Patrick Meitin has degrees in journalism and range and wildlife management. He’s been an outdoor writer, specializing in bowhunting, for more than 20 years. An expert with both traditional and modern archery equipment, Meitin lives in northern Idaho with his wife, Gwyn, and their two Labrador retrievers.
I've bowfished from glittery bass boats, roaring jet boats, shallow-draft flats boats, air boats, canoes, kayaks, surf boards, float tubes and with scuba tanks on my back (if you can call spearfishing bowfishing), but have to admit I'd really rather conduct this sort of business on my own two feet. Wade-in bowfishing is the very essence of what this laid-back, redneck pastime is all about.
Of course, 98 percent of this wading business involves carp. Not only because they're our most common "trash fish," but also because during the spring spawn (happening right now, by the way, on a water near you!) they invade shallow waters to make themselves readily available to those willing to get their feet wet and sneakers muddy. When waters hit 62 to 64 degrees, carp frolic in shallow still-water coves and sloughs, drainage ditches and storm drains, or run across river shoals. Hit it right and wading results in non-stop action and an arm-numbing number of shot opportunities.
No matter where you live -- save maybe Alaska or northern Canada -- it's a safe bet you have carp close at hand. Carp just aren't that picky. I've shot spawning carp from polluted suburban storm drains flowing into city run-off ponds. I've shot them in trash-filled agricultural canals and irrigation ditches. I've shot them in muddy rivers in Texas and pristine salmon/steelhead waterways in Idaho. I look for them in lakes, reservoirs and ponds big and small, private cow tanks and northern beaver ponds.
Take a look around. Inquire at local conservation offices or sporting good stores. My bet is you have carp close at hand.
I've also been on at least two northern spring bear hunts when sucker shooting proved out of this world. We'd seek a gravel shoal on a major river during those spring dates, with three or four archers literally filling pickup beds while pass-shooting spawning suckers. Bears gobbled them like popcorn.
One of my favorite wading targets any time I get near saltwater is stingrays (not manta rays, which are protected). I've shot stingrays in Florida (on the Atlantic and Gulf sides) and Texas (once in Baja, Mexico). Rays are fond of any area with a soft muddy/sandy bottom, normally shallow lagoons or marshes. You'll need to don a pair of neoprene "ray boots" to protect feet against sharp oyster beds, and in the event you accidently step on a ray, which can result in a painful slashing.
The best way to avoid this painful experience is shuffling feet along the bottom while moving, bumping embedded rays and sending them on their way instead of treading on them to elicit a defensive counterattack. You need a sharp eye to spot rays that have "fluffed" into the bottom, though many are discovered busily feeding and moving over the bottom hunting crabs.
The best thing about wading is it's cheap and accessible to all. Just slip into some ratty sneakers and grunge garb, grab your bowfishing rig and go!
Compound or recurve? What's the best bow for bowfishing?
With turkey seasons in the rearview, I've began dusting off bowfishing rigs. We own four setups dedicated specifically to bowfishing: a 40-pound shorty which wifey uses while wading (she's short and the bottom limb of longer bows sometimes contacts water while up to her armpits in mud); a longer 45-pound bow she shoots from our boat; and two 50-pound outfits, one each in right- and left-hand. I'm completely ambidextrous, but prefer bowfishing right-handed because I've shot that way since age 8 (although I bowhunt big game with recurves left handed . . . and right-handed with compounds). About 40 to 50 pounds really is all I find necessary for Idaho carp, though I shot scads of them as a kid with a 30-pound longbow.
Every one of our bowfishing rigs is a recurve. The last time I used a compound seriously for carp -- 2001 -- was the summer prior to my Florida alligator hunt with Lewis Clanton, shooting an 85-pound finger bow with tritium pin and slotted (for break-away buoy) AMS Retriever Reel. I wanted to make sure I arrived completely prepared for that much-anticipated hunt. By summer's end I was calling and hitting carp in the eye(s) 50 percent of the time. That September I made a very long shot on a 12-foot, 6 and 1/2-inch, 600-pound gator -- a trophy of a lifetime.
I have to admit, a modern compound-based bowfishing rig can be hellishly deadly.
That said, garden-variety bowfishing is typically a close-range deal (your arrow is attached to a limited supply of line, after all) with visibility often limited by water turbidity and featuring targets that, more often than not, are moving or outright fleeing (making shoot-from-the-hip shots common). On any given day on the water you'll draw and let down 256 times (exactly) without actually shooting. You detect a glint or swirl of mud or fanning fin, but by the time your brain receives the order and you tug to anchor, that apparition has dissolved or skedaddled. Dealing with the lumpy-bumpy let-off of a modern compound bow becomes exhausting. And it's not very conducive to moving shots. But that's just me.
Many archers remain steadfastly dedicated to compounds for bowfishing. Many of them even use sights and release aids -- which I just can't imagine. There would be a definite advantage in clear, deep water, sneaking up on stationary targets sunning on the surface and requiring longer-than-average shots, but in reality these are relatively rare instances, and an accomplished instinctive shooter will still pull these shots off most of the time.
Back in the late 1970s, when I started bowfishing, we used compounds all the time. Those, however, were the days of smooth-drawing, squishy-walled round wheels and 30 to 50 percent let-off. There are now several modern compounds designed specifically for bowfishing owning smooth-drawing, no-draw-stop cam systems, like models from Alpine, AMS and InnerLoc, as examples. Now if they would just make them long enough for comfortable finger shooting. . .
Opportunities to hunt spring bears in the United States have become increasingly rare. Currently, only a handful of western states host spring dates.
