Complete Small Game Bowhunting Guide

Bowhunting is a valuable skill to have whether you want to enjoy a fresh steak or you’re preparing for the end of the world. In a survival setting, bowhunting small game may be your only food acquiring option. This makes it a very useful survival skill to have. This article is a complete small game bowhunting guide. I will make sure that you know how to use a bow, what kind of game to look for, and other tips for a successful hunt.

Benefits of bowhunting small game

The beauty of small game bowhunting is that there is always something in season. Here are some of the top benefits of bowhunting small game.

  • Bowhunting is beginner friendly. You don’t need a lot of experience to be a bowhunter. Once you understand how a bow behaves, it is easy to adjust your techniques. It isn’t complicated and you can become proficient with practice.
  • You can reuse arrows. Bullets are expensive and you can only use them once. Arrows, are affordable, easy to make or buy, and you can reuse them.
  • Lead bullets can make you sick. There is a study that shows that hunting with lead bullets can be hazardous to your health. 20% to 87.5% of the tested game meat contained lead that exceeded safe levels. Unfortunately, cooking the meat made it worse especially if it contained a shattered bullet. Luckily, arrows usually aren’t made of lead.
  • Small game is healthier than commercial meats. When you hunt your own game, you don’t need to worry about antibiotics, artificial growth hormones, and the cruelty that big farms use to make their animals fat.
  • Bowhunting has a lower impact on other animals. Firearms are loud whereas bows are nearly silent. Just one gunshot will scare off all the animals in your surrounding area. This will make future hunts difficult.

Are you convinced yet? Wait! There’s more!

  • Small game never goes out of season and is plentiful all year. It is usually easier to find small animals any time of year. If you make it a point to familiarize yourself with the local wildlife and their cycles, then you will always have a plentiful protein supply.
  • The equipment is lightweight and smaller. Big game hunting requires a lot of power and this means that the gear is more complex and heavy. Small game requires less power so your gear is going to be lighter.
  • Small game won’t rot before you can finish eating it. Hunting an elk is exciting, and those first few meals will be delicious. Unfortunately, after a prolonged period the meat will rot. When you focus on small game, you will only hunt as much as you need for a day or two.

Traditional Vs. Modern Bows

Complete Bowhunting Guide: Small Game
Complete Small Game Bowhunting Guide

In the hands of an accurate archer, any bow will do so it’s best to pick a bow that is within your budget. How do you choose?

  • Traditional Bows include simple designs such as longbows, recurves, and takedown recurves.
  • Modern Bows include complicated compound bows that have many parts and more maintenance requirements.

Traditional Bow Basics

Traditional bowhunting is simple, efficient, and fast. Setup and breakdown can happen in a matter of seconds because there are no fancy cams or gadgets. Additionally, there are fewer parts to maintain and each part can serve multiple purposes. Traditional bows come in many sizes and styles.

I like Hungarian horse bows because they have all the power of other traditional bows, but have a lighter frame. I am 4′ 11″ for reference. A larger hunter may prefer a longbow, traditional recurve, or a takedown recurve that can be broken into pieces and stored.

 complete small game bowhunting guide
Complete Small Game Bowhunting Guide


  • Lightweight
  • Easy to carry and pack
  • Simple to use
  • Durable, rugged, and tough
  • Easy to repair and maintain in the field
  • Very effective for small game
  • Affordable
  • A wide variety of styles and sizes. This makes it a viable option for any hunter


  • Requires a significant amount of upper body strength
  • Steeper learning curve to achieve mastery
  • Not suitable for long distance shots

Traditional Bow Gear Requirements

  • Simple bow of any material
  • Several strings (one to use and extra spares)
  • String wax
  • Quiver -shoulder or hip style
  • Arrows

That’s all the gear you need to get started along with some patience and consistent practice. Keep your arrows dry, wax the string after every use, and unstring the bow when it is not in use. It doesn’t get much simpler than that.

How To Get Started In Traditional Archery

Modern Bow Basics

A modern bow which is also known as a compound bow, will provide more power than a traditional bow. Compound bows are comprised of high-tech materials and typically have complex systems and finely tuned parts. While they are easier to pull and release, they require special care to remain in optimal condition. Since a modern bow is designed to take down big tough animals, a single shot could turn your small game into a gooey paste if you’re not careful. Compound bows often come in pre-made kits, but you can also install custom components.

It is important to know that modern bows are both fragile and tough. The limbs are susceptible to delamination or breaking. Just a little scrape, chip, or gouge can lead to catastrophic failures. If properly cared for, these bows can take a hell of a beating.


