Skip to content Skip to footer

How to hunt Whitetail Deer with a bow

Whitetail Habits

Knowing where whitetail like to roam, feed and bed is half the battle that needs to be won. Understanding the habits of whitetail and the environment which they call home, will be a great help in determining the best method of hunting.

Whitetail are distributed across almost the entire region of the US, with the exception of southern California, up into Canada, and down into Mexico, so the terrain and vegetation where they roam vary greatly. 

With that, we are going to focus on and use as a means of comparison heavily wooded areas, with a mix of open fields, grassland areas nearby good water sources such as rivers or streams. 

Hunting during the rut is often said to be the best time for going after mature bucks. They move around more chasing does and are notorious for being oblivious to their surroundings, which may make it easier to get within bow range.

Hunting Methods

There is no one shoe fits all method when it comes to bow hunting whitetail, so we are going to highlight some of the more common methods and then break them down from there.

Hunting from a blind over feeders or tree stand

Not all states/provinces permit the baiting of deer, so before you start throwing out corn and pitching up your blind, it’s best to check your local laws.

For most young hunters, the entry into the world of hunting is often through a blind over a feeder or on the edge of a food plot. Placement and positioning of your blind are crucial to the success of your hunt and when it comes to bow hunting, the setup is slightly different from that of a blind used for rifle hunting.

Blind placement

Below is a list of things to consider when setting up your bow-hunting blind or tree stand:

  1. Preparation is key. Knowing where the whitetail occurs, their moving habits and the number of bucks and does in the area will help you decide on the best placement. 

    Setting up trail cameras is a great way to learn the habits of whitetail in your area. Look for signs of activity, such as well-used paths, tracks, the edge of feeding areas, bucks rubbing antlers on trees, and so on.
  1. The direction of the wind. The very nature of bow hunting means getting in close and with that increases the chances of deer picking up your scent and running off. Spend some time in the area you intend to set up your blind and figure out what direction the wind blows in from the most, then look for areas with the highest deer activity and set up your blind downwind.
  1. Distance. Each bow hunter is different, some are comfortable taking shots at between 40 to 60 yards, while others will only let an arrow fly within 30 yards. In heavily wooded areas, whitetail tends to make use of pathways more often, especially on their way to water or a feeding area. Place your blind or tree stand at a distance you are comfortable with shooting and then practice at that distance multiple times before going on the hunt.

    With regards to hunting from a tree stand, the angle at which you are shooting is another strong factor to consider.
  1. Walking into your blind. This small detail is often overlooked by many hunters and is an obvious reason why some never see any deer. It doesn’t help you walk into your blind through or across the same feeding spot or trail that the deer will be using. They will pick up your scent or possibly even see or hear you and will move off.

    Choose an easy route into your blind that will not risk the deer picking up on your presence.
  1. Make the deer feel safe. By nature, whitetail are nervous flighty animals and will always be on the lookout for any danger. When setting up your blind look for openings near heavily wooded areas as the deer will feel comfortable feeding knowing they have a quick escape route nearby. Hoping the deer will travel across large open fields will not work.

Shooting from the blind

Once you have decided on the final placement of your blind and are confident that there are good deer numbers in the area, the next step is to make sure you are comfortable and able to shoot within the blind or from your tree stand.

Bow hunters with a longer draw length than most or tall hunters may find it difficult to stand and draw within a pop-up blind or cramped high stand blind. A good idea would be to place a target on the spot where you anticipate the deer will be standing, and practice shooting at it a few times to see if there are any changes that need to be made.

For those opting to shoot from a tree stand, then safety will be your priority. Double-check all harnesses, ladders, or grips and the actual stand a few days before your hunt.

Spot and stalk hunting

There is no doubt that spot and stalking hunting with a bow is one of the most challenging forms of hunting, the success rate is lower than conventional hunting, stalks on animals can last hours without any success, and at times it can be extremely frustrating. However, spot and stalk hunting will develop your skills as a hunter and provide a great sense of achievement and a level of thrill when you finally connect and have some success.

As the name suggests, the notion behind spot and stalk hunting is to see the animal first, stalk it to within range without being detected, and then take a shot. Sounds simple to explain, yet extremely difficult to implement.

Tips for spot and stalk hunting

  • Good-quality optics are invaluable. Having a good set of binoculars with quality clear glass will greatly increase your chances of spotting deer.
  • Get high and use the vantage points. Glassing or scanning an area from a vantage point will make it easier to not only spot deer but will allow you the chance to plan your route when stalking in close to the deer. Make note of natural landscapes such as unique trees, rocky outcrops, open areas, and anything that will show you are heading in the right direction when you begin your stalk.
  • Take it slow and always check the wind. Whitetail will use all their senses to pick up on a threat, that is smell, sight, and hearing. Move slowly through the vegetation and check the wind regularly to make sure you are always downwind from the whitetail.
  • Dress appropriately. Camo is great because of the soft natural colors but it isn’t essential. It’s always best to hunt in clothes you can move comfortably in, go with neutral colors such as greens or browns and avoid bright colors unless required to wear orange by law.
  • Use a range finder. Hunters are blessed with an array of equipment and tools to choose from that can be advantageous in their hunt. You won’t find a bow hunter out in the backcountry without their trusty rangefinder. Knowing the distance to the animals is crucial when taking the shot.
  • Time of day matters. Deer are active in the early moringa and late afternoon. On warmer days they tend to lay up in the thick vegetation to stay out of the sun, which can make spotting them and creeping up on them very difficult.
  • Never walk with an arrow nocked. Yes, when you are within range or getting close it’s understandable to nock an arrow in preparation for the shot, but when you are still walking around searching for deer, it’s best to keep your arrows in the quiver to prevent injury to yourself and potentially damaging your arrow broadhead.
  • Make use of vegetation within the heavily wooded areas to conceal yourself either on a well-used trail or near a feeding area, lying in wait.

