Renowned Archer Offers Tips For Bowhunters

The only woman to bag the “Big Five” in Africa, Joella Bates of Waverly, Tenn., arrowed an elephant, lion, rhinoceros, cape buffalo, and leopard in a single safari lasting less than 30 days! For the rhino, she practiced “green hunting,” shooting the beast with a tranquilizer dart so biologists could examine it and then release it unharmed.

She also competed in professional archery contests, winning five 3-D Archery World Championship titles as well as many other titles at various levels. Since 1989, she has harvested more than 65 different animal species by bow. In 2001, she arrowed a wild turkey grand slam. She offers these tips to prepare for hunting season.

Tip 1: Check the equipment before hunting
“If a bow has been sitting in a closet for a long time, do some routine maintenance on it before hunting. Strings can dry rot. When hunting, the string brushes against briers and many other things that can damage it. A new string doesn’t cost much, but a broken string can cause someone to miss the animal of a lifetime. When I was shooting competitively, I routinely replaced my strings and cables two or three times a year. For hunting, I replace my strings and cables every two years. I also recommend that archers periodically take their bows to a professional shop for routine maintenance and tune-ups.”

Joella Bates with a buck she arrowed. (Photos courtesy of Joella Bates)

Tip 2: Don’t make any changes after the season begins
“Archers always want to use the latest and greatest technology, but they should not make any radical equipment changes after the season begins. Sportsmen should allow themselves enough time to practice and gain familiarity with new equipment until using it becomes automatic. For instance, I like to use a yellow or chartreuse pin for my 20-yard sight pin because I can see it best under low-light conditions. Years ago, someone sent me a sight that had pins in different orders. When I got into a pressure situation, I picked the wrong pin and shot over the animal.”

Tip 3: Practice how you hunt
“Most people hunt whitetails from treestands. Practice from the same height, or better, practice from that exact treestand at the same height if possible. Also, shoot the poundage you plan to use when hunting. Look through the peep sight at the same angle and always use the same draw length. Also practice shooting standing up and sitting down. One never knows when someone who normally shoots standing up will need to take a shot sitting down. When sitting down, tighten the abdominal muscles. Keep the drawing elbow up high, especially when shooting from a sitting position. When shooting from a treestand, most archers twist their bodies to shoot at something behind them. That’s not good. Instead, slowly shift your feet to get into a position where you can make a good shot. You want your feet to be perpendicular to the target animal. Get into a good, strong position before making the shot to make the best possible shot.”

Tip 4: Wear hunting clothes even in practice
“Practice in the clothing that you plan to wear when hunting. In the South, early season is typically warm, but mosquitoes may be really bad. When I’m hunting in the South, I like to wear my bug suit with fluttering leaves on it. If mosquitoes are really bad, sportsmen may need to hunt with nets over their heads so they should practice that way. I also use a hard plastic arm guard because it has the least adverse affect on shot accuracy.”

Bates with a leopard.

Tip 5: Read the animal’s body language and pick shots carefully
“It’s a shame to spend so much time in the woods waiting for a shot opportunity and then mess it up. A spooked animal is more alert and jumpy so it’s much more difficult to shoot. Don’t take any marginal shots that might wound an animal.

Practice to gain confidence shooting at a certain distance and angle and wait for that shot. Concentrate on making the best shot possible and follow through. By that, I mean I keep aiming at the spot that I want to hit even after the arrow leaves the bow. Too many people get in a hurry to see where their arrow goes. I continue to aim and watch the arrow impact through the sights.”

Bates also teaches archery clinics all over the country. If any group wishes to invite her to teach a clinic, contact her through her Facebook page at or send an e-mail to

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