  • Beginner friendly
  • Easy to aim
  • Easy to shoot
  • Powerful
  • Effective for large game
  • Can work for small game when blunt arrows are used


  • Requires ongoing maintenance
  • Complex designs with more breakable parts
  • Expensive
  • Must be kept dry
  • Must have the correct size and style for the individual hunter

Modern bow gear requirements

  • A compound bow that properly fits your frame and strength
  • Appropriate arrows for your specific compound bow (you will want an assortment that includes blunt arrows for small game)
  • Release loop (attached to the string)
  • Release aid (A small, triggered device that attaches to the release loop. Used in place of fingers)
  • Bow sights for aiming
  • Peep sight (attached to the string)
  • Arrow rest (attached to the bow for the arrow to sit on)
  • Stabilizer (attached to the front of the bow.) This is optional, but recommended
  • Quiver (attached to the bow limbs)

How To Shoot a Compound Bow [For Beginners] | The Sticks Outfitter

The choice is yours

Whether you choose a traditional or modern bow, it is important for you to make your choice then stick with it. This skill requires practice and dedication and with a little effort, anyone can become proficient at either choice.

What is the best type of arrow for hunting small game?

Blunt tipped arrows are best for hunting very small game like squirrels and rabbits. If you are hunting larger prey like raccoons or wild turkeys, then a broadhead tipped arrow will be the most effective.

Your arrows are just as important as your bow. The tips are the most important part. Arrow shafts and fletchings can be made from a wide variety of materials. You should always match your arrow tip to your prey for the best results.

  • Target tips and field tips are mostly for practice. They can be used for the smallest prey like rats, squirrels, snakes, small rabbits, and frogs. These tips are designed to go into softer targets with ease and also come out easily. The downside is that since these tips have no barbs, they can sink so far into the ground that you cannot easily retrieve them.
  • Blunt tips are flat, wide tips that are used to stun or paralyze game. The force can also kill. These tips are less likely, than bladed tips, to pierce the bowels (this can contaminate the meat) or damage the meat. Blunt tips often come with wires, springs, or wings to prevent them from burrowing into the ground. This makes it easier to retrieve them.
  • Broadhead tips. These bladed arrow tips are razor sharp and deadly. Their main objective is to dig deep into the flesh of your prey and not let go. Broadhead tips are designed for large game, but can work for small game if you’re careful.

Archery Heads for Small Game Hunting With Janis Putelis

Bowhunting specific types of small game

Remember to abide by the local hunting laws and to use common sense. Small game bow hunting can work in nearly every area. Here are some of the most plentiful and common types of small game that you will hopefully find. For each specific type of game I will suggest the best type of arrow to use, where to locate them, and how to hunt them.

Rabbits & Hares

Complete Bowhunting Guide: Small Game
Complete Small Game Bowhunting Guide

While rabbits and hares are different animals, they are hunted in the same way. In most areas they are plentiful year-round, taste good, and quickly repopulate so you don’t have to worry too much about over-hunting.

Rabbit / Hare Hunting Tips:

  • Best type of arrow to use: I use blunt arrows for rabbit hunting. They are little, light animals that don’t require a lot of power to take down. If you don’t know if your bow has enough power to take out a rabbit, you can use a fixed-blade broadhead arrow.
  • Where to find them: You can find rabbits and hares almost everywhere (fields, meadows, forests, deserts, and wetlands.) You’ll often find them hiding in thickets, large patches of clover, and deadfalls. Since they are herbivores, they will gravitate towards areas with green vegetation that is close to the ground. Know that they are mostly nocturnal, but you can often see them in the morning and late evening. If you see rabbits and hares out and about midday then they are likely being chased by a predator or overcrowded. They may also be sick so you should be wary of a daylight rabbit that appears tired, listless, and wobbly.
  • How to hunt them: Since they are prey items, rabbits and hares are always on high alert. This makes it difficult to hunt them. Luckily, they live in large groups so if you see one rabbit running away then there is probably a large populations nearby. Your best bet for rabbit hunting is to find their likely food source near a good hiding spot and search for evidence of rabbit activity. These signs include: chewed plants down to the stems, chewed leaves, and rabbit pellets.


Be patient and get cozy

If you come across signs of rabbit behavior, find a comfortable spot that is a good distance away and wait patiently. Once enough time has passed, rabbits will pop their heads out, sniff, and hop towards the food source. Prepare your bow and arrow, but don’t draw the string back until you have a clear shot.

Find higher ground

You don’t need to post up in a tree, but if you can comfortably get off the ground then rabbits will be less likely to notice you. Hills, boulders, and steady deadfalls can provide a clearer shot.

Look them in the eyes

Move slowly and quietly around possible hiding spots. A rabbits round, dark eyes, will stand out in the chaotic brush. Look for a reflection.

Sweep the area

If you can’t find evidence of rabbit activity, you can try to flush them out of hiding. Dogs are great for this, but if you’re alone, then sweep the brush with your feet. Prepare to shoot a moving target. I prefer to hunt alone because it can be trickier to be stealthy with a dog.

