Archery Advice: Colorado Bowhunters Share Expert Tips and Tactics

arrow launch final
A woman shoots an arrow at a 3-D target at Barr Lake State Park . Photo by Jerry Neal/CPW.

Whether you’re an aspiring archer who is looking to purchase your first hunting bow or a proficient target-shooter who is ready to take aim at your first big-game hunt, one of the best ways to expedite and shorten your learning curve is to seek advice from experienced hunters.

In this Colorado Outdoors Online blog post, some of Colorado’s top bowhunters, both within Colorado Parks and Wildlife (CPW) and throughout the state, share their hard-earned wisdom and experience. They offer advice on selecting archery equipment and clothing, share shooting tips and techniques and touch on the inspiration that fuels their passion for hunting with a “stick and string.” Best of all, they all bring a real-world perspective to help you experience greater success in the field. Combined, these men and women have more than 270 years of bowhunting experience. And if experience is truly the best teacher, these seasoned bowhunters have learned much and have much to share.

Note: This article is intended as a basic primer on bowhunting and equipment. Hunters should visit an archery pro-shop for specific recommendations on bows, arrows, broadheads and other equipment.

2011 muley buck 1Jeff Davis has a bowhunting career spanning more than 50 years. Davis began hunting white-tailed deer near his home in Connecticut and Vermont. He later moved to Minnesota where for 24 years, he continued to hone his deer-hunting skills. In 1995, Davis moved to Colorado, where he expanded his bowhunting pursuits to include elk, pronghorn, deer, mountain lion, bear and bighorn sheep. He also serves as an instructor and mentor for a variety of youth archery clinics.  

How would you guide beginners on selecting a bow?

I have hunted with both compound bows and traditional recurve and longbows. They all have their place and pros/cons. One will become a proficient shooter more quickly if he/she starts with a compound bow because compounds are much easier to master. If you choose a compound bow, select a model that is considered a “shooter’s” bow and not a “speed” bow. A shooter’s bow is more forgiving and hence more accurate. When you start shooting, it will take time to develop proper technique. Although arrow speed is nice and has its place in archery, it will not help you as a novice archer if it makes you miss.

For a compound bow, there are a few must-have accessories that you’ll need. Bow Sight: make sure it’s a fiber-optic, light-gathering sight and is easy to adjust. I’ve found the fewer pins the better because it is easy to select the wrong pin in the heat of the moment when you are hunting. Arrow Rest: I use a “drop-away” rest which raises the arrow up slightly as you draw and then drops away quickly when you release. Some hunters like a rest called a “whisker biscuit,” which holds the arrow in place securely. However, the whisker biscuit can be a bit noisier and, over time, can tear the fletching off your arrows. Quiver: get one that grips/holds the arrows well and that completely covers the broadheads for safety. Release: I shot “fingers” (wearing a leather shooting glove to help protect my fingers) for years, but I finally switched to using a release. Fingers are simpler, but in my opinion, a release is more accurate. Peep Sight: A peep sight is a small, round piece of plastic with a small hole through which you aim. It’s a way of lining up your string with the front pin of your bow sight. For me it makes a big difference in improving my shooting consistency. That’s really all you need. The fewer gadgets you have on your bow, the less likely you will have something break while you are hunting.

bow parts

How would you advise beginners on selecting clothing?

I wear quiet, lightweight clothes and I carry layers. Don’t worry too much about camo. Camo patterns are more for humans than for improving your hunting. Choose a pattern or color shade that blends into the area where you are hunting. Make sure your clothing is quiet. Run you fingernail over it in the store and if you hear anything, go to the next rack. Do the fingernail test with wool, which is probably the quietest material out there. That’s a good starting point. When you practice shooting in your backyard or at the range, wear the clothing you plan on wearing when you’re hunting. You want to make sure that nothing gets in the way of the string when you release and that nothing interferes with the shot.

What tips do you have for improving shooting accuracy and technique?

Shooting in your yard or at the range is not the same as taking a shot at a live animal. Quality over quantity is a good motto to have when it comes to practicing. The shot, in my opinion, is the hardest part of the hunt. You don’t get a lot of chances while bowhunting, so you need to learn to make the most out of each shot opportunity. Whenever you are out hunting, you should always be thinking about shooting scenarios/situations. Whether you are kneeling, sitting, standing or are in a treestand, you need to think to yourself, “If a 6×6 bull elk walks over that ridge, can I pull off a shot right now?” Hunting situations are almost always imperfect. They never happen the way you think they will — at least almost never.

