

Get Out There!

man shooting arrow with longbow at dawn

Hunting with a recurve or longbow is one of the most rewarding things in the world. It requires dedication, perseverance and patience, making success with this gear the sweetest.

The only way to be successful is to be out there and doing it, and this article stresses that point at every turn. There are no shortcuts with trad’ gear, but every shot and every observation put you that much closer to the most delicious meal you’ve ever eaten — the animal you killed with your recurve bow!

Joe Brennan
Joe hails from Down Under and grew up in the Aussie outback, in a family of professional hunters. His passion is sharing his decades of outdoors experience to inspire others to find their own adventures. He’s fished and hunted around Australia, the United Kingdom and Canada; acted as a wilderness guide; and works as a wildlife ecologist. He regularly contributes to a range of fishing and hunting magazines.

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