BY TRAVIS “T-BONE” TURNER
As a hunter, nothing makes me happier than seeing a flood of new deer hunters hit the woods each fall. The explosion of kids and women getting into archery is awesome for our sport. And I know moms, dads and husbands are eager to introduce their children or wives to bowhunting. I often get asked, “Hey T-Bone, what’s the minimum bow weight needed to kill a whitetail?”
Well, that’s a question that could start an argument in an empty house. Lots of opinions. Even the lawmakers in some states have one, as they put regulations around minimum draw weights for hunting – usually 40 pounds. And while it’s an important factor in the equation, draw weight is not the only consideration a hunter needs to take into account to ethically hunt whitetails.
There’s draw length, arrow weight, bow efficiency, broadhead type and more when it comes to a bowhunting setup. Then there is the shot distance, shot placement and form of the bowhunter to factor in. We owe it to the critters we hunt to always be sure we are doing our absolute best to use a bow and use it proficiently for a quick, clean kill.
Bows and arrows these days are light-years ahead of what were used when they wrote the guidelines years ago. Modern cams hold more stored energy than ever before, while small diameter arrows, such as the Easton Axis and Full Metal Jacket hunting arrows, are designed for better penetration.
I don’t like to leave people hanging when they ask me an archery question, so my answer is usually this: If you can pull back 35 pounds comfortably, you can probably work with a reputable bow technician to get a hunting bow setup capable of hitting the kinetic energy and momentum levels needed to ethically kill a deer.
The mark could be less, but it takes a trip to the bow shop to play with different arrows and bows, and crunch the numbers. Sounds like an awesome way to spend a Saturday afternoon! While the big picture when it comes to draw weight isn’t black and white, there are a few hard-and-fast rules for shooting low-poundage bows:
NEVER BREAK THE LAW
Rules are rules whether you agree with them or not. Research what the minimum draw weight is for hunting whitetails in your state. If you or your apprentice is not up to par, start building strength with archery exercises and time at the range. Wounding an animal or getting in trouble with the game warden will have a devastating impact on the psyche of a new hunter. That’s no fun. If the archer just can’t cut the mustard, it’s not the worst thing in the world to pick up the rifle, shotgun or muzzleloader for another season. And, there is always the crossbow option.
NEVER SACRIFICE FORM
Trying to match your form to a bow is like me trying to fit into a speedo. It’s not gonna be pretty. Always use a draw weight that you’re able to pull back semi-comfortably when sitting in a chair. Your draw length should allow for a slight bend in the elbow to act like a shock absorber and allow for a more natural position. When you are not shooting with proper form, or are struggling to pull back too much weight, you will not be a consistent shooter.
ALWAYS USE A FIXED-BLADE BROADHEAD
Mechanical Broadheads are the cool new kids on the block, and they do have some advantages over a fixed-blade head when shot from a faster, harder-hitting bow, like a larger cutting diameter and flying a little truer when shot from a poorly tuned bow. First of all, never hunt with an out-of-tune bow, especially when working with a lighter setup. Keep that puppy hitting on all cylinders for maximum efficiency. Secondly, a large cutting diameter will equal less penetration if you don’t have enough energy behind it. Finally, when the blades deploy, it robs precious energy from an arrow released out of a low-poundage bow. A sharp, 3-blade fixed broadhead is what you need.
To sum all this up, draw weight is just one element of an ethical hunting setup. Shot placement, consistent accuracy and getting close to your target are very important, too. Never shoot beyond your capabilities. And isn’t that true for all of us who love the flight of the arrow?