Which method is supreme?
For hunters, the specific weapon used to harvest one’s quarry is often a matter of what we are comfortable with, what is most convenient, or what Uncle Earl left us in his will. And many hunters use both a bow and rifle to fill the freezer. But they are very different devices, each with its own specific advantages and drawbacks. Overall, which is better? Let’s find out.
The “Great Pumpkin”
In Montana, big-game rifle hunters must don 400 square inches of safety orange above the waist. Bow hunters, on the other hand, can venture into the woods wearing earth tones and camouflage—or a deer-hide loincloth, for that matter. Ungulates are supposedly color-blind, but they can still see shades, tones, and shapes; so depending on conditions, that vest might stand out more starkly than the blinking blue light on the Baxter during a blizzard.
Sure, the traditional stick bow is one of the oldest weapons known to mankind. But with the advent of carbon fiber, cams and pullies, sights, and release aids, the contemporary compound bow is a far cry from the bush tools of yore. The modern centerfire rifle has undergone only a few minor modifications, mostly due to caliber configurations. Still, technology is technology and this is 2017. Unless you’re bending a yew sprig, or hand-sanding a custom stock for your muzzleloader, you’ve wholeheartedly embraced high-tech.
Unlike firearms, bows can be purchased without background checks, paperwork, or even an ID. A hunter can carry a bow for the entire length of Montana’s big-game season, whereas rifles are restricted to a shorter season, and they can’t be used in weapons-restricted areas. The only hitch is an additional hunter-safety requirement for bow hunters—but like avalanche safety, it’s an education worth getting. And then there’s social acceptance: nobody ever suffered scorn or ostracism for being a “bow nut.”
Even if one happens to be the best bow-and-arrow shot in the world, anything beyond 50 yards is pushing the laws of physics, as well as the unwritten rule of hunting ethics. Conversely, many modern calibers have been field-tested to ranges of 1,000 yards or further. This means that even if you halve the effective reach of that rifle (because few hunters are trained snipers), it still has a 450-yard advantage.
It takes practice and skill to consistently shoot a dime pattern at 300 yards with a rifle, no doubt, but becoming proficient with a bow is another story altogether. Then there’s the stalk factor: bow hunters must get much closer to their prey to even consider taking a shot. Sneaking up on a snorting, sexed-up, 800-pound bull elk is exactly as difficult as it sounds. Then having the patience, confidence, and presence of mind to make the shot? That’s more impressive than simply pulling a trigger, from any distance.
Seeing the whites of an animal’s eyes, smelling its musk, and hearing it bellow as you loose an arrow at 20 yards—it’s a feeling like no other. Of course, watching your prey from a distance, completely unseen, waiting for the perfect shot, and then exhaling softly into the recoiling release of a rifle blast… well, that has its own intoxicating effect.
When members of the bow-hunting tribe hold up Ted Nugget and Paul Ryan as luminaries, the rest of us run and hide. Not to mention that every dude who gets a sticker with his new bow thinks he’s been elevated to “pro-staff” level. That being said, many rifle hunters buy the biggest guns they can get their hands on, hit the range twice, then post endless selfies grasping their cannons. What would Dr. Sigmund say?
Rambo and Hunger Games notwithstanding, a bow is a pretty lame weapon when compared to the mighty boomstick. A rifle’s not only more formidable in the field, but it’s more fun to shoot at the range. Plus, it doubles as a tool for home defense. If you can come out of a deep sleep and run off a burglar with your bow, hats off, but more likely you’ll wind up with the string wrapped around your neck and an arrow stuck in your foot.
Score: 3 to 2
This one was a surprise, but maybe it shouldn’t have been. Hunting is hard, regardless of your tool, and adding to that difficulty only impresses further. Guess it’s time to sling some arrows into a hay bale.