I remember my first opening day, it’s something I’ll never forget. The smell of the woods, the brisk Indiana fall air filling my lungs, the anticipation of seeing a whitetail, and my trusty compound bow at my side that I’d spent all summer getting ready for this moment.
Did I see any deer that day? Nope, sure didn’t! But hunting isn’t always about bagging big bucks, it’s about the experience of being in the woods and gaining a greater respect for nature and conservation.
If you’re new to hunting, we applaud your decision and welcome you to our ranks. But I’m sure you’ve got a lot of questions, and one of the most common ones is, “Should I start off with bow or rifle hunting?”
It’s a great question and one that only you can truly answer. However, there are pros and cons to each that you might want to consider before you plunk down your hard-earned cash on a fancy compound bow or new hunting rifle.
In this blog post, we’ll discuss the in’s and out’s of bow vs rifle hunting to ensure you make the best decision on how you want to hunt when the leaves start changing colors this fall.
Bow vs Rifle Hunting
If you’re just getting into hunting, the amount of gear you’ll be looking to acquire can be staggering. Expenses can add up quickly when you’re looking at camos, tree stands, hunting boots, calls, and optics. On top of all that, you’ll need to consider the cost of your hunting implement of choice as well.
Although it’s possible to find some amazing deals on used hunting rifles, in general picking up a solid compound hunting bow will be less expensive than a rifle.
However, if rifle hunting is something that excites you, there are many budget-friendly hunting rifles out there. My two personal favorites are the Savage Axis II and the Ruger American series of bolt-action rifles. These long guns are perfectly acceptable for big game hunting and will give you the accuracy you need for longer range shots.
But to take those long-range shots, you’ll need to invest in a decent scope to ensure you can hit what you’re aiming at, which is an additional cost. When it comes down to it, you can buy a nice compound bow that is fully tricked out with a sight, rest, release, and quiver for about the same price as a naked bolt-action rifle.
So, if you’re ready to hit the woods but need to squeeze as much value out of your hard-earned bills as you can, then bow hunting might be the better option to begin with.
One sacred duty of all hunters is to minimize the suffering of any game animal you take aim at. Therefore, practice with your chosen hunting tool is paramount to ensuring a clean kill.
And when it comes to ensuring a high volume of practice, most hunters find it easier and less expensive to practice with their bow than their rifle.
Unless you live in the country and have a decent plot of land, most hunters won’t be able to practice rifle shooting on their own property. This means you’ll need to find a rifle range of suitable length (I’d recommend 100 yards to start) and you’ll need a practice budget for ammo and travel.
On the other hand, many bow hunters can practice on their property or at an indoor archery range for considerably less coin than a rifle range. The space needed for archery practice is also considerably less than for rifle shooting, meaning most homeowners can practice on their own land provided they can ensure all their arrows stay on their property.
Another benefit to archery practice is that it is more affordable. Field tips and arrows are reusable, and a quality archery target can last you for years. Compare that to paper shooting targets and hunting ammo which are both one-time use items, and your practice budget can dry up quickly when shooting a rifle.
Now there are some ways to save money when honing your marksmanship skills if rifle hunting is your jam. Using a 22LR rifle is a great way to focus on the fundamentals of marksmanship without breaking the bank on ammo. Furthermore, most ammo manufacturers will offer full metal jacket (FMJ) ammo at about half the cost of quality hunting rounds.
However, if you are planning on rifle hunting, then you should absolutely put at least one box of your chosen hunting ammo through your rifle prior to hitting the woods. This will ensure your scope is zeroed for your hunting rounds and you can humanely harvest whatever big game you’re stalking.
You should also do the same for bow hunting, as you need some practice using your broadheads before you head into the woods. If you’re practicing at an indoor range, make sure you check with the staff if broadhead shooting is allowed as some ranges only allow field points since broadheads will cause more damage to the target.
It may seem like I’m dogging on rifle hunting a little and you’re all prepared to go out and get your first compound bow. However, rifles do offer hunters numerous advantages; the first being increased effective range.
If you live in an area with wide open spaces, like the Great Plains or in Kansas, then a rifle gives you a massive edge over bowhunters. Honestly, if you expect or plan to take shots over 50 yards, then you should really consider a rifle over a bow.
Although bows are extremely effective at short range, they lack the long-range stopping power that a rifle offers you. Most modern sporting ammo can easily harvest big game animals like whitetail deer, pronghorn, and even elk out to distances over 300 yards. Good luck doing that with a bow!
Another benefit of rifle hunting is that many shooters find they are more accurate with a rifle than a bow.
There are several reasons for this, but first and foremost is that rifle shots are often supported thanks to bipods, shooting sticks, and shooting rests on your tree stand. For bow hunters, they have to shoot unsupported, which makes it easier to throw a shot low thanks to a flinch or buck fever.
Using a magnified scope is also an aid when it comes to accuracy, as shooters can easily see their target and put a shot where it needs to be. Bow hunters typically use unmagnified pin sights, and although extremely rugged, don’t help all that much for longer shots.
Lastly, rifles are somewhat more forgiving of ranging mistakes thanks to their flat trajectory. On the other hand, if you misjudged how far off that trophy buck is while bow hunting, you’ll likely use the wrong aiming pin and send your shot under his belly, and you’ll be telling stories of how you watched that 10-point rack bound off into a thicket.
One thing to consider when deciding between bowhunting and rifle hunting is how long each season is in your state or territory. However, archery season is typically longer than firearm season.
As a responsible hunter and one who doesn’t like getting citations from the game warden, it’s your responsibility to know what you can legally hunt with in your area. And even though every state is different, archery season (for deer at least) is typically considerably longer than firearm season.
In my home state of Indiana, bowhunting is permitted for the entirety of deer season, while rifle hunting is only allowed for a three-week period starting in the middle of November.
Although I only cited Indiana deer hunting as an example, if you want to spend as much time in the woods as possible, then bowhunting is typically the way to go.
No matter whether you love the thrill and fair chase of bowhunting, or your trigger finger itches to dial in that pinpoint shot while rifle hunting, the important thing is that we carry on the legacy of those hunters who came before us. As fewer and fewer hunters are venturing into the woods each season, it’s our duty to pass on this ancient tradition to the next generation.
Hopefully this article helps you understand the nuances of each form of hunting and encourages you to get out into the woods. Because let me tell you something, there’s nothing else in the world like getting into your camos and venturing out into your tree stand while the rest of the world slumbers. And as those first rays of light pierce the horizon, it’s nothing short of magical as you see the woods spring to life.
It’s an experience unlike anything else you can experience, and I want you to see it for yourself. And if you find yourself in the Hoosier state, I’ll see you in the woods!