By Darron McDougal
Nothing instills confidence like a bow setup that shoots lights-out accurate every single time you pick it up. I know this well because several years ago while serving as an equipment editor for a magazine, I shot multiple bows during a two-and-a-half-year period. Of them, I shot only a few consistently well out to 80 yards. Sure, that’s a high standard and I don’t shoot that far while bowhunting, but my point is that I was deadly and confident with very few of the many bows I tested. None of the others were bad bows; they just simply weren’t the best fits for me.
Folks often say you can’t go wrong buying any of the latest bows. From a technology perspective, that’s mostly true. But from an individual perspective, it isn’t. In other words, what feels comfortable to you won’t necessarily feel comfortable to me. And what works for your hunting style might not work for mine.
That same concept also applies to bow accessories. You shouldn’t use a sight or rest merely because it’s popular or some other shallow reason. Personal preference and your individual hunting style must determine the accessories with which you outfit your bow.
To that end, let’s consider the guiding factors in creating your own ultimate bow rig so you can be confident every time you step into the woods.
Fit and feel outweigh all other factors when choosing between multiple bows from reputable manufacturers. It all begins with the grip. Most manufacturers have downsized their grips to accommodate modern gripping styles, but each brand has its own unique feel. You can easily eliminate brands of interest down to one or two based on grip comfort.
Next, consider the balance and maneuverability. When you pick up a bow, does it feel like it was meant to be, or is it awkward and cumbersome? Let comfort guide your decision.
Lastly, consider your hunting style. Do you hunt Roosevelt elk in the dense Pacific Northwest timber where close shots are common, or do you hunt muleys on the wide-open prairies where average shot distances are beyond 40 yards? In the first case, a shorter bow maneuvers easily through brush and will perform admirably at all shot distances you’ll likely encounter. In the second case, the additional stability of a longer axle-to-axle bow may help you steady your pin for that 50-yard shot. Plus, negotiating dense brush isn’t a concern.
If more than one bow option remains after you’ve addressed these points, then you likely can’t go wrong.
Let’s address the next most important component of your setup: the arrow rest. The vast majority of bowhunters who shoot well at longer distances use drop away rests because they’re more forgiving and provide maximum vane clearance. Personally, I don’t use anything else.
The market has countless options — some good, some OK, some poor. I suggest purchasing an all-metal rest that fits solidly on the bow and locks tight with a set screw. Since I hunt elk annually, a rock-solid rest that can withstand back-country abuse is a must. I generally move toward elk rather than try to call them in, so arrow containment is another attribute I value highly. The market has others, but the rest that meets these criteria for me is Trophy Taker’s X-Treme Pro Click.
Many folks like limb-driven drop away rests because they guide the arrow longer and maximize vane clearance. However, I prefer a buss-cable-driven rest that falls freely. The rest cord remains slack when not in use, where a limb-driven rest’s cord is tight. It’s a small concern, but I imagine that the tight cord is more susceptible to fraying/breakage should it accidentally contact a broadhead blade or other sharp/abrasive objects.
Don’t settle for a sight that your best friend recommends. Consider your hunting style and what you’re comfortable with.
If you struggle to think clearly during a hunting shot opportunity, perhaps choosing the correct pin on a 5-pin sight will be too confusing. In this case, a single-pin slider could be your ticket. On the contrary, if most of your hunting shots unfold quickly, maybe you won’t have enough time to adjust the slider. A multi-pin sight solves the dilemma. Really consider your average shot distance and how you handle yourself in the moment. What type of pin configuration will help you make the most ethical shot possible?
Other important things to consider are axis adjustments. If you don’t know what they are, this video will help. Axis adjustments are crucial for every bowhunter, but especially those hunting in varied terrain where inclined and declined shot angles are common.
Beyond that, choose an all-metal sight with rock-solid locking systems for the various adjustments. Once you’ve sighted in your bow and locked everything down, the last thing you want is for something to rattle lose.
In my opinion, a peep sight is a must. When you center your sight housing in the peep, it forces you to use the same anchor point every time. It isn’t a bad idea to use a second reference like a nose or kisser button, too.
I could elaborate for an hour on arrows, but the most important attribute an arrow can have is straightness. Average bowhunters often think carbon arrows are either straight or broken. Not so. A Pine Ridge Arrow Inspector will debunk that theory.
Straightness is relatively unimportant if your average shot is 15-20 yards. But, pushing the accuracy envelope beyond 40 yards requires impeccable straightness. Arrow technology has advanced so far that I no longer shoot arrows with straightness tolerances greater than .0025-inch. Even then, I rely on the Arrow Inspector to identify the surgically-straight shafts prior to fletching.
A stabilizer is a must-have accessory. Choose one based on your average shot distance, and then make sure it balances your bow well. Most western bowhunters gravitate toward something longer like a Trophy Taker Quivalizer or the Crossover Archery Stabilizer. These will help stabilize the bow for longer shots and can help anchor your bow in a crosswind.
In contrast, a treestand bowhunter shooting 25 yards and in will often do best to choose something fairly heavy, but more compact. I’m currently using the Stokerized Edge SS1 stabilizer for my elk, deer and turkey hunting.
Finally, let’s end this topic by discussing release aids. Releases are like old friends — once you find one, you keep it indefinitely, even when you change bows and other accessories. To find the magic one, you’ll simply have to try various styles and find one that is comfortable and very adjustable.
There are thumb-trigger, index-finger and tension-activated options, as well as some hybrids. I started out bowhunting with a thumb-trigger T-handle release. I kept that same release for 15 years and shot dozens of animals with it. But I almost always punched it during hunting situations. I didn’t struggle with that on targets – only while hunting.
It was a hard decision to make, but I converted to an index-finger release to break the habit. I currently shoot a Spot-Hogg Wise Guy, and it makes me feel much more in control, plus I’ve taken numerous animals with well-executed surprise releases.
I have friends who’ve also struggled with punching and blowing would-be chip shots. One has switched to a back-tension release that he can’t punch. If that’s what you have to do in order to avoid executing poor shots, then go for it. Don’t be afraid to lay down a release that you punch and try something entirely different. It might be the best move you’ve ever made. It might bring your shooting confidence back.
The 2019 bowhunting season is fast approaching, and if you’re planning to buy a new bow and accessories, now’s the time to do it. Let the considerations we’ve discussed here guide your equipment decisions, and you’ll create the ultimate bowhunting rig that will soar your confidence to new heights.