If you could offer only one piece of advice to a beginning archery hunter, what would it be?

When you are beginning, there are so, so many things that you will do wrong. You will learn from all of them and that is the greatest teacher of all — your own personal experiences. Having a mentor is probably the best and fastest way to success. Be patient. This is probably the hardest thing for people to be, especially in the fast-paced world we live in today. You will not find an elk behind every tree. Hunting is fun because it is hard. Don’t give up and don’t be afraid to step out of your comfort zone and try different hunting experiences.

janetPatt Dorsey’s hunting career spans more than 40 years. For the last 16 years, she has been an avid bowhunter, harvesting several big-game animals with her compound bow. Dorsey is a Colorado Bowhunter Education, National Archery in the Schools and Colorado Archery in the Schools certified instructor. Additionally, she is the regional manager for CPW’s Southwest Region in Durango. 

How would you guide beginners on selecting a bow?

I would offer the same advice that I was given: go to an archery pro shop and let them measure your draw-length and fit you properly. Then, without looking at the price tags or the brand names, shoot every bow they will let you shoot. Buy the bow that feels the most comfortable and that you shoot the most accurately. You’re going to own the same bow for a long time — you’re going to release an arrow from that bow on a living animal. It should be a piece of equipment that you can shoot well. As far as accessories, I am not a gear-head, so I keep to the basics. I think the simplest and the fewest accessories are best from a practical hunting application. But, I would advise every bowhunter to buy an extra of the things they need to shoot. For example, buy an extra release. If you’re hunting and yours breaks, it may be a long way to the sporting goods store.

How would you guide beginners on selecting clothing?

I go for comfortable and simple clothing. Try whatever it is on and try several bowhunting positions. Is there enough room to draw a bow? Is it too bulky? Can you climb into a treestand, kneel, sit, etc. wearing it? While you’re trying that clothing on, close your eyes and listen. A lot of “quiet fabrics” aren’t all that quiet. If you can hear the clothing rubbing — a deer can probably hear you draw your bow at 20 yards.

What tips do you have for improving shooting accuracy and technique?

A lot of people concentrate on the hand they draw the bow string with. Your hand that’s holding the bow is actually more important and deserves your concentration and attention. If you grip the bow too tightly, cant the bow or just cannot hold the bow steady at the draw weight you are shooting, your shots will be inconsistent and not as good as they should be. Additionally, it’s good practice to bring your bow up to the target vs. down to the target. Often when you bring your bow down to an animal in a hunting situation, you have a tendency to shoot high, decreasing your chance for success and/or of recovering the animal.

If you could offer only one piece of advice to a beginning archery hunter, what would it be?

Just as in other forms of hunting, bowhunting comes with the responsibility to make a clean, one-shot kill. Practice seriously! A bowhunter isn’t someone that shoots at deer — a bowhunter shoots deer. Your focus and follow through are critical, as is your self-restraint. If you practice and are competent at 20 yards, don’t take a shot at an elk at 40. Also, get involved in real wildlife issues. It takes good wildlife-management to have good hunting.

What is it about the overall bowhunting experience that fuels your passion and interest?

Successful archery hunting is dependent on being as quiet and as odorless as possible. Being quiet and nearly scent-free makes me feel like I am truly present in the landscape in as near-natural state as modern man can be. I have had a variety of really close wildlife encounters because of it. I had a spike bull elk watch me for what seemed like hours. I’ve shared a ground blind with a tiger salamander. I watched a buck breed a doe. I watched a badger consume a pronghorn fawn carcass, urinate and sun himself. How many people have watched a badger pee? I’ve had close encounters with wildlife while I’ve been hiking and camping too, but not the kind of encounters where the animals are not aware that you are present. I also like archery hunting because the longer season allows me to spend more time in the field. I get at least a month of big-game season in Colorado.

Badger 11 WY Pronghorn hunt
A badger is just one of many species Dorsey has viewed while bowhunting. Photo by Patt Dorsey/CPW.

Practicing archery in my yard is also extremely relaxing. I don’t have that same experience shooting a firearm. Although I love shooting shotguns at moving targets — it’s not that same relaxing experience. When I shoot a bow I don’t have recoil and I don’t have to drive to a range. I have talked to a lot of people who aren’t interested in rifle hunting, but like the idea of getting within 20 yards of a deer or an elk, not having recoil and getting into nature with a bow.

