Written by Beka Garris
Beka Garris is a hunter and writer. She specializes in recurve bow hunting, foraging, cooking, and hunting as a mother, and she was recently featured on the cover of Outdoor Life.
SMALL GAME ARCHERY
Best Practices for Shooting Doves, Rabbits, and Squirrels with a Bow
Like many other hunters before me, small game was one of the first things I ever hunted. My brothers and I put many miles in on public land as kids, trading our shared .20-gauge shotgun back and forth between us until we all had a chance at knocking a fat grey squirrel out of an oak tree. We made a lot of memories, and I have taken many squirrels with that gun.
It wasn’t until I was an adult that I decided to try bowhunting not only squirrels, but also rabbit and dove. Bowhunting small game turned out to be a whole different game than hunting them with a gun…however, I’ve never been one to shy from a challenge. And, I certainly have learned a thing or two.
There are many perks to bowhunting small game instead of gun hunting. Not only will you improve your shooting skills, but an arrow usually does less damage to the meat than a shotgun does.
I always use my regular deer hunting setup for hunting small game, and recommend anyone else do the same. It not only counts towards practicing for deer season, but it helps hone your skills on small (and sometimes moving) targets. It also helps you learn to judge yardage as you rarely have time to range the yardage of a rabbit or squirrel before you miss your chance at taking the shot.
BOW HUNTING SQUIRRELS
I could see a fluffy grey tail flicking back and forth, perched in the split of an oak tree. I could see him, taunting me. I drew my bow and waited, my muscles starting to shake as the seconds passed. When the squirrel inched out on a limb, I took my shot.
THUD. My broadhead sunk deep into the tree, a clean miss, and the squirrel nearly fell off the branch in terror. I didn’t see any more squirrels that day, but I did lose an $8 arrow.
Moral of the story: when it comes to squirrel hunting, it’s often best to shoot them while they’re on the ground or low in the tree. Otherwise, you may be investing in a lot of new arrows. Choose wisely.
BROADHEADS FOR SMALL GAME
There are dozens of small game tips out there for your arrows. Broadheads, blunts, large wire loops designed to knock birds from the air. Each serves its purpose and it’s important to know that some work better than others for certain game.
Squirrels in particular are tough little buggers. Not only do they have tough hides, but they will continue to run up a tree with an arrow through them if you aren’t using something sharp and lethal. I speak from experience when I say this: use a small sharp broadhead for the best results with squirrels. Blunts or field tips with a collar don’t always do the job, and it’s never sportsman like to make an animal suffer.
Rabbits on the other hand, are a different story. Their hide is so thin that they can be skinned without a knife. A thump with a heavy blunt will deliver good results, and won’t do much damage to the meat.
The white tip of my beagle’s tail wiggling above the blackberry thicket is a good indicator of her location, often followed by the deep beautiful sound of her voice as she finds the scent of a cottontail. A flash of brown as the rabbit scampers by and freezes not 10 yards from me, pushes me to think quickly. Draw and shoot, in one smooth motion. The rabbit makes a final leap into the underbrush and my dog emerges triumphant with her prize. Rabbit hunting requires you to think on your feet and shoot quickly, thus making it the perfect thing to hunt with a recurve. If you’ve never hunted with a traditional bow, I would recommend rabbit hunting to start. It’s just pure fun.
HOW TO BOW HUNT FOR BIRDS
If you’re hunting with dogs, that alone is a good reason to be wary of broadheads. Pairing your blunts with flu-flu arrows will also make it a bit easier to retrieve your arrows if one gets away from you. Flu-flu arrows have large fletchings that create more drag on the arrow and slow it down a bit. If you miss, they can generally be found with the fletchings sticking straight up in the air.
Flu-flu arrows are also ideal for bird hunting. Although I have yet to pheasant hunt with my bow (it’s on my bucket list), I have bow hunted dove. Many bowhunters tend to shoot birds while they’re sitting on the ground as it’s much easier. However, wing shooting will provide a much larger challenge.
Overall, when bowhunting small game you may not be as successful as you would be with a firearm. You may not get as many shots, or go home with as many animals in your game bag. But, there is a certain feeling of satisfaction that comes from a successful small game hunt with your bow and arrow.