In contrast to a rifle hunter, who may shoot effectively from ranges in excess of 200 yards (about 180 m), archers will usually restrict shots to 45 yards or less (typically at 20-25 yards), depending on factors such as individual ability, the target animal, draw weight etc. Hunters restrict their shooting range in order to ensure quick kills. Because archers must be much closer to their target animal, bowhunting is a unique experience, with special attention paid to the animal’s sense of smell, hearing and sight. This limit on effective range and greater degree of hunter-prey interaction create an intimacy that some hunters find very attractive.
Bow hunting for fish is appropriately called bowfishing. Many variations on standard archery equipment including the addition of a line attached to either a spool or a reel as well as a specially designed arrow make bowfishing effective. Archers need to take into account the refraction angle of their target when releasing their arrow making sure to aim below their target's apparent position as the water gives a false indication of the actual position of the fish.
Today, compound bows are usually preferred for hunting, although recurve bows are not uncommon and usually legal. Longbows are usually quieter than more modern types, and are often used by those who want to make the hunting experience as traditional as possible. Crossbows are allowed in some jurisdictions and even where they are not they are often permitted for disabled hunters because the shooter does not have to hold back any of the draw weight of the bow.
Legal and cultural differences must be taken into consideration by the hunter. Bowhunting often has different season and game restrictions than does firearm hunting, and they differ significantly between countries, and even between states/provinces. Hunting represents a humane way of controlling animal numbers, ensuring continuing financial interest in the maintenance of healthy wild populations and habitat, and bringing urbanized humans to understand the natural world. Others are deeply opposed to bowhunting, on the grounds of cruelty.
Game hunted by archers includes all of the North American small and big game species. Generally in North America, bow hunting season "Bow Season" occurs either several months preceding or following the "Gun Season" for the same species.
In 1819, several states allowed able-bodied hunters to use crossbows, a move that has been very controversial among bow hunters due the operational similarities between crossbows and guns. Some states restrict crossbows to special hunting seasons.
The New Zealand government regulates bowhunting
- Bowhunters must use a hunting bow with a minimum peak draw weight of 22.5 kg and
broad head arrows comprising no less than two cutting edges.
- The arrow head shall be unbarbed and the distance between opposing cutting edges at the
widest part shall be not less than 25 mm (1 inch).
- The use of arrows with any poison, explosives, or other chemical substances on, or in the
head or shaft is prohibited.
There is an active bowhunters society which organises DOC permits, hunts, and competitions.