Bowhunting dates back to the Stone Age and can be traced throughout history in many regions around the world, including Asia, Europe, and North America. Native Americans were skilled bowhunters and used their equipment with exceptional ability to stalk within close range of wary prey. The challenge of getting close to game remains the essence of bowhunting today.

As immigrants moved into North America, they gradually combined European and Native American archery techniques and technology. The first archery club in America, known as the United Bowmen of Philadelphia, was formed in 1828.

The writings of bowhunters Will and Maurice Thompson popularized bowhunting in the 1860s and 1870s. In 1878, Maurice Thompson published the book The Witchery of Archery. In 1879, the newly founded National Archery Association (NAA) held the first U.S. sponsored tournament.

A History of Bowhunting

Dr. Saxton Pope and Arthur Young are widely regarded as the “Fathers of Bowhunting.” In the early 1900s, Pope and Young cared for Ishi, the last known survivor of the Yana tribal group in California. Ishi impressed them with his bowhunting skills. He demonstrated how he made his equipment and stalked and shot game. Pope and Young followed his lead and took a variety of large and small game with their newly found archery skills. In 1923, Pope published the book Hunting with the Bow and Arrow, which introduced many American settlers to bowhunting.

Benefits of Bowhunting

  • Wildlife Management: Bowhunting is an effective wildlife management tool used to promote the growth of healthy animal populations and improve habitats, especially in areas overpopulated with deer and in places where modern firearms are restricted.
  • Recreation: Bowhunting provides outdoor activities for more than three million Americans.
  • Economic: Bowhunters contribute more than $13 billion per year to U.S. retail sales.
  • Aesthetic: Bowhunting experiences in the outdoors can be deeply satisfying. Many hunters see bowhunting as a form of art.
  • Education: Bowhunting provides a lifetime of learning experiences.
  • History: Bowhunting offers insights into history, cultural traditions, and the hunting heritage.
  • Social: Bowhunting brings together people of all abilities and backgrounds.
  • Therapeutic: Bowhunting offers an escape from the fast-paced and stressful demands of modern life.
  • Health: Wild game meat is healthier than domestic meat raised for human consumption. Archery also provides year-round activity for individuals and families.

Challenges of Bowhunting

Bowhunting presents a number of challenges. However, there are three special challenges that set it apart from hunting with modern firearms:

  1. Before attempting to hunt with a bow and arrow, bowhunters first should become proficient archers, which requires dedication, practice, and the development of distance-judging skills.
  2. Bowhunting is done at a much closer range than rifle hunting. Therefore, it often requires a higher degree of stealth and sheer effort to get into position to make the shot (similar to fly fishermen among anglers).
  3. Bowhunters must become adept at scouting, tracking, and recovering game, all of which takes perseverance and patience.

Bowhunting Fast Facts

Bowhunting is an important aspect of life for many Americans. A 2016 survey funded by the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service discovered the following fast facts:

  • More than 11 million Americans hunt that represents about 4.5% of the total population.
  • Thirty-two percent of the 11 million people hunt with a bow.
  • Bowhunting continues to grow while overall hunting numbers are declining.
  • Active bowhunters hunt an average of 17 days per year.