Walk and stop

After awhile, it can be tiring to crouch and stare into the brush every few steps. This is a good time to try the walk and stop approach and use their instinctive fear to your advantage. Walk a few feet, then stop for a full minute. Then walk another few feet and stop. Soon your prey may get nervous and bolt because they cannot handle the anticipation and may feel safer running than hunkering down.

Bowhunting Rabbits IMPACT shots CATCH N COOK primitive style


Complete Small Game Bowhunting Guide
  • Best type of arrow to use: Since squirrels are small, I only use blunt tip arrows. A broadhead arrow would leave a shredded mess.
  • Where to find them: Squirrels are found all around the world except in Antarctica and Australia. I also haven’t seen any squirrels in Hawai’i. They spend most of their time in trees. They prefer trees that bear nuts and cones, but will hide in any tree to get away from you. Ground squirrels burrow into the ground and are mostly found in wooded areas. If food is scarce, then they will sometimes venture out into the meadows. While they are active throughout the day, I have had the best luck with hunting them in the early mornings or evenings.
  • How to hunt them: Squirrels are on high alert like rabbits. The main difference is that they will make a lot of noise if you startle them. Their chirping sound will alert every squirrel in the nearby vicinity. This is why you will need to be patient and stealthy when hunting squirrels.

Squirrel hunting tips

Watch and wait

If you have nuts, acorns, or cone-bearing trees, then you will probably find squirrels. Find a place that is a good distance from a likely food source where you can watch and wait. Squirrels will often come down from trees in quick bursts to circle around the trunk and scan for predators. Take your shot when the squirrel’s back is facing you and aim for the spine.

Rustle leaves

Squirrels may be alert, but they aren’t very smart. If you haven’t seen any squirrels, but you suspect they are in a tree, try tricking them into thinking it’s safe. Rustle the leaves under the tree every now and then and sit silently. This random rustling will mimic the foraging pattern of squirrels. The squirrels in the tree may think that there are squirrels under the tree eating their food.

Be stealthy and move silently

Stealth is vital to success. Move carefully with slow and steady steps if you must switch hunting spots. Frequently stop and listen. If you can’t hear any chattering, chewing, or see squirrels jumping in the trees then it means that you’ve been detected. Sit still right where you are. Once they start moving again, you can move too.

Look up

If you are stealthy enough, you may be able to get right under a squirrel that is munching on nuts in a tree. If you hear or see nut shavings and shells falling from a tree then it’s probably a squirrel. Look up and shoot. Be sure to properly angle your shot and anticipate possible ricochet points.

Be Patient

If you’ve successfully taken a squirrel down, don’t retrieve it right away! Wait a few minutes to see if more squirrels will start moving. If you’re patient, you may end up with 2, 3,4, or more squirrels. It is not uncommon to bag multiple squirrels in one small area since the bow is nearly silent and won’t startle other animals.

Time of year matters

In the spring, squirrels will eat nuts right from the tree. In the fall, they must shift their foraging to the ground when the leaves and nuts also fall. Be mindful of the season and the habits of the squirrels to get a better harvest. If startled, a squirrel on the ground will bolt up the tree so you may need to take more than one shot.

Get Low

Unlike rabbit hunting, you must avoid high points when hunting squirrels. Any motion, no matter how small will alert them. Take cover and get low. Luckily, bows can be shot from many different angles. Make sure that you practice low and horizontal holds to get a feel for them. This is another reason why I love horse bows, because they were specifically designed to be shot at an angle.

Squirrel Hunting With a Bow and Arrow

Wild Turkeys

Complete Small Game Bowhunting Guide
  • Best type of arrow to use: Broadhead arrows are the best for wild turkeys because their feathers serve as armor against blunt arrow attacks.
  • Where to find them: Turkeys can be found in many areas, but they favor mountainous regions, woodland areas, and forests. You may also find them wandering into agricultural areas if there are suitable roosting spots. Wild turkey roost in trees and come down in the early morning to forage (just like the local jungle fowl chickens that live in my yard.)
  • How to hunt them: Delicious and flighty, wild turkeys can be challenging to hunt. They provide a lot of meat and can be taken out with one arrow.

Wild turkey hunting tips


Look for evidence of turkey activity at least a day ahead of your hunt. Common telltale signs include feathers on the ground, gobble sounds, and piles of turkey droppings under trees. Also, keep an eye out for scratch markings in the ground.

Be an early bird

Get in place before the sun comes up and wait for the turkeys to come down from their roosts. If you wait until later in the day, they will see you and take off.

Keep the sun to your back

Stay in the shade with the sun to your back. Turkeys love to sunbathe and the males will use open sunny spots to strut their stuff for the ladies. Since the sun will be in their eyes when they turn your direction, they will be less likely to see you hunkered down in the dark.

