bowhunting compound bows

What Can You Hunt With a Compound Bow? More Than You Think!

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Bowhunting is popular in many regions of the world including North America and Europe.  If you’re new to bowhunting or looking to get started you might not know what you can actually hunt with a compound bow.  The answer may surprise you.

With the proper setup you can hunt a wide range of animals with a compound bow including those as small as squirrels and as large as Moose.  In addition to the proper setup it’s also important to check local laws to be sure the animal you wish to hunt is legal to harvest in the area you are hunting.

This general answer can easily be expanded upon in two ways.  The first being what animals a compound bow is capable of taking down, and the second is what animals are legal to bow hunt.  

The legal aspect varies depending on where you live and/or decide to hunt.  It’s best to always check the local conservation laws and obtain all proper licensing and tags for the animal you wish to hunt

Protected and endangered species are obviously off limits and carry hefty fines if you choose to ignore the laws.

What Animals can you successfully take with a Compound Bow?

Some of the most common animals that are bow hunted include deer, turkey, and bear.  But there are many many more animals you can hunt successfully with a properly equipped compound bow.

Generally speaking, the larger the animal you are hunting the higher draw weight required.  Most states have a minimum draw weight requirement listed for various game animals. A 40lb draw weight is a good place to start but you’ll need to go higher than that for some big game species.

Animals like Elk, Moose, Bear, and other big game targets will require a more powerful bow to hunt both legally and successfully. ALWAYS check the local laws and regulations for the area you wish to hunt. 

Let’s jump into some examples of both common and uncommon game animals you can hunt with a compound bow.

5 Common Game Animals that are bow hunted

#1 White Tailed Deer

White Tailed Deer Buck, Doe, and fawn

White tailed deer are the most commonly hunted game animal in the United States with 6.9 million total deer harvested during the 2020-21 season.  According to the NDA’s Deer Report 26% of those deer were taken by archers. 

The white tailed deer is one of the most abundant wild animals found in the United states.  They are also Native in parts of Canada, Central America, and even South America as far south as Peru.

The average weight of these deer is 100 pounds for females and 150 pounds for male.  Adults stand roughly 3.5 feet tall at the shoulder.  They are brown in color and have a large white patch on their tails from which they get their name.

#2 Mule Deer

Male Mule Deer

Mule deer are the larger cousin of the whitetail.  These gray colored brutes can reach over 300lbs in weight and nearly 4 feet tall at the shoulder.  Their increased size as compared to white tailed deer doesn’t slow them down however as they can reach speeds up to 45 mph.

You can find Mule deer in western North America stretching from Mexico to Northern Canada.  Mature Mule deer are known to be tougher to hunt than whitetails so you need to bring your A-game.

#3 Black Bear

Black Bear in the woods

The average person usually tries to avoid encounters with the likes of a black bear, but there are plenty of bowhunters that go in search of one.  Bear meat is definitely different from deer meat and in my experience can be a tad gristly for my liking, but lots of people like it.

While black bears are considered a medium sized bear, adult males can grow to be over 600 pounds in weight.  These omnivorous bears live only in North American forests and can be found as far south as Florida and as far north as Alaska and Northern Canada.

If you’re bowhunting these animals it’s recommended to use a minimum draw weight of 50 pounds, though legal requirements vary.

#4 Wild Turkey

a tom and 6 hen turkeys

Turkeys are one of the most popular game animals hunted in the USA.  A Thanksgiving feast favorite, the population of this wild bird has been on the rise in recent times.  Here in the Northeastern part of the US I see turkeys in the wild almost daily and often in large groups.

Bowhunting turkey can be a bit more of a challenge due to their smaller size, so make sure you’re practicing those well placed shots.

As with any other game animal you can use a fixed or expandable broadhead when hunting turkey.  However, you also have an additional option called a guillotine.  This type of arrow tip is intended to be used for head shots and requires greater accuracy. 

#5 Elk

an elk calling

We don’t have elk where I live, but they are a commonly hunted big game animal in many regions.  The elk is one of the largest members of the deer family and can reach weights in excess of 700 pounds.

Elk are found in North America as well as central and eastern Asia.  Bowhunting elk will require a higher draw weight than what’s needed for smaller deer such as the whitetail.  A 50 pound draw weight is the lowest recommended amount, but regulations vary as well.