Taking the shot

All the time and effort that goes into the preparation of a hunt, come down to the milliseconds it takes to release the arrow. No matter if you are high in a tree, down on the ground, or tucked in a blind the placement of your arrow will be the defining factor as to whether or not your hunt was a success.

Jumping the string

The term “jumping the string” is one every bow hunter should know and also one every bow hunter hates to experience.

As mentioned earlier, whitetail are nervous creatures and take flight at the slightest or strangest of noises. They are incredibly agile and extremely fast when fleeing danger. Mix these characteristics together and you get “jumping the string”. 

Essentially what happens is that the deer hears the sound of the string hitting the frame of the bow as it releases the arrow. This sound being unusual to the deer will cause it to flee. As a whitetail looks to launch and run, it first dips its body, almost like a spring being compressed. From this dip, the deer then launches into a run. Of course when the deer dips its body, the vitals and kill zone change, and it is at this precise moment when the arrow reaches the deer and either misses completely or ends up hitting the deer in a non-kill zone.

There are a few suggestions from fellow bow hunters on how to prevent the whitetail from “jumping the string”:

  1. Try to shoot within 20-yards
  2. Aim 2” lower for every 10-yards beyond 30-yards
  3. Only shoot when the deer is quartering away or feeding with head down
  4. Target rutting bucks that are distracted by does

Shot placement

Broadside is always best, but in hunting things don’t always go according to plan. Taking a broadside shot a whitetail is an ideal scenario because the surface area of the vitals is greater, and there is a better chance of hitting the heart and achieving a double lung shot.

Quartering away would be the next best option, as a well-placed arrow just behind the closest shoulder would mean the arrow would exit at either the opposite shoulder or in front of the shoulder, depending on how steep the angle is. This would likely achieve a double lung shot.

Taking a shot at a whitetail that is angling in towards you is difficult but not impossible. It is often not taken because the chances of achieving a double lung shot are greatly reduced, there is a risk of hitting the brisket (chest) of the animal and missing all the vitals, or the arrow hitting the large leg joint or shoulder blade and being deflected away from the vitals.

Bow hunters do not have the insurance of hydrostatic shock like rifle hunters do, and instead need to rely on precision. With that no shot should be taken if the whitetail is standing facing directly away from you, and under no circumstances should headshots be taken with a bow.

After shot advice

A few pointers and words of wisdom that we have heard from those old timers that spent countless hours sneaking through the woods, have seen it all, done it all, and made just about every dumb mistake there is:

  • After the shot take note of where the deer was standing at the shot and how it reacted when the arrow hit it. You may need to come back to that spot to look for blood.
  • Pink frothy blood is a clear indication of a lung shot, that sign makes all bow hunters happy.
  • Don’t be too quick to follow up after the deer once you have shot. Give it time to bleed out and weaken. Chasing it too early will send a surge of adrenaline through its body and goodness knows a whitetail buck can travel a long way on adrenaline.
  • Wounded animals do not act conventionally and for the most part will break away from others, usually making their way downhill or toward a water source for some reason.
  • When tracking blood, never walk over the trail always to the side and leave a marker of the last blood splatter you found, you may need to return to that spot late.
  • Green smelly juice (bile) is an indication of a gut shot, which is not good and will require a follow-up shot.

Trophy and carcass handling

Congratulations are in order at this point as by now you have achieved the special feat of hunting a whitetail with a bow, but the job is not done just yet.

Post-shot handling of the deer is just as important as the effort put into your pre-hunt preparations and now the time is against you.

Your main objective once your deer is down and the pictures have been taken is to get the whitetail cleaned up, skinned out, and cooled down. If it is a particularly warm day, then it is best to remove the internal intestines and any organs you do not wish to keep out in the field. Leaving them inside the deer while it is hot will risk spoiling the meat.

When you get back to deer camp, hang the deer and begin the process of removing the skin and all internal organs. Take note, however, that if you wish to keep the skin and antlers for mounting at a taxidermist, then there is a specific way to cut the skin and remove it. We advise visiting the taxidermist of your choice a few days before your hunt and having them walk you through the process of making the ideal cuts.

With the skin and internals removed, wash the carcass in clean water free of any material such as grass and dirt plus the blood stains around the area that was hit by the arrow.

The carcass needs to be cooled to around 34-36℉, anything higher than 40℉, and the meat will begin to spoil.


The reasons why hunting whitetail with a bow is so popular are because whitetail is so widely disbursed and occurs in a huge variety of landscapes, vegetation, and terrain, plus the added challenge of targeting one with a bow means no two hunts will ever be the same.

Even though this article has a “How to” title, it can only take you so far, the rest, the physical action of strapping on your boots, grabbing your bow, and heading on out there is up to you. You fail, you will succeed, but most importantly you will learn every time you go hunting and that is how you hunt a whitetail with a bow. 

Are you ready for your next adventure?

Sign up to get monthly deals and insider updates.


HighTail dealers are carefully selected for their expertise in the world of outdoor adventure sports, and supported by our value added programs and dedicated team.

Customer Support
HighTail Rewards

We’re a loyal bunch, and love growing our family of true to the core adventurers.  Get discounts and exclusive access when you join HighTail Rewards.

Signup at checkout

Hightail Outdoor Tech Inc. © 2022-2024 All Rights Reserved.