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The most frustrating part of bowhunting

Josh Kirchner hunting

Photo credit: Josh Kirchner

I spotted two bucks feeding in a small meadow right beneath a steep face. It was the second evening of a backpack hunt for high country mule deer. These bucks were in a great spot for a stalk. If I could get around and come in over the top of them on the steep face, the chances of me getting a shot was pretty good. In minutes, I was on my way over there, leaving my brother behind to watch the bucks. On the way over, a thunderstorm blew in on me. I didn’t care though. There were two great bucks in a great spot and I was getting over there.

Each time the wind would gust, I’d inch closer to the edge of the steep face where the bucks were feeding. With each step, my mind raced. Would this actually work out? Then, as if I weren’t even there, my velvet dreams stepped out below me. The rangefinder read 39 yards. With an arrow already nocked, my release took hold of the bowstring and I began to draw. Out of nowhere, my arrow began to screech across the rest. That was all it took to watch my velvet dreams run out of my life for good. Success can seem so close and then be taken away in an instant. Sometimes, bowhunting really drives me nuts. But what’s the most frustrating thing about bowhunting? Where do I even begin?



In bowhunting, your gear matters over and over again. It is imperative that you stay on top of these things through the season and, even, during the offseason. As time goes on, little imperfections can arise here and there. Add up a few of them and you might not be hitting that bullseye as often as you’d like. The pro shop that I frequent always tells me stories about how folks will wait until the week before archery season to shoot their bow and bring it in then. These are things that you want to have dialed in beforehand—not just for your own well being, but, also, because most pro shops get pretty busy right before the season. A hunter could risk not even having their bows in time for a hunt. The story I mentioned above is a great example of not staying on top of the gear. I will admit that I did notice a slight noise here and there during my practice sessions, but didn’t think anything of it, to be honest. Boy was that dumb. A lesson learned and one that I won’t soon forget. Stay on top of your gear, so you can stay on top of your hunt.

Mental battles

Garmin inReach Explorer+

An essential in the field, the Garmin inReach Explorer+ Satellite Communicator.

The mental roller coaster that comes with bowhunting is one that many take a ride on. Some folks handle it better than others and others just end up not being able to hack it. There is a lot of disappointment that comes with bowhunting—no matter how much it is romanticized. Archery hunting is much more attractive on the surface than it is underneath it. I think that the idea of bowhunting appeals to our ancestral nature. New hunters see high-quality hunting films and are instantly inspired to get out there and chase their goals. I love that. Many times, though, when they get out there, they are met with something different than what they saw on the big screen. They are met with adversity. Bowhunting is not something that comes easy and it hurts that much more when an opportunity you worked so hard for falls between the cracks. What separates the successful from the unsuccessful in most cases here is grit and determination. It is the ability to get knocked down and then get up again (Chumbawamba reference not intended).

Everything matters

First lite bowhunting

A phrase that more than a few seasoned bowhunters have mentioned when conversing about archery hunting is “when the stars align.” For some, that might sound a little much, but there is definitely some truth to it. Think about this. We cannot control the wind or where animals walk. Mother Nature will do as Mother Nature wants. Hunting pressure is also something that isn’t 100% in our court. I’ve been there. You get up early, hike into your spot in the dark and, then, are met with the sight of someone else walking in as well. Suddenly “your spot” isn’t yours anymore and Plan B might need to be put into action.

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Can we control if an animal jumps the string on us? The answer is no. I’ve seen deer that weren’t remotely aware of someone’s presence suddenly duck the string without warning. Because of all of these variables, you very well might say that the stars have to align to fill an archery tag. Here’s the thing: The more effort you are willing to put in, the more those stars will start to align. At least that’s what I’ve noticed.

It’s so worth it

Deer down

Despite the adversity that so often comes with bowhunting, it is worth it. Call me a glutton for punishment, but when everything comes together, it’s hard to put into words the range of emotions you experience. All of the failures before that point rush over you like a tidal wave. Soon, the feeling of success makes all of that heartache go away. There is a reason that grown men will weep over an animal that fell to their arrow. Their tears are filled with both remorse and joy. There is a reason why so much effort is put into archery hunting by folks each and every year. It has become a lifestyle for many. And there is a reason why you are reading this article. Frustration during an archery hunt is something that we have all experienced and will continue to experience from time to time. It’s refreshing to talk about it. It lets us know that we aren’t alone in our head-scratching moments. So, what is the most frustrating part about bowhunting? For me, it’s that I don’t get to do it more often.

What about you?

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Gary H. - posted 8 months ago on 10-02-2019 04:57:04 am

Too much pressure from other hunters is the biggest problem I see with bow-hunting these days. It used to be a lot of fun and now it feels like I am rifle hunting.......

Bendrix B. - posted 8 months ago on 09-29-2019 05:22:56 pm
Rochester, MA

Sad to say but the most frustrating part of bow hunting is other people. I’m super sneaky and clean, get in early, stay a long time, use scent lock and keep all gear scent free, just all around take a lot of care scouting and setting up to fool a deer. It is frustrating when another persons sees your stand and sets one of their own nearby within sight, not cause they scouted deer, but because they scouted another hunter and figured it must be good. Or when people ignore private property, or steal stands and steps. Truly, the only times I’ve been frustrated while bow hunting there was another person doing something impolite or intrusive. And some of the best times I’ve had hunting were due to the people who are great to hunt with, share with and explore with. The people make the extremes.

Brian S. - posted 8 months ago on 09-27-2019 02:18:06 am
Eatonville, WA

This was my second season hunting. Just like John K, I just started hunting at 35 years old. This was a long grueling archery elk season especially since I did an out of state Idaho hunt. I gave myself 17 days, but was able to fill my tag on day 11. Through the blown stalks or call ins, the ups and downs, it was the best experience I have ever felt when the arrow released and I knew that it was a great shot. I think the worst part is the wait after the shot, before you start a track. That had to be the longest time of my life. Finding the bull not more than 50 yards for point of impact was the greatest feeling. Archery is very addicting. The lows make the highs feel so much better. This article hit the nail on the head.

Keegan M. - posted 8 months ago on 09-26-2019 08:47:37 pm
San Diego, CA

I missed a huge 4x3 last week at 26 yards after 3 days on the mountain. Still an incredible hunt and can’t wait to leave work Friday and get back after it! Bowhunting is an addiction not a hobby!

John K. - posted 8 months ago on 09-26-2019 08:10:24 pm

Hi Josh, another great article and thank you for the perspective. I commented on one of your articles earlier on switching from rifle to bow. I got started hunting very late in life and after a couple of years rifle hunting I picked up a bow. This is my fifth season and I came to full draw for the first time a week ago here in Idaho. The bull was at thirty yards but I had too much vegetation between us so I couldn't get confident with the shot. The bull continued circling me than winded me and well, said goodbye. My heart was pounding and for me that was worth ALL the frustration I have had so far. For me, I can only imagine what it would feel like to successfully and cleanly take an animal with my bow and for that I will continue to pursue the sport.
Thank you again for the fresh perspective.
John K

Benjamin P. - posted 8 months ago on 09-26-2019 06:19:54 pm

To me the most frustrating part about bowhunting is also what I love best about bowhunting and that is the distance, or better yet, the proximity with which you must be in to accurately hit animals and kill them. I started out a rifle hunter and only started archery hunting a couple years ago. I’ve had failure and success. My failure wasn’t as heart breaking as some I’ve had with a rifle though. Mostly because I learned so much and grew exponentially as a hunter. But it’s still a kick in the gut when you work so hard for something and don’t succeed. I wouldn’t have it any other way though.