Janet's ram
Janet George started hunting with a compound bow in 1979. Since 1986, she has hunted exclusively with a recurve bow, harvesting elk, mule and white-tailed deer, pronghorn, Shiras moose, a mountain goat, a caribou and a bighorn ram. She is a Colorado Hunter Education and National Hunter Education certified instructor, and she also teaches archery in the Becoming an Outdoors Woman program. George is the senior terrestrial biologist for CPW’s Northeast Region. 

How would you guide beginners on selecting a bow?

Take a bowhunter education class even before you buy a bow. It’s a great way to meet experienced bowhunters, both instructors and other students, and to learn about equipment. Don’t start with a bow that has too heavy of a draw weight, even if you intend to hunt elk or moose. Good arrow flight and correct shot placement, not bow weight, is the key to success. By all means, shoot as heavy a bow as you can shoot accurately and be legal in the case of states with minimum draw weights, but you’ll be more successful going a bit on the lighter side than too heavy. I’ve harvested several elk with recurve bows drawing from 46-58 pounds and two moose with a 50-pound recurve. I’m also a proponent of heavy arrows. Heavy arrows absorb and retain more energy than lighter arrows — all other things being equal. In addition, heavy arrows are structurally tougher so they hold together better if striking bone and they result in a quieter shooting bow because they absorb energy that might otherwise be dissipated as sound. As you might guess, I’m also a proponent of fixed-blade steel broadheads and especially 2-or 3-blade heads to maximize penetration.

What tips do you have for improving shooting accuracy and technique?

Practice smart. I do best with multiple, short practice sessions and I won’t keep pounding if my shooting rhythm is off on a given day. 3-D shoots and “stump” shooting while scouting are excellent for tuning your field-shooting skills. When it comes to shooting at game, the old adages: “pick a spot” and “aim-small, miss-small,” are sooooo true! Shooting is 90 percent focus and confidence, and about 10 percent physical.

What basic strategies or advice would you share with beginning archers to help them improve their success when big-game hunting?

Many beginning bowhunters study where to find and how to get close to big-game and neglect even more important determinants of bowhunting success: shot placement and game recovery. For the later two, take a bowhunter education class. If you can’t find one, written materials and DVDs are available from the National Bowhunter Education Foundation’s website at: The “3 in 1” pocket guide for $5, is small enough to slip in your hunting pack and contains information on shot placement and what to do after the shot in a condensed format.

Bowhunter education classes are offered by Colorado Parks and Wildlife. photo by Jerry Neal/CPW.

What tips do you have for getting within bow-range of wary big-game animals?

To improve your chances of encountering big-game at close range, do something other hunters aren’t doing. For example, hike up a steep slope to a bench maybe a half mile above a major highway where other hunters are driving by on their way to more remote areas. In areas with high off-road-vehicle (OHV) use, look for the areas where the wheels can’t go. For white-tailed deer east of I-25, hunt the sand sage uplands half mile from the river bottom. Hunt weekdays. Hunt during the muzzleloader season for elk, which many bowhunters sit out. Hunt in high winds, as long as you are willing to limit your shot distances. I shot a cow elk at less than 5 yards in a late September chinook. Try a tree stand for bighorn sheep. Game animals know how to pattern hunters so surprise them.

What is it about the overall bowhunting experience that fuels your passion and interest?

Since I was a child, I’ve enjoyed the mental and physical aspects of shooting a bow. It is natural and relaxing. Women have been participants in field archery tournaments in the United States since the late 1800s and they are naturals at it. Maybe it’s because archery is more of a mental than technical exercise. For an avid archer who loves the backcountry and procuring natural foods, the transition to hunting with a bow was a logical progression for me. Bowhunting takes more time by the nature of the bow’s limitations as a hunting tool, which means extended time outdoors observing wildlife at close range.


don2Don Biesecker began bowhunting in 1955. He has serves as a CPW bowhunter education instructor and is presently the bowhunter education coordinator for Colorado Bowhunters Association (CBA). Additionally, for the past 9 years, he has co-facilitated an archery clinic for the University of Colorado Medical Center’s Hemophiliac Kid’s Camp near Empire, Colorado.

How would you advise beginners on selecting archery clothing?

The most important considerations when selecting clothing is finding something that will breakup your outline in the field. I wouldn’t recommend spending a lot of money on what is referred to as “scent-lock” clothes, as the critical element regarding your scent is “ALWAYS” having the wind in your favor. At best, using “scent-lock” clothes is only going to give you additional seconds if the wind changes direction on you.

What tips do you have for improving shooting technique and accuracy?

