Knowing when to keep an arrow on the string can be pretty tricky and it’s a divisive subject among bowhunters. The truth is, it’s a complicated subject and it will depend a lot on you and your equipment to make the right choice. So if you were hoping for a quick list of situations it’s appropriate to settle an argument… well, that’s not going to happen.
Instead we’ll educate you on the subject. So the next time someone asks when should you carry arrows in the nocked position you’ll be able to give them a quick run down.
A Quick Word About Bow Safety
The buck above was hit with a broadhead arrow. Falling on one will do pretty much the same thing to you.
Gun accidents tend to be more common, but that has two factors to it. The first is that guns tend to be favored by inexperienced hunters, and there’s simply more people out there with a rifle than a bow in any given year.
When you read the following, remember that walking with a nocked arrow is always going to be riskier than keeping the shaft in your quiver. We’re also going to discuss your personal skill level a bit, and it’s important that you don’t become overconfident and instead realistically assess where you’re at.
One of the most important things to take into account while you have an arrow knocked, particularly if you’re moving, is the point of the arrow you’re carrying. Blunt, bullet, and field points aren’t all that risky most of the time, but they can still cause serious injuries.
Walking with a broadhead on your bow is asking for trouble, particularly the expandable types. These arrows are meant to kill something the size of, or larger than, a human and they can certainly inflict a grevious injury.
Severing the femoral artery is an easy way to bleed out in a matter of minutes, meaning even an arrow through the leg has potential for fatal damage.
Take into account the rest of the factors here before you decide one way or the other, but we absolutely can’t recommend moving with a broadhead anywhere but your quiver in good faith.
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Terrain is Important
The terrain you’re on is a huge factor in whether or not you should be hunting with an arrow nocked. While in open, flat fields it’s generally safe you should definitely quiver the arrow if you’re on any kind of steep slope.
Another factor, in addition to safety, is the kind of flora you’ll be moving through. Arrows can snag on woody brush pretty easily, which makes noise and poses a risk of the arrow getting in you. The noise is the big reason.
Unfortunately, while in woods with a floor covering of brush is also one of the situations you may need an arrow the quickest, so it’s a trade off.
Put the arrow back if you’re on steep or uneven terrain. The fall risk simply isn’t worth it even if you’re part mountain goat.
If you’re hunting with a partner then keep the arrow put away Risking your own safety is one thing, but putting someone else at risk is absolutely unacceptable.
Anytime there’s more of a fall risk than normal, you don’t want the arrow at the ready.
Your choice in brush is pretty much up to you, but be extra careful around anything strong enough to knock the arrow off the string. Keep a tight grip regardless, dropping your arrow is dangerous to you and it can damage specialized broadheads as well.
Type of Hunting
The type of hunting you’re doing is also a big factor in your decision.
When you’re hunting on foot, there are basically two different “modes” you’ll be in.
Traveling refers to when you’re moving at a fairly brisk pace. Think of when you’re walking down the trail to where you’re planning on hunting. At this point there’s no need to increase the risk since it’s unlikely you’ll encounter any game.
Stalking is when you’re moving very, very slowly and using your senses to find game. If you’re a slow stalker, which is definitely a good thing, then having an arrow nocked can be a good idea. Just don’t focus on the arrow too much, as long as it’s on the string your risk of hurting yourself is pretty low.
Instead focus on being sure footed. Anyone who’s ever moved quietly on foot knows how careful and slow can be. If you need to hurry, then remove the arrow from the string until you’ve slowed down again.
Hunting from a tree stand or blind is a bit different. Since you’ll be stationary many hunters will keep an arrow nocked the whole time, waiting for their chance to get a shot. It’s not risk-free, but it’s a much different affair than when you’re actively moving.
Just make sure you have solid footing regardless.
You’ll need to assess how solid on your feet you are. If you’re naturally clumsy, then you’ll only want to nock an arrow during the final approach on game, this might mean a lessened chance of getting the shot, but it’s a lot better than bleeding out in the woods.
If you’re naturally careful and sure footed, then you’ll definitely be safer with an arrow nocked. Just remember not to be overconfident, accidents can happen and coming back empty handed is better than not coming back at all by a long shot.
Knowing when you should carry arrows in the nocked position can be a large part of hunting, but depending on the terrain, situation, and your own skills it’s largely a matter of common sense and personal judgement. If in doubt, leave it in the quiver. Be safe and enjoy your trip regardless, the tale of a buck that got away because you couldn’t get to your quiver in time is much better than getting hurt.
We know this is a divisive subject, care to throw your two cents in? Leave us a comment below.