Sit still

Wild turkeys have excellent eyesight. Any movement may cause them to flee. You must remain completely still until it is time to shoot your shot.

Wear Camo

If you’re not careful, the turkey’s excellent eyesight can thwart your hunting plans. You can eliminate your obvious human markers by wearing camo from head to toe.

Use a turkey call

Since turkeys are dumb, they can be tricked with a turkey call almost every time. The video below will share some of my favorite mouth call methods.

Mouth Callin’ 101


Decoys are helpful for turkey hunting. You will want to change decoys depending on the season. For example, during early season, you can make a Tom (mature male turkey) jealous by setting up a hen decoy next to a Jake (young male turkey.) Sadly, this approach isn’t very practical for survivalists since it is fairly unlikely that you’ll be lugging around 3 or more fake turkeys.

Bowhunting Turkeys Guide – 5 Best Tips To Get You Started

Complete Small Game Bowhunting Guide


Complete Small Game Bowhunting Guide
  • Best type of arrow to use: Broadhead arrows (especially those with barbs that will lock into the flesh)
  • Where to find them: Raccoons natural habitats include forests and areas with sparser trees if there is easy access to vegetation and water, but they are found everywhere. They are nocturnal.
  • How to hunt them: Raccoons may be the most controversial game on this list, but I do know lots of people who hunt and consume them. If you hunt obviously healthy animals and avoid the ones that feed in urban areas, then you can get some quality meat.

Raccoon hunting tips

Night hunting

Since raccoons are nocturnal, they must be exclusively hunted at night. Make sure you have a good flashlight and begin your walk through the woods. I like using a headlamp because it frees up my hands. Your objective is to scare the raccoons out of the deep brush and into the trees. Shine your light up towards the branches above you and try to catch the light that reflects off their eyes. A raccoon in a tree will never come down so be prepared to aim and shoot.

Day hunting

Most raccoons will be buried deep in their dens during the middle of the day, but there is still a chance to nab one in the daylight. Sometimes you can find them sleeping under trees, near old tree stumps or in the bushes (spring to early summer).

Winter’s Boon

Around January, raccoons will be out and about so use a squaller to attract their attention.

Locate a den

Once mating season ends, females will be searching for warm places to have their babies. You can easily locate their dens by searching for food scraps and scat. They particularly like fresh deadfalls. hollow logs, and rotten stumps. They will also take over dens that were abandoned by other creatures too.

Shooting Raccoons with Tracers! (Saving Our Farm)

Complete Small Game Bowhunting Guide

Frogs, snakes, and rats

Yes, you can eat frogs, snakes, and rats. First become well-versed and know which kinds are safe to eat. Never eat an animal that has been feeding in urban or suburban areas.

Complete Small Game Bowhunting Guide
  • Best type of arrow to use: It is best to use blunt for land critters and a small, tethered broadhead for water critters. Tethered shots will allow you to reel in your kill like a fish.
  • Where to find them: You can find frogs near fresh water and wetlands. If you’re hoping to find snakes and rats, you they are just about everywhere. All three critter types love tall grass, green vegetation, old logs, and bushes. Also, these three animals often eat each other so where you can find one, you can probably find the others too.
  • How to hunt them: I recommend using a traditional bow. Modern bows are too fast and powerful for such little animals. You would end up with a paste and an arrow stuck in the ground.

Hunting tips

‘Round the clock protein sources

If you decide to hunt frogs, snakes, and rats, you will have ’round the clock protein choices. For this small game group you just need patience and to find a good spot between the wetlands and meadow and get ready to shoot.

  • Since snakes require sunlight and warmth, they will be out in the daytime hunting bugs and rodents. Search in the meadows when the sun is high.
  • Frogs will begin to appear around sunset and snakes will take advantage of a last meal before the cold night air sets in. Focus on ponds, wetlands, and meadows that border wetlands.
  • Rodents run at night just as the frogs are settling down. They typically stay away from ponds, but you can find them in wetlands and meadows hunting frogs and night insects.


Complete Small Game Bowhunting Guide

Build a Bow! Watch the video below to learn how to build your own bow for around $10

Easy, Cheap, POWERFUL Bow (NO Power Tools or Heat Needed)

Complete Small Game Bowhunting Guide


Bowhunting small game is much easier than people think. For survivalists it is much more than a fun sport or a hobby, it is a viable way to put food on your table. This valuable skill could literally save your life. Before closing, I should also say that it’s important for you to know your local hunting laws. If I’ve suggested anything here that is illegal then feel free to pass on that suggestion.

Have you ever gone bow hunting? If not, would you give it a try? Comment below to share your thoughts.

I hope today’s post was interesting and hopefully you learned something new.

See you soon!