The only way you can improve your shooting techniques is practice, practice and practice. You need to condition yourself by shooting your bow year-round, not just before the hunting seasons. Initially you need to concentrate on your form (stance, hold, anchor-point, release and follow-through). As you get closer to opening day (last month of practice), you should spend most of your time on a 3-D archery range, shooting at unknown distances. This will help you become efficient at estimating range. You can buy a range finder, but there are very few times when hunting that you will have time to use it. Most times, you will only have a 5-to 10-second window to estimate the distance and take the shot.

If you could offer only one piece of advice to a beginning archery hunter, what would it be?

Determine your effective-range (the distance you can hit an 8- or 9-inch paper plate 100 percent of the time) and don’t even think about taking a shot at a longer distance. In the past 25 years, I have never attempted a shot longer than 30 yards, which I consider my effective range. When that first animal steps out within your effective range, the adrenaline starts flowing and you forget everything. By practicing, your shooting form will become almost second-nature to you.

What is it about the overall bowhunting experience that fuels your passion and interest?

The No. 1 reason is the challenge, skills and self-discipline required to be a successful bowhunter. You must hone your hunting skills to almost perfection. This takes discipline, which includes knowing the habits of the game you plan on hunting, and above all else, only taking shots within your effective range. Also, archery season is the perfect time of the year to be in the outdoors. I very seldom encounter other hunters, and the peace, tranquility and camaraderie with my hunting partners provides relaxation and invaluable memories.

Marvin Clyncke’s interest in bowhunting began in 1954. For the last 58 years, Clyncke has achieved a laundry-list of archery accolades. He was the first hunter (rifle or bow), to harvest all of Colorado’s “Big 8” big-game species with a bow, and was one of the first inductees into the Colorado Bowhunters Hall of Fame. Clyncke is also a founding and lifetime member of CBA

How would you guide beginners on selecting a bow?

I am strictly a traditional recurve/longbow shooter. If you decide on traditional equipment, keep in mind that nothing will ruin your shooting quicker than trying to shoot too heavy of a bow. It is best to start with a light-pull bow and then work up to a hunting weight.

How would you advise beginners on selecting archery clothing?

I think the most important piece of hunting clothing is a face net. All animals and birds see a human face immediately because of the light color and shine. Face nets work great. Lightweight raingear is a must to carry at all times. If you get really cold you can put the raingear on and it will retain almost all your body heat. Good GORE-TEX lined boots are essential to a good hunt. Make sure you break them in well before the actual hunt. Wear a pair of poly or silk socks next to your skin and a pair of smartwool socks over them. That will keep your feet from blistering.

What tips do you have for improving shooting accuracy and technique?

Practice, practice and more practice. Regardless of what kind of equipment you shoot, practice is everything. Shoot the first arrow of practice as if it was the only shot you will take. Shoot all your arrows as if they will be the only shot. Get in the field as much as possible and shoot at cow pies, pine cones, stumps, etc., so you aren’t shooting at the same target all the time. Have an experienced shooter watch you shoot from time to time and take their advice.

What basic strategies or advice would you share with beginning archers to help them improve their success when big-game hunting?

The most important thing in bowhunting (or any hunting for that matter), is to get in good physical condition and get your mind in good condition. Work out and get rid of the excess pounds. Hike in the mountains, photograph in the off season and keep your lungs healthy. NO SMOKING! Be positive ALL the time. Negativity will kill any hunt.

To be successful, bowhunters must get in close to wary big-game animals. What tips do you have for stalking?

Bowhunting is a close-range endeavor for sure. The most important factor when trying to stalk close to any animal is the wind. If they smell you, the game is over. No amount of scent cover-ups or clothing will keep a big-game animal from smelling the hunter if the wind is at his back. You must keep the wind in your face if you hope to get a close enough to take a shot.

If you could offer only one piece of advice to a beginning archery hunter, what would it be?

Many bowhunters, especially inexperienced folks, rely too much on TV programs and videos. Get out and learn the habits and nuances of the animals in the wild. Scout the areas you will hunt. Go with experienced hunters if you can and learn from them. When you make a mistake analyze it and learn from it. Patience is of utmost importance to the bowhunter. Learn to be slow, quiet and very vigilant. You will see more game the slower you hunt.

What is it about the overall bowhunting experience that fuels your passion and interest?

