Tools for Success: A Beginners Guide on Less is More
By Aaron Stonehocker
As the sun sets on the 2014 hunting seasons, I reflect on where I have been as a hunter. While breaking down my bow for the season without having launched a single arrow, I cannot help but feel as though this season was less than a success. Then I remember all of the great experiences I had interacting with my quarry the same way my ancestors have done for thousands of years. I think about how hard it must have been to ensure success with gear far less sophisticated than the gear we hunters enjoy today. God never said the life of a hunter will be easy, but every minute spent in the great outdoors is worth it. With history proving that a hunter can provide table fare with merely a fraction of what most hunters carry with them into the field today, I came up with a basic list of gear and accessories that will allow a hunter just starting out to take their share of game in Iowa: bow, shotgun, shells, arrows, clothes, knife, toilet paper (don’t settle on Mother Natures Brand), headlamp/ flash light, and range finder. These tools have proven to be the basic essentials I take afield in search of my prey. I will discuss what to look for in each to ensure success as an Iowa Sportsman.
Clothing is the most universal gear that a hunter will own. Iowa provides many hunting conditions from subzero late seasons to eighty plus degree early seasons. To accommodate this vast array of seasonal conditions, clothing should be used in layers. Clothes can be the most expensive investment, but you do not need a thousand dollars-worth of clothes to be successful. Find layers that will allow you to stay hidden, stay warm or cool, and a layer that will keep you dry. I would recommend starting with a water proof or resistant outer layer jacket and pants. This will allow a hunter to layer clothes that they have under the camo, keeping you hidden and comfortable without breaking the bank. As seasons go on, evaluate your unique hunting climate, and adjust your clothing as necessary. Find a pair of boots that are waterproof. Even a cheap rubber pair is great and can be as warm as you need them to be by adding layers of socks. Dressing for success is half the battle, now it is time for your weapon.
Archery season in Iowa provides some of the best whitetail and turkey hunting in the nation if not the world. Providing both early and late season opportunities as well as hunting the rut. There are three factors to consider in finding the right bow for you: price, draw length, and draw weight. Beyond these factors, most bows are differentiated by cosmetic variation. Choose your price point and find the bow that fits you best. If you are going with a compound set up, it would be wise to get a sight and a release to ensure the best accuracy. These two components come in a range of prices and have seemingly infinite options, so here are a few pointers to simplify the process of finding one for your set up.
On my first archery hunt I realized that a fifty yard shot in Iowa timber is almost non-existent. Bow sights realistically need three pins. When hunting primarily timber, I would recommend sighting the pins to 15, 25, and 35 yards. When hunting over more open country or timber edge, sight the pins for 20, 30, and 40 yards. Longer shots are just not common enough to worry about. A basic three pin sight, with pins that are easy to see, and practice will keep you on target with your compound archery set up.
Releases are a little trickier to finding the one that best fits you. There are several styles of release aids, but for hunting you will want to stick with a wrist strap style release. I prefer buckle straps as they are quieter during the draw than velcro. The main goal is to find one that has the right length to complement your draw length, and allows you to find a comfortable anchor point for the draw. I would recommend going to a range or store where you can try several and find the one that you are most comfortable and consistent with.
You will also want to find an arrow rest that fits your hunting style. If you plan to carry your bow for stalking or hold it in any position in the tree, I would recommend a whisker biscuit style rest. These are great for beginners, have no moving parts, and hold your arrow in place. If you want to spend a little more money, you can explore the world of drop-away rests and other styles on the market.
Unless you fashion them with a pocket knife and a tree limb, most arrows on the market are straight enough to hunt with. The two main factors in finding arrows are budget and spine strength. After finding arrows you like in your price range, find the corresponding spine strength to your bows draw weight. Most arrow companies have charts that reflect the spine number to draw weight. If you have any questions ask an archery expert. Too weak of an arrow can end badly for you and your bow as well as too strong of arrow.
You will need broad heads to complete your arsenal. Of the hundreds of broad head options and styles available, I am in favor of the hybrid styles that have outward facing expandable blades. These ensure that the blades cut regardless of expansion, and allow for increased accuracy due to less surface area. Find a pack that fits your budget, and make sure to take them out to practice. A well placed arrow is more important in harvesting game than the choice of broad head.
The last two options are less than essential for hunting, but prove to be a valuable addition to the archer’s arsenal. A stabilizer is a good tool to improve accuracy, consistency, and dampen vibration. There are several styles so take some time and find the one that fits your style and budget. You will also want to explore peep sights for your string. These are in-expensive and ensure your eyes are aligned with the sight. Now that we have simplified the complexity of bow hunting, let’s explore the basics of gun hunting.
There are two main options for gun hunting in Iowa: shotgun and muzzleloader. In terms of versatility, I will discuss the shotgun and its accessories. The best part of shotgun hunting is that a good gun will allow you to hunt almost anything just by changing the shot size or type. When picking a shotgun, you will first want to consider the type of action you desire, which will be influenced first by your budget. I have witnessed a man hand feed slugs through a single shot faster than a guy shooting a semi-auto at the same deer, so more importantly, find a gun that feels good to handle. Make sure that your finger can comfortably reach the trigger and safety without having to readjust your grip. Once you find the gun that fits you, make sure to check out the used rack for great deals on guns that are practically new.
After you have found a gun that is priced right and comfortable to handle and operate, it is time to choose your shells. The two most universal gauges for shotguns are the twelve and twenty gauge. Either will take any game in the state with the right load. When hunting small game and dove, I like to shoot shot sizes 8 through 6. For pheasants shot sizes 6 through 4 are adequate, and for turkeys, I would recommend 5 through 2.