Bow hunting kicks ammunition hunting’s butt, and you can bet that it is legal.
You know, depending on the state. Archery is still taught in over fifty nations, practiced by hunters every single day, and it’s one of the most epically engaging physical activities you’ll do while big game hunting.
It takes skill and precision, which is a good idea why you need to get the right licensing for this ultra lethal weapon. In your trained hands, it’s just as—if not more—effective than a firearm while hunting.
States are still passing legislation on crossbows and the maximum draw weight of acceptable compound bows for hunting, so this information is as up-to-date as possible based on current publicly accessible government information.
Now, if you’re ready to learn all about the legalities of bow hunting, let’s get to it.
Bow hunting is legal in all states of the United States.
But the specific regulations vary from state to state.
In general, bow hunting is allowed during specific seasons, and there are often restrictions on the type of bow that can be used, the size of the draw weight, and the type of arrow that can be used.
Here are some of the general regulations for bow hunting in the United States:
- You must have a valid hunting license and permit for the species of animal you are hunting.
- You must wear hunter orange clothing during bow hunting season.
- You must follow the specific regulations for the type of bow that you are using.
- You must use a broadhead arrow that is at least 1.5 inches wide.
- You must make a clean kill shot that will result in a quick and humane death for the animal.
Here are some of the specific regulations for bow hunting in different states:
- In Alaska, there is no minimum draw weight requirement for bow hunting.
- In California, the minimum draw weight requirement for bow hunting big game is 40 pounds.
- In Florida, the minimum draw weight requirement for bow hunting deer is 35 pounds.
- In New York, the minimum draw weight requirement for bow hunting big game is 45 pounds.
- In Texas, there is no minimum draw weight requirement for bow hunting, but the arrow must be at least 2 inches wide.
It is important to check the specific regulations for the state where you are hunting before you go. You can find this information on the website of the state’s fish and wildlife department.
Though, it is legal in the United States, except Montana makes it a bit difficult with some arbitrary sizing requirements that means the youth can’t train with a recurve bow, a traditional bow, a standard bow or the use of crossbows.
Bowhunting has actually seen a resurgence in recent years in the US, so you’re going to see a real boom in bow users.
In the US, you will be met with a low amount of stipulations. In truth, it’s far easier to wrap your head around the rules and regulations being a bow guy than ammunition hunting on public land and shooting ranges.
As a general rule of thumb, archery gear such as, compound and recurve bows should have no less than a 40 lb minimum draw weight, and crossbows should have a 75 lb minimum draw weight.
The requirements are so simple to follow. Most states have a simple one-page list of rules and local regulations, though it is strongly recommended that you learn about the rifle and muzzleloader hunter requirements as well.
Like it or not, half the time you are going to be sharing a hunting ground or even a shooting range with them and in a good place.
Just so you know, compound and recurve bows can be seen as competitive archery tools year-round, but since there are no competitive crossbows, you’ve basically got to lock the thing up during the off-season for it to remain legal with a special permit.
There’s not really any reason for you to have it out of its case or in use when the season is over, except for some practice sessions here and there and to maintain proper care over the long time.
What Does Draw Weight Have to do With it?
Draw weight is everything.
First and foremost, too low of a draw weight would actually be inhumane to hunt with, except maybe on small game like rabbits and wild turkey.
Draw weight is directly connected to the speed and impact of your arrow, through kinetic energy. You create the kinetic energy when you draw the string back, nock the arrow, and release it, getting the best results over longer distances and longer ranges.
The power from your physical strength transfers to the string, which transfers to the arrow shot the best way as it goes flying through the air.
Your draw weight is the amount of pressure it takes to pull that bow string back in the first place. A 40 lb maximum draw weight bow means 40 lbs of pressure, and that is the most calculable and definitive factor in the legality of your bow.
Too low, and it won’t fly.
As far as the concern for animal cruelty, arrows are not necessarily any less humane than bullets.
