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Armed with high-tech weapons and full-body camouflage, bowhunters stalk their prey from the trees.


© St. Petersburg Times, published December 1, 2000

The full moon sneaking up over the sprawling live oak interrupted my nightly ritual of honing my arrowheads. I wondered how many generations of American Indians had done the same thing.

One of the most fascinating aspects of bowhunting is the individuality of the sport. One person's equipment may not fit another's needs. Today's high-powered bows and lethal broadheads have made bowhunting almost too easy. But to be a successful bowhunter, you still have to get close to your quarry. This requires skill and patience.

Bows have improved considerably since the days of Fred Bear and Howard Hill. The longbows and recurves of old continue to be used by traditional hunters, but the majority of bowhunters now rely on the compound bow, which is much easier to hold at full draw than either of the traditional bows.

Compound bows are outfitted with sights, stabilizer bars, wrist slings and a host of gadgets and gizmos. Recurves and longbows, on the other hand, may have a string silencer or knocking point and not much else. Hunters who prefer the traditional method like the idea of a clean, simple tool that is more durable.

Arrows have come a long way, too. Cedar or wood shafts have given way to aluminum and synthetic materials that are much lighter. The exact draw weight and draw length of arrows are matched to specific bows, creating a flatter, faster trajectory. Even the arrow feathers have been replaced with sleek plastic vanes for speed and accuracy.

The lighter arrows have smaller hunting heads known as broadheads. There are many sizes and shapes of broadheads on the market today, some with two blades and some with up to six. Many are made with razor-style cutting blades that can be changed after becoming dull.

As I mentioned earlier, successful bowhunters have to get close to their game. Camouflage clothing allows hunters to blend into the terrain. I once observed a hunter who was about 100 yards away in a ground blind under a small hemlock. He appeared well concealed until I saw him raising his hands to his face. His hands stuck out like a white flag every time he moved them. I saw this hunter back at camp and asked how his day went. "Uneventful" was his word, and I knew why.

Camo patterns vary from tree bark to jungle, so choose a pattern that best fits your surroundings. For instance, you wouldn't want to use a green jungle pattern in a deciduous area.

Modern bowhunters prefer to hunt from tree stands. Other methods -- such as ground blinds and still-hunting -- are less productive. Tree stands allow hunters to get above the normal air currents of game animals.

Tree stands are compact and versatile. A hunter can pack the stand in and lock it into place in a matter of minutes. But tree-stand accidents are far too common. All hunters should use a safety harness.

The equipment and techniques will do you no good if you can't hit the broad side of a barn with your arrow. If you can't consistently strike a paper plate from 30 yards, you need to practice your aim before going on a hunt. Set up a couple of bales of hay and practice close until you build confidence. As you improve, move farther back.

When you can hit the plate regularly, switch to a "one-arrow" practice. Under real hunting conditions, you will only get one shot. So it is helpful to go out cold and see if you can put your arrow in the zone with one shot. If so, you're ready to progress to the next level -- practicing under hunting conditions in full hunting garb from a tree stand or blind and taking just one shot. When you put it in the black every time, you're ready for the real thing.

Archery regulations

A person born on or after June 1, 1975, will not be issued a hunting license without completing a safety course. A senior citizen hunting certificate is free. An annual hunting license and archery permit are required to bow hunt in Florida. To bow hunt in Wildlife Management Areas, a special Management Area Permit is required. To harvest turkey, a turkey permit is required.

Archers may hunt through general gun season on private property (dates vary), and there are numerous archery hunts scheduled through spring gobbler season. Contact the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission at (863) 648-3203 or The Upper Hillsborough Wildlife Management Area has archery hunts scheduled for Dec. 9-10 and 16-17 and Jan. 6-7 and 13-14. A special quota permit or a daily hunt permit is required. Fifty permits will be available at the gate each day on a first-come, first-served basis.

Source: Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission

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