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How to Bowhunt Ethically

Bowhunting ethics are key for conservation, and hunters can ensure safe and ethical harvests by choosing lethal broadheads, picking the correct bow for their target species, using accuracy tools like optics, training, hunting in season, accurately identifying their targets before firing and tracking their kills successfully. Ethical hunting ensures that the populations we hunt stay healthy and that we can continue to hunt in the seasons to come.

By Tess DiNapoliPublished 11 months ago 5 min read

Whether you’re new to bowhunting or you’re a seasoned pro, hunting ethics should be a key consideration for all of your hunts. Ethical hunting helps us accomplish one of the sport’s key goals: conservation and environmental protection.

If you’ve never bowhunted before, you might have ethical concerns about archery kills. How do you ethically harvest with a crossbow, compound bow, or longbow? In this guide, we’re exploring seven tips for hunters who want to ensure lethal, ethical harvests every time they hit their favorite tree stands.

#1 Choose a Lethal Broadhead

Compound, long, and crossbow hunters alike will all tell you that choosing the right broadhead is key to the success of any hunt. But before you head to your local sporting goods store, here are a few things to look for in quality broadheads:

Sharp points – Make sure your chosen broadheads are very sharp before affixing them to your bolts or arrows. Some broadheads can be sharpened by hand—consider picking up a sharpening implement the next time you shop to ensure lethal sharpness.

Unfolding designs – Broadhead technology has come a long way in recent years. To ensure lethality, choose a broadhead that unfolds after you fire your bow or that changes blade angles once it makes contact with the target.

Sturdy design – Make sure that your broadheads are made from a material sturdy enough to withstand impact. If your broadhead breaks upon target contact, you might only injure your target instead of making a lethal shot.

Broadheads aren’t just a key item in your hunting pack; the right broadhead is crucial for ethical hunting.

#2 Use the Right Bow for Your Application

There isn’t one type of bow that’s right for every target species. Before you don your camo and load your pack for your next trip, consider whether or not your bow is right for your hunting application.

There are two key considerations bow hunters must make when choosing a bow:

Speed – How quickly (in feet per second) can your bow of choice fire an arrow/bolt into your target? Your speed impacts your ballistic trajectory, which can impact your accuracy. Bowhunting is typically a shorter range than rifle shooting, but you should ensure that your chosen bow can make accurate shots at your average distance.

Kinetic energy – How much kinetic energy (in pounds per square foot) does your bow impart onto an arrow/bolt (and, in turn, onto a broadhead and into your target) when you fire? You should make sure that your bow of choice can deliver the kinetic energy required to take down your target species in one lethal shot.

Due to differences in anatomy and size, it will take different amounts of speed and kinetic energy to kill specific species swiftly and ethically. Shooting a whitetail deer, for instance, is very different from hunting bull moose—make sure your bow can deliver the power and speed you need to make a lethal shot.

#3 Use Sights and Other Accuracy Tools

To ensure that your arrows and bolts strike their intended targets every time, consider incorporating sophisticated optics, like laser sights, into your bow configuration.

Why is accuracy so important for ethical hunting? Because it’s key to lethality and the speed at which your target will perish after you fire.

Take whitetail for instance:

Headshots result in instant kills—the deer doesn’t suffer at all before dying (though headshots aren’t always feasible with a crossbow).

Backbone shots sometimes result in instant kills, but if executed poorly, deer can suffer before bleeding out.

Heart shots result in relatively fast deaths, and deer don’t suffer for long before they die.

Gut shots are the most traumatic for whitetail: deer can run and bleed out for (potentially) hours before death and harvest.

To make sure your shot lands where you want it to, consider using an optic for support.

URL: https://www.pexels.com/photo/man-hunting-in-the-forest-6669402/

#4 Train Ahead of Your Hunt

Whether or not you opt to use a sophisticated optic, it’s both ethical and responsible to practice with any weapon before using it on a hunt.


Hunting safety is ethical, too – Ethical hunting isn’t just about ethical harvests—it’s about keeping the environment, other hunters, and yourself safe in the process.

Training improves accuracy – Taking accurate shots is key to ethical hunting (as we noted above), and training will only improve your competence over time.

It helps maintain your weapon – If you’re practicing regularly, you’re likely also maintaining your bow regularly. Plus, training before hunting will bring to light any technical issues with your equipment before you take it into the field.

#5 Hunt in Season

One of the most important tenets of ethical hunting is harvesting animals when they’re in season.

Regulatory bodies (like state fish and wildlife entities) regulate hunting seasons to:

Promote responsible population control

Prevent harm to native populations

Protect normal migration patterns

When they harvest a species out of season, hunters threaten to destabilize all of these goals—as a result, they jeopardize their ability to hunt in the future. Hunting out of season has the potential to disrupt population levels or impact migration patterns, both of which regulatory bodies use to define legal hunting opportunities and rules.

#6 Identify a Species Before Firing

Similarly, ethical hunters must always identify their targets before firing a shot—this is true for both bowhunters and rifle hunters.

One of the most important tenets of firearm and weapon safety is to know what your target is and what lies beyond it. Identifying the species of your target is a key element of this. If you accidentally kill an animal that isn’t your target species, you could receive a fine or another punishment from a hunting regulatory agency.

But, more importantly, you could damage the habitat or population in your hunting area, which could negatively affect both the environment and your future hunting opportunities.

#7 Prepare to Track Your Kills

While it would be ideal for our targets to always fall right where they’re shot, this isn’t always the case. Deer, moose, and other large game will often run immediately after they’re hit, and they can cover significant ground even if they only live for a few more seconds.

Ethical hunters are prepared to track and recover their kills after firing successful shots. While tracking can be difficult in inclement weather or in the dark, hunters should make every effort to recover the animals they kill—even when it’s inconvenient.

Successful tracking prevents waste and helps scavenger animals (like coyotes and vultures) maintain their natural feeding patterns—both of which are key to continued conservation, one of the goals of recreational hunting.

Bowhunt Ethically for More Fun, Productive Hunts

If you’re planning to bowhunt for the first time, remember the importance of bowhunting ethics. After all, hunting ethically protects your opportunities to hunt in the future and preserves the habitats where we love to spend time.

Choosing lethal broadheads and the right bow, using optics, practicing, hunting in season, identifying targets before firing, and harvesting kills can all ensure that you bowhunt as ethically as possible—and have more successful hunts.

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About the Creator

Tess DiNapoli

Tess DiNapoli is an artist, freelance writer, and content strategist. She has a passion for yoga and often writes about health and wellness, but also enjoys covering the fashion industry and world of fitness.

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