One is an impact, one is shocked, and they can both take roughly the same amount of time to fully end an animal’s life.
If you don’t hit your mark properly with an arrow, it’s just like with a bullet: you’ve injured it, not killed it with a single shot.
Draw weight changes based on the prey, and that’s important to keep in mind because it might impact what your license pertains to.
For instance, 40 lbs are the minimum for whitetail hunting, but if you brought it with you to hunt elk, you wouldn’t really make much of an impact.
It’s going to hurt it, but not necessarily kill it (there’s a 2.5x larger size difference between a mature male whitetail and a mature male elk).
That being said, if you want to hunt larger game, you need a bow with more capabilities in order to receive your license for it.
Why Are Bow Hunting/Archery Season Longer in the United States?
The good news is Bow hunting doesn’t disturb the peace of nature.
It’s quiet, it’s hands-on, and if the population of a specific animal won’t suffer from bow hunting, then there’s no reason to restrict its activity.
You have to think that most people are gun hunters, so during that season, there’s a lot of prey that gets taken down. Bow hunters are the minority.
You might also notice that there are usually separate seasons for bow hunting versus gun hunting.
The reason for this, as many believe, is that it’s more dangerous to bow hunt during rifle hunting season under extreme circumstances.
We get closer to our prey (within 70 yards), whereas gun hunters will use scopes on long-range rifles, and can sit about 120-200 yards back with ease. Save for tree stand hunters, that is.
Since bow hunters aren’t required to wear hunter orange in most instances, it raises a very big problem: we could be hunting a deer while, unknowingly, another hunter is aiming down the scope to kill the same deer.
You could get caught in the crossfire, and with camouflaged gear, it wouldn’t be that unlikely to accidentally end up in their line of sight without their knowing.
Do You Need a Bow Hunting License?
Yes, you cannot go hunting with your bow unless you have a license.
It’s vastly important to get your license before you head out into the woods, otherwise, you could face a fate far worse than simple fines.
Every state has a different way that it dictates penalties for hunting without a license, but it’s never good.
Thousands of dollars in fines to jail time is what we’re talking about here, and it’s not worth it to forego a $15.00 bowhunting license for that.
That’s right, fifteen bucks. It’s ridiculously inexpensive and easy to get your license.
The only tricky part will be that sometimes you need stickers for your equipment, which means you can’t complete filing for your license online.
You’ll have to bring it into a location so that the equipment can be inspected.
For some context, you need a bow hunting license just to carry the thing around in most instances.
Unless you’re bringing a compound bow to a known archery practice area, or you’re recurved to target practice at an authorized range, you could be charged with carrying an offensive weapon.
Licensing prevents this from happening, which is why plenty of archers will get their bow hunting license just to be safe.
Think of it as a permit for concealed carry, in a sense. It’s legal to own the bow, but unless you have some documentation, it’s not legal to take it out of the house.
It gets complicated, but this is the reason you need a license in a nutshell: just to be prepared, even if you aren’t going hunting.
How do You Get a Bow Hunting License?
Bow hunting license mostly just require proper education and online training.
You can take an online course to get certified to receive a license, though you still have to apply separately.
Online course programs are almost always associated with the state government where you are trying to get your license and those few who are not are usually still recognized by the states.
At some point, you will have to provide proof that you are the one who completed the course. Bowhunter education is mandatory.
Each state will also have their own age requirements.
Normally, youth hunters that are accompanying you simply need to be with a certified adult and only require super simple permit paperwork (which is nowhere near as difficult as getting your bowhunting license).
If you want to go directly through state official programs, you can find this excellent directory for each certification per state.
Every state will have its own requirements, including varying levels of education. States that often have big hunting seasons surprisingly have a lower threshold of required knowledge and information than a state with stricter, more controlled laws.
Are Bow Hunting Licenses Similar to Rifle and Muzzleloader Licenses?
Yes, they are similar.