I hunt with bow and arrows to experience the most I can out of the outdoors and the animals there. I love stalking as close as possible to the quarry, and whether I take an animal or not, it doesn’t really make a big difference. Bowhunting is a one-on-one relationship to try and outwit wild game in its own environment. We limit ourselves by shooting traditional equipment which means we must be within 25 yards or less before we can take a shot. Nothing is more exciting than getting inside a wild animal’s comfort zone, and if we do it correctly, we take home some meat.

wilmarthLyle Willmarth started bowhunting in the mid-1960s. He is a lifetime member of the Colorado Bowhunters Association and holds CBA’s award for harvesting Colorado’s “Big 8” big-game species with a traditional bow. Willmarth also holds the Colorado record for a mountain goat harvested with a bow, which also held the world record until 2010.

How would you guide beginners on selecting arrows, broadheads and other accessories

An archery pro-shop will match your arrows with your bow. This is critical for getting the most from your equipment. For broadheads, I would go with a rigid, well-manufactured broadhead that is matched to your arrows. Sights — buy the best you can afford. Quivers — there are back quivers, bow-mounted quivers and hip quivers. The only requirement is that the quiver must completely cover your broadheads. Any quiver that doesn’t cover your broadheads is referred to as a “suicide quiver.” To quote Forrest Gump, “That’s all I have to say about that!”

What tips do you have for improving shooting accuracy and technique?

When aiming, pick a spot — not a big spot, but a tiny spot. Focus through that spot to the back side of the target. Follow-through is critical. Letting your bow-arm down or moving your head even slightly, before the arrow has penetrated the target, will throw off your accuracy. Don’t shoot too heavy a draw weight. A lot of guys think they need to draw 70 pounds or more. There are a lot of things that affect arrow penetration. It is much better to hold the bow steady with a lighter draw weight and make a well-placed shot than it is to make a poorly placed shot with a heavier draw weight.

What basic strategies or advice would you share with beginning archers to help them improve their success when hunting big-game?

Don’t start your bowhunting career by trying to kill a trophy-size animal. You need a lot of skills to be a bowhunter including shot placement, tracking and knowledge of how an arrow effectively kills a big-game animal. You get those skills through experience. Take advantage of as many opportunities as possible early on.

If you could offer only one piece of advice to a beginning archery hunter, what would it be?

Get as close to animals as possible. With modern equipment, a lot of hunters practice at 60 or 70 yards. What makes bowhunting special is getting close to animals in the first place. Bullets travel at several thousand feet per second. Arrows travel at a couple hundred feet per second (max). Shooting at 60-70 yards allows too much time and distance for too many things to go wrong. Waiting for the right shot angle is also a must. Take only broadside or quartering-away shots.

Donald Volger.2Don Volger started bowhunting in 1974. Over the last four decades years, he has missed only one Colorado archery season. He has harvested mule deer, bear, elk, coyote and various small-game species with his bow. Volger also serves as an instructor for the 4H Shooting Sports program.

How would you guide beginners on selecting a bow?

With proper instruction and tuned equipment, a novice can become proficient at hunting distances in a relatively short period of time with a compound bow. Traditional equipment takes longer because it involves more muscle and hand/eye coordination development. I love the simplicity of my Wes Wallace recurve, but I don’t shoot it nearly as well as I did my compound bow. Therefore, I have to limit my range and constantly improve my skills at getting close. Maybe I haven’t killed as much with my traditional equipment, but it sure has been fun trying! If you don’t have the time to devote to developing the proper skill with a traditional bow, don’t fret. Go to your local archery dealer and purchase a compound bow. You’ll be impressed with what it will do.

What tips do you have for improving shooting accuracy and technique?

Get with a qualified instructor, take lessons, concentrate during your practice sessions, develop a proper form “for you” and stick with it. Don’t go changing things just because you hit a “slump” in your shooting. Go back to basics and have someone watch you who knows what to look for. If I practiced what I preached, I’d be one of the best shots around!

If you could offer only one piece of advice to a beginning archery hunter, what would it be?

Rethink and evaluate why you want to hunt with a bow. For most of us there’s so much more to it than just killing an animal or filling the freezer. Hunting is a special privilege and awesome tradition that enriches my life more than I can adequately express. I wish we could all be in the “sportsman stage” of hunting where the measure of success is not getting the shot, killing something, taking a trophy or even doing it the “hard way” with a stick and a string. If we pursue the “sportsman stage” we can treasure every hunting experience and all of them can be successful because we’d bring home “trophies” of heart and mind. Relish your time afield. Practice, prepare, dream and enjoy bowhunting for the rest of your life. It will make you a better person if you embrace it with the right attitude.

For more information about archery and bowhunting resources in Colorado, visit the blog posts listed at the bottom of this page.

Written and edited by Jerry Neal. Neal is the editor for Colorado Outdoors Online and is a media specialist for Colorado Parks and Wildlife. 

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