Subtract those where baiting isn’t allowed, and you’re left with just Idaho, Utah and Wyoming. This wasn’t always the case, but we live in strange times. Some "progressive" types don’t think you should hunt bears over bait. They don't think you should own commodes capable of flushing more than three sheets of toilet paper at a time, light bulbs that actually light a room, buy soft drinks larger than 16 ounces or display a Baby Jesus in a Manger scene during the Christmas season. Or the "Winter Holiday." Whatever's most PC this week ...
Anyway, to be fair, not all those opposed to baiting bears (or issues like leg-hold traps) are left-leaning. But it's probably safe to say that much of the legislation limiting your ability to hunt is typically introduced by anti-hunting groups. Politicians, whether they be liberals, moderates or conservatives, who allow such legislation to pass out of sheer apathy pave the way to future restrictions. Like “assault weapons” bans, this isn’t about the thing itself, but baby steps to a final destination of total elimination. If you don’t believe this, please leave the room. Adults are speaking.
If you don’t care for bear baiting, don’t do it. For the rest of you, head north for bear hunting adventure.
Canada’s a country that, despite progressive leanings, has accepted the reality it must operate within an economy based largely on natural resources. Canada also harbors the largest expanse of prime black bear habitat on earth, therefore the largest populations of ursus americanus americanus available. Baited spring bear hunts have become a Canadian institution.
The only downside is non-resident aliens must hire a licensed outfitter. Yet these guided hunts are relatively affordable, at least when contrasted against guided hunts for elk or trophy deer. These hunts normally offer high success rates with some outfits boasting 100 percent success. Let me put it this way: on several bowhunts for Saskatchewan bear I’ve enjoyed multiple bear sightings every sit (on my best evening eight different bears visited my bait site).
Options are highly varied, from Newfoundland and the Atlantic Provinces to the east, stretching to the Pacific coast. Eastern provinces, even Newfoundland (via Nova Scotia ferry service), are easily accessed by vehicle from Northeastern population centers. My top picks for trophy quality combined with high success rates are Newfoundland and New Brunswick.
In the West, Manitoba, Saskatchewan and Alberta are the undisputed champions of baited spring bear hunts (British Columbia is a fine coastal spot-and-stalk destination). All relinquish behemoth bruins annually and include many reputable outfitters. Alberta includes a two-bear limit, giving you more bang for your buck.
Your two biggest challenges are copious biting insects and shooting under pressure. The bug issue is easily remedied by purchasing a bug suit and ThermaCell to keep bugs at bay. Shooting under pressure? Well, that’s entirely up to you. Rest assured, when a pumpkin-headed bruin comes sauntering beneath your stand at 20 yards your hands will shake and your pulse quicken, because bear hunting remains one of the most exciting aspects of bowhunting available today.
If you are a serious bowhunter and are lucky enough to live in the Northwest portion of the country you're in for a real treat. The Full Draw Film Tour is coming to a historic theater near you this summer. You'll have the opportunity to watch exciting, never-before-seen bowhunting films in a classic big-screen setting. Full Draw Film Tour gatherings also include presentations by bowhunting experts and sponsors, drawings for free archery gear and general bowhunter camaraderie provided by a room full of like-minded enthusiasts. In a nutshell, you're treated to eight 8- to 12-minute, uninterrupted bowhunting films, interspersed with intermissions for raffles and sponsor presentations. Brand-new bows are also given away at every show! Adult tickets are only $12, children $9.
The Full Draw Film Tour is now in its forth year. This year's tour starts in Reno, Nev., May 4, and concludes in Salt Lake City, Utah, July 19 - totaling 12 shows in seven states. The stated goal of this year's tour is to unite bowhunters, fuel the outdoorsman and create excitment for all those passionate about archery.
All these films are provided by talented independent filmmakers who submit their bowhunting films for consideration. The pool of perspective films has grown each year; 14 filmmakers vying for eight spots this year. South Cox, owner of Stalker Recurves and a particapating filmmaker, says the quality of these films has improved annually.
"They have become more about expressing the total bowhunting experiance than fixating on the final kill," says Cox.
The Full Draw Film Tour uses proceeds to support a variety of hunting-related charities in the archery community. Filmmakers receive no compensation for their work. Other proceeds are garnered through hunting-industry sponsors and donations. This will also be the Full Draw Film Tour's third year providing support and encouragement for challenged kids with unfortunate health circumstances via Hunt Of A Lifetime. Proceeds from event raffles help in this and other worthy causes. Learn more at www.fulldrawfilmtour.com/2013-charity.
Those wishing to get involved (whether through film submissions, sponsorship or donations) can find more information at www.fulldrawfilmtour.com. Advertising and sponsorship details are handled by Walt Ramage; walt [at] fulldrawfilmtour [dot] com. If you're interested in attending a show, look for schedule dates and towns visited at http://fulldrawfilmtour.com/the-tour/purchasetickets.
Major Full Draw Film Tour sponsors and gear-give-away providers, include Hoyt, Tenzing, Winner's Choice Custom Bowstrings, HECs, Vortex Optics, Spot-Hogg, Extreme Elk Magazine and Gote Gear, among others.
Wondering where to shoot a turkey with a bow? Check out the video and the mystery is solved.
- » Wade-In Bowfishing Opportunities Abound
- » Best Bow For Bowfishing?
- » Spring Bear Hunting: A Canadian Affair
- » Where To Shoot A Turkey With A Bow: Mystery Solved.
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- » Mike Strandlund: One Of The Good Ones
- » The Best Setup for Bowhunting Turkeys
- » Do You Hunt the "Smartest" Deer?