You still have to go through the same motions to acquire them, and your equipment still needs to be cleared (mostly with crossbows, recurves around the 40 lb mark usually just need a sticker).
With a similar process, you should understand that it takes about the same amount of time to receive a gun license as it does a bow or crossbow license.
In some states, they are basically the same thing.
Some hunting licenses are basically all-in-one packages, where you must earn the right to use a firearm, muzzleloader, crossbow and compound bow all in one go.
The thing is, these are actually fairly easy to get—the application process is simple.
For any license, apply well before you will need it. There’s always a rush of procrastinating hunters who jam up the system and increase the wait times as it gets close to the beginning of the season. Just get it done ahead of time.
Do You Need a Permit for a Crossbow?
You absolutely do need a permit for a crossbow, but the difficult to obtain one varies from state to state, and some have… odd consequences.
For example, in Massachusetts, once you apply for a disability crossbow license, you are barred from ever attempting to use traditional archery during the hunter ever again. It’s a bit strange.
Then again, some states have very lenient laws that aren’t ridiculous at all.
In Alabama, there are no size restrictions on a bow, meaning you don’t have to meet the 75 lb draw weight minimum requirement for crossbows.
You should, but you don’t have to. The same goes for the usual 40 lb minimum requirement for compound and recurve bows.
This law also means you can, if you wish, carry in 80 lb compound bows (though they’re basically beast machines that are overkill).
Your permit application process will be different depending on what state you live in, and the time you spend waiting for your permit to arrive will also vary.
Some residents of Arizona state that they received their permits in as little as four days, while residents of Illinois have waited three to four weeks—order early, just to be safe.
You want to be sure it’ll be in your mailbox once the first day of the season rolls around.
Stipulations on Bow Hunting in the United States
Bow hunting is excellent, and it’s a little freer than rifle or muzzleloader hunting, but there are still some stipulations and rules you need to abide by in order to bow hunt successfully and safely.
Crossbows must be stamped just like firearms before you enter the hunting area.
You can get these stamps from completing online or in-person bowhunter education courses. Your stamps will have expiration dates that do not last beyond a full year.
It doesn’t matter if it’s a dirt path or an abandoned road; you cannot, under any circumstances, shoot a bow across a public path.
Private pathways, such as a dirt path on your own property, that’s totally fine. Even if nobody is on that public path, if someone sees you, it’s an enormous fine and possibly punishable by jail time in certain states.
In exclusive bow hunting seasons, you do not need to have hunter orange on at all.
It’s normally required for all hunters (varying amounts of visible square inches that vary state to state), but bow hunters are exempt.
That is unless you’re bow hunting during rifle season. In that case, you will follow normal hunting laws for rifle hunters.
If you’re trying to crossbow shoot a pheasant out of the sky, and that pheasant happens to be over a public highway, it is entirely illegal to fire.
If your crossbow bolts or arrows are going to even potentially cross over that highway, you’re looking at a major fine.
There’s the chance that it won’t arch as you thought or wind speed will be a problem, and it could turn potentially fatal for motorists on the road.
Documentation – State Regulations
Always have your documentation on-hand.
This should go without saying, but the stickers on your bow or crossbow are simply not enough. You should have a dedicated quick-access pocket of your hunting jacket, or at the very least, in your hunting backpack.
Store it here so that you don’t have to completely undo your backpack and pull out half of your belongings to acquire it. It’s rare that you’re asked for it, but good to have on-hand.
Most states allow you to buy duplicates online, so you can leave the original at home.
(Most) of the World is Your Archery Hunting Ground
You’ve got longer seasons and more types of game that you can hunt with a bow; it’s time to get the gear ready, round up your friends, and hit the deer hunting trails.
Whether you go with a crossbow, compound bow or bring the old bow out to play, there are long hours of tree stand sitting and near-sundown escapes from the forest ahead during archery deer season.
Hopefully, you’ll have a deep freezer ready to store all the game you’re going to bag because it’s going to get wild.