Wisconsin Natural Resources magazine

Wisconsin Natural Resources magazine

Rifle hunters in the winter DNR Files

Rifle Hunting
DNR Files

Bow hunter with deer © Michelle Helin

Bow Hunting
© Michelle Helin

December 2012

Bow or gun?

Why hunters grab what they do when they head to the woods.

Amanda Laurenzi

I have lived in Wisconsin my entire life and have managed to never go hunting. I even lived in the country for a better portion of my life, but instead of going out to hunt, we allowed others to use our land. I remember hunters coming to our door, asking ever so nicely for the opportunity to sit in our woods and look for game. Some had guns; others had bows. As this took place more often, I started to wonder if there was a significant difference between the two.

The chances of a Wisconsinite never meeting a hunter in this state are slim to none. Many people take part in the sport every year, teaching their children the ways of the hunt and passing down traditions that they learned when they were young. The various reasons for hunting still bring together groups of people who have one goal in common: tagging a prize. When asked to explain how bow hunting is different from rifle hunting, Mike Brust, President of the Wisconsin Bowhunters Association wisconsinbowhunters.org, said: “From a general perspective, bow hunting is often favored by some — and not favored by others — for the same reasons.”

He went on to explain that bow hunting takes a lot of time, practice and patience. The goal of bow hunters is to hone in on their skills and experience the rush that bow hunting provides.

“It is certainly more challenging and physically and mentally demanding, and takes a lot more time both in preparation and execution — all reasons that draw some folks to it and others away,” Brust said.

The pros for bow

Through my research, I found that bow hunting was more popular than I had previously thought. As a non-hunter, I had always assumed most people strictly hunted with rifles. Here’s what some hunters had to say about why they bow hunt:

Eli Scriven, Crivitz

“When you take a bow, there seems to be a more natural, primitive, almost instinctual nature to it. You seem somewhat in tune with nature and the ways of ‘the caveman’… You need to take more precautions, and be stealthy and even more skilled to harvest an animal with a bow. You don’t have the range of a gun, so you need to be closer to your prey, which means you have to be quieter and make more subtle movements if necessary.

“This obviously helps the heart pound a little harder when you can see your reflection in the blacks of the animal’s eye as opposed to sitting on a corn field and shooting a .30-06 at an animal through a 9X scope at a distance of 150-200 yards.”

Mike Brust, Wausau

“From a physical standpoint, bow hunting involves very close and often extended interaction with the prey. The animal must come within range and offer the proper angle for a humane archery shot. This can take a considerable amount of time, often tense and very exciting, where eventual success is anything but assured.

“From a physical standpoint, bow hunting involves very close and often extended interaction with the prey. The animal must come within range and offer the proper angle for a humane archery shot. This can take a considerable amount of time, often tense and very exciting, where eventual success is anything but assured.

“Bow hunting … is a much more solitary and introspective activity. Personally, both appeal to me on different levels.”

Jake Schmidt, Kieler

“I think the biggest difference with bow hunting is the increased challenge. You have to get within 50 yards if you want to get a good shot. And this increased challenge gives you such a dose of adrenaline when you are pretty much right on top of your prey.

“And that adrenaline is why I love hunting. But [don’t] get me wrong, I still love to gun hunt; bow [hunting] just has that little extra ‘umph.’”

Bow or gun?

Whether they use a bow or a rifle, Wisconsin’s hunters are committed to the sustainable use of wildlife, which they back up by contributing a lot of funding and volunteer efforts toward conservation in Wisconsin. And it goes well beyond license and permit revenues. Hunting in Wisconsin generated $1.4 billion in retail sales in 2006 and supported more than 25,000 jobs. With about 700,000 hunters, that means every 28 hunters support one job in Wisconsin.

Rifle hunting

Though I was surprised to see how many people bow hunt, Steve Johnson, claims that more than 75 percent of bow hunters also rifle hunt. Here’s what some rifle hunters had to say:

Steve Johnson, The Deer Hunting Guide

“In my opinion, most firearm-only deer hunters do so for a variety of reasons:

“Time … limited time off work and family activities to deer hunt, and the timing of the whitetail rut, which usually happens during the rifle season. The rut itself causes deer to be on the move, especially dominant bucks. Odds of harvesting a mature buck are much more in favor of the hunter during the rut as these male deer throw caution to the wind in favor of breeding does.

“The desire to have a better chance at harvesting a deer. Rifles and shotguns can reach out up to several hundred [yards] to harvest a deer. Bow hunters have to remain stealthy in order to get a deer within 40 yards or less to get a shot opportunity.

“For most firearm deer hunters, it is not necessary to study and understand the biology, behavior and daily habits of deer. Most bow hunters strive to learn everything they can about deer behavior; they actually try to get into the mind of the deer they are hunting.

“The deer camp and camaraderie with family and other hunters … can be something that deer hunters look forward to and plan for all year long. For many, it is a very large part of the total hunting experience.

“Expenses: it can become very expensive to multi-weapon deer hunt. Most modern bows and equipment that are set up correctly can cost well over $1,000 to $2,000. Camouflage and scent free clothing can also be very expensive; add another $1,000 to be properly set up.

“Just plain personal preference. Some hunters just like hunting with a gun versus with a bow. Shooting a bow takes hours, days, weeks and even months of practice to get proficient.”

Alyssa Bloechl, Gleason

“The Bloechls have been rifle hunting for as long as my 21 years can tell. We have mounts in our home and countless photos of orange clad relatives proudly holding their recent kills. I personally started hunting when I was 12 years old. My brother followed the next year. We took the required hunter safety course and have been happily hunting with my dad ever since. It is easy for us to hunt, because we have forest land adjacent to our property.

“We don’t have a cabin, and we typically don’t hunt with large amounts of people, but hunting every year brings our family closer in the excitement of it all. There are many Bloechls that live on the same country road as us, so it is fun to go and see what their hunting parties have killed by the end of the season. The preparation is a builder of said excitement.

“We don’t bow hunt. I’m not even sure any Bloechls that have lived on our farm ever have. My mother’s family does both bow and rifle hunt. My family unit just makes the time to rifle hunt, and that way we don’t have to spend the extra money on the gear and licenses. I have been building up my collection of blaze orange clothing and guns since I was 12 and I don’t plan to taint it with camo and arrows. On the other hand, bow hunting does appeal because of the skill required to be a bowman.

“It’s fun to share stories and always being on the lookout for specks of orange on desolate snow-covered fields or in shades of green forest. We typically ‘talk-up’ our kill stories and exaggerate how long we sat still, but the camaraderie is a very important thing that takes place here every year.”

Eli Scriven, Crivitz

“Some of the best memories I have [are] from that last week in November around Thanksgiving at deer camp. Whether it’s drinking old-fashioneds and playing sheepshead or getting Packers updates via two-way radios on Sunday afternoon during ‘primetime,’ I look forward to it every year (I usually start to get the ‘itch’ to get out in the woods when school starts back up and the temperatures begin to drop).

“… Gun hunting represents something so much more than just an attempt to kill an animal. It offers a tradition that has lasted for generations, passed down from my many-times-over-great grandparents, to my parents, to me and eventually to my children … we learn respect for the great beasts of nature.”

Amanda Laurenzi is an editorial staffer with Wisconsin Natural Resources magazine.