Carp jump to mind when most bowhunters think of bowfishing. And why not? They’re fun targets, and the shooting is usually fast-paced. Plus it’s an inexpensive sport. However, for those adrenaline junkies at Realtree.com, maybe skewering carp is getting a bit bland. Perhaps tackling critters that can kill you is in order.
Texas bowhunter Dave Duncan hunts all over the world for everything from whitetails to leopards. But his passion is bowfishing for scary aquatic creatures that would snack on him given half the chance. Over the last several years, Duncan has shot sharks, alligators, crocodiles and a variety of sting rays. “Going after things that can eat you really gets the heart pumping,” he says, “especially because you are usually only a few feet from the shark or gator you’re shooting.”
“When I went after sharks, we chummed for them,” he says. “It doesn’t take long before the big fish are all around the boat. We took a rope, attached a fish head to it, and when the sharks went to grab it, we jerked it away which caused them to come up to the edge of the boat after the bait. Sharks are incredibly aggressive and fearless, which made the bowfishing very exciting. You’re shooting straight-down at them, and half their bodies will be out of the water. It is crazy.”
When going after sharks, you need heavy-duty line. “We were using 600-pound braided line," Duncan says. "The line attached to my arrow is attached to an enormous fishing reel. After you shoot the fish, you sit down and reel him in." For sharks, Duncan aims with a regular bow sight like you would find on a deer hunting bow. “I had my bow sighted in for extra-close shots so when I shot, I knew exactly where my arrow was going," he says. "When going after sharks, you aim right in front of the dorsal fin.”
You probably won’t need much fancy new gear for shooting any of these critters. “I use my bowhunting bow for this type of bowfishing," Duncan says. "My bow is set at 70 pounds or more and I use a Cajun Archery Yellow Jacket arrow and a Steel Force Gator tip. I suggest anyone going after big stuff better have a top-notch arrow and tip. Many of the gators and sharks I have taken died quickly because I was using the right setup.”
Duncan loves gator hunting. Guided hunts aren’t extremely expensive, and in many cases, you can sell the hide and the meat after the hunt, which helps defray the cost.
“Gators are the apex predator in their environment," Duncan says. "They don’t fear much. With a boat equipped with an electric motor, you can sneak up on them at night while they are out and about hunting. When I say you sneak up on them, you are shooting them from 4 or 5 feet away.”
Just because they are only a few feet away, don’t expect a “gimme” shot. “The outside of a gators’ body is made up almost entirely of armor that will deflect a regular bowfishing arrow," he says. "You must hit them just right. The sweet spot between the shoulder and the back of their skull is soft so they can move their head up and down and side to side. If you hit them in that area, they die pretty quickly with the right tip.”
When gator hunting, most people use a buoy system of some type. A large plastic buoy is attached to the bowfishing line so when the gator dives below the surface, the hunter knows where the gator is hiding. "You will never win a game of tug of war with a gator, so the buoy helps the hunter keep track of him after the shot," says Dave White with Cajun Archery. "But I don't always like using a buoy because it gets tangled up in logs and weeds easily. I let the gator take off and don't try to muscle him up. Eventually the gator will come up for air and I shoot him again. I like using a wrap reel when gator hunting because I can quickly have a second reel ready to go for the second shot quickly, which is very important."
AMS and others offer gator kits that come with 400-pound-test line built to take a beating from a gator. The kits also come with points designed for gators and a retriever reel.
Most of us don't like throwing away meat from anything we kill, and it’d be a real shame to shoot one of the creatures mentioned here and allow it to go to waste. Alligators, sharks, rays and alligator gar are all edible, and can be quite tasty. Shark is served in restaurants throughout the South. Both gar backstrap and stingrays have a mild, shrimp-like texture and flavor. And of course, alligator tail is delicious about any way you care to cook it.
For fast action, try going after stingrays in Chesapeake Bay. In the northern United States, cownose rays are common. They often weigh less than 50 pounds. In the southern portion of the country, the southern stingray is abundant and much larger than the cownose. They can weigh 100 pounds or more.
“During the mating season, you will often see three or four male rays chasing after a single female,” Duncan says. “When this happens, you can get right up on them and shoot them. If there are multiple guys in the boat, they will likely all get plenty of shooting.”
Stingrays are incredibly fast, and because of that, stingray shooters don’t typically use reels. Their initial run is so powerful that it will destroy the reel. So Duncan keeps things simple. “We tie about 50 feet of line to the riser of the bow," he says. "After you shoot the ray, they take off. When they take off, you better be holding on to the bow or it will get ripped out of your hand when they reach the end of the line.”
Alligator gar can weigh several hundred pounds, put up an enormous fight and are often 10 feet long or longer. The epicenter of alligator gar bowfishing is Texas, especially if you want to take a big one. "Texas has the perfect climate for alligator gar and they grow large there," White says. "A regular bowfishing bow setup for carp shooting is enough for most alligator gar, but I do use an aggressive tip like the Steel Force Gator tip because they can bring down a big gar quickly."
Bowfishing for gator gar is becoming more popular, and as a result the sport might soon be more restricted. "Anyone who wants to go after alligator gars should do it soon because in some places they are putting limits on them," White says. "Many of the big gar are 100 years old or more so it might not be long before the really big ones are really hard to find."
Editor's Note: This story was originally published in July of 2012.