5 Less Common Game Animals You Can Bow Hunt

#1 Moose

a bull moose in some brush

Moose are common to hunt in some areas but overall most people will never end up bowhunting a moose.  This is because they are found only in 19 US states and Canada.  In addition many states have a “lottery” that you have to enter and be chosen in order to hunt moose.

These big boys (and girls) are the largest members of the deer family and can reach 1500 pounds and stand up to 7 feet tall at the shoulder.

My uncle won the chance to hunt moose when I was a kid here in my home state and he shot one with a rifle.  We ate lots of moose meat that year, and it was delicious.

#2 Wild Hogs

wild boar in the woods

No I’m not talking about Tim Allen and his band of wannabe biker friends (seen here on IMDb).  I mean actual wild hogs, also known as wild boar, feral hogs, and wild pigs.  These animals are native to Eurasia and North Africa but were introduced to the Americas where they quickly made themselves at home.

These “little” piggies can grow to over 200 pounds and I’ve heard they’re good eating too.  The wild hog has a keen sense of smell but terrible eyesight making it possible to sneak into bow hunting range rather easily if you’re down wind.

#3 Coyotes

coyote walking

Coyotes aren’t very good for eating but they can be hunted for other good reasons.  Coyotes are a threat to many farmers and their livestock for example.  Another reason for hunting them is for population control which helps the ecosystem as a whole.

These canines are wily and you’re not likely to sneak up on one so bowhunting them can be a challenge, which is perhaps part of the fun.  They are smaller than wolves, typically weighing in at 30-40 pounds.

#4 Sheep

A bighorn sheep on rocks

I don’t mean the ones at your local farm or petting zoo.  I’m talking about wild sheep which come in various types.  A few examples would be  Dall sheep, Bighorn sheep, Stone sheep, and more

These wild sheep can be found in various regions of the world but one of the most commonly hunted in North America is the Bighorn sheep.  You can find this type of sheep commonly in places such as the Rocky Mountains, parts of California, and even desert areas such as New Mexico.

#5 Rodents and Rabbits

a rabbit, squirrel, capybara, and groundhog

I decided to group together a few animals into this category rather than cover them separately.  Rodents and rabbits (rabbits aren’t rodents, they are lagomorphs) can be fun and challenging to hunt.  

For the smaller members of this group you can often use blunt rubber tips on your arrows to avoid destroying much of the meat.  For anything larger than a squirrel or small rabbit you may want to switch to broadheads.

Here’s an incomplete list of rodents and rabbits you could bowhunt:

  • Squirrels
  • Rabbits
  • Hares
  • Groundhogs
  • Capybara

Bowhunting Exotic Animals

In addition to the classic wildlife people hunt all over the world, there’s also people who hunt what you might classify as exotic animals.  Sometimes this includes animals that fall into the category of trophy hunting, which is a bit of a controversial topic.

Many people see this as heartless and cruel and purely sport.  Because some of these animals are not taken to eat it’s seen as wasteful.  However, there are responsible ways to trophy hunt that have been proven to help the local ecosystems. 

Whether trophy hunting or hunting exotic animals for food, be sure to check on laws and regulations.  In many cases you will have to hire an outfit that provides the hunt. Here’s some exotic animals you could bow hunt.

Wildebeest, Antelope, Impala, and even Zebra!

a wildebeest, zebra, antelope, and impala

This group of exotic animals found in the African plains are all able to be taken down with a bow.  The specifics of each are ever changing as conservation efforts manage the population responsibly, so do your research before hopping on a plane.

I could see one of these being on a bowhunter’s bucket list, imagine mounting a zebra head over your fireplace.  Now that’s a conversation piece!


3 Lions laying down

Not for the faint of heart I’d imagine, but you can bow hunt lions in South Africa.  Again this all depends on the current conservation efforts, rules, and regulations.

These apex predators can weigh over 400 pounds and run up to 50mph, that’s not a kitty cat I want to mess with.  That doesn’t stop people from embarking on lion bow hunting adventures though. Maybe you’d like to try your luck against one of the world’s best killing machines.

There are so many more animals you could hunt with a compound bow that I didn’t even touch on here. Check the conservation regulations for the area you wish to hunt for more information.

Jason Brooks

I've been involved with archery for over 25 years off and on and am always interested in learning as much as I can. I've taken part in local tournaments and even 3D course setup.