Cycling and Bowhunting: Yes, It’s a Thing
I want to ride my bicycle bicycle bicycle
I want to ride my bicycle
I want to ride my bike
I want to ride my bicycle
I want to ride it where I like
There was no mountain bike in western Oklahoma. No covert ride into an opening where wildlife aren’t so leery.
Instead, I was hunting on foot. There was an old, raised railroad bed to my right. The tracks were long since gone, but the raised earth was proof the train once passed through a cow pasture. The area was lush and vegetation thrived—rare in an otherwise dusty brown spot on the map—and, that morning, I was relaxed and mildly indifferent to whether we ended up seeing something grand.
After covering a short distance along a narrow path between fencerow and ridge, my wingman, a Vietnam vet and avid hunter, grabbed my shirtsleeve and pointed to the top of the old railroad bed. A mule deer was up there. Somehow we’d drawn close undetected. Beef cattle grazed behind my target. I’d been warned about this moments before. “Be sure you know what you’re doin’,” the vet said. “Kill a cow and it’s $400.” I didn’t kill a cow, but I did bag the deer.
Here’s the thing: You don’t just walk up on a wild animal like that, even if you are below its line of sight. But you do if the wind is whipping 30-plus mph. Our voices and footsteps were muffled, our approach unnoticed. It felt like such a coup. We were happy, idiot-benefactors of the wind.
But what if there was a way to harness such stealth without a covering wind? You know what? There is a way, indeed. A solid solution might be right there in your garage, covered in spider webs and mouse poop. The beautiful, stealth-inducing silencer is, in fact, a human-powered, pedal-driven bicycle; a simple mode of transportation developed around 1885.
Stealth on Two Wheels
“Covering several hundred yards quickly is a simple affair for a hunter on a bike,” said Carl Warmouth in an article for Game and Fish magazine. “Moreover, a bike seems to make less noise—or at least a less recognizable noise—than does someone walking.”
I tested this theory. I dusted off my old bike and road a trail I usually walk; up a tough, eroded incline, between a stand of hardwoods and a field of rye before topping out in a 60-acre orchard. I rode down a wide lane near the middle of the field, and by the time I reached the other side, I’d seen three deer and more than a dozen rabbits, two of which I almost ran over. I rarely see anything when walking this path.
Even Outside magazine—typically known for outdoor adventures that rarely involve hunting—touts the pleasantly surprising (and useful) combo of cycling and hunting:
Hunting and cycling may seem to have as much in common as skeet shooting and hacky sack, but mountain bikers who eat meat take note: bike-hunting is a growing thing. Now, there are hunters who’ve been using bikes for decades, but the rise of the fat bike—effectively a human-powered ATV—is making the practice easier.
Warmouth also noted the advantages of biking on public land. It can get you well off the main thoroughfares, past gates and away from hunters requiring roads and big trails; and even beyond those who hike.
In a way, the bike is to hunters what a backpack and willingness to hike is to fly-fishermen. The game is to get beyond the crowd and into wild trout streams or backcountry that others don’t dare attempt. In sum, a bike can heighten a hunt’s success rate, while also elevating the challenge by adding a layer of activity and endurance to a bowhunter’s dinner quest.
Q. I’ve got a pretty sweet mountain bike I use outside of hunting. Is it really necessary to paint it up and make it camouflage or can I leave the finish alone?
A. Leave the finish alone. Some guys paint their bikes camouflage, others sand them down to soften the sheen. But there’s always the option of camouflaging the bike the old-fashioned way: tuck it under brush, cut limbs to drape over the frame, or carry a camo burlap for covering.
Q. Should I buy a fat bike?
A. You can hunt with any bike and still achieve a silent approach. The bike increases the ground you cover and gets you into backcountry where ATVs are forbidden. A fat bike makes all that easier.
Here’s how Outside puts it: “There are hunters who’ve been using bikes for decades, but the rise of the fat bike—effectively a human-powered ATV—is making the practice easier. The broad tire contact patch and low gearing enable these rigs to crawl over loose, rugged, unconsolidated land.”
Q. Can you buy bow and gun racks for bikes?
A. Most hunters who have documented their bike-rigging voyages make their own racks or buy bow/gun holders designed to mount on an ATV rack or handlebars. Manufactured holders work just as well on bikes as on ATVs.
Q. Are bike lights necessary or overkill?
A. Lights are helpful. And when you’re navigating a forest in the predawn, well before you approach areas that require optimum stealth, you’d hate to wipe out on a tree root. But bike lights aren’t a must. Wear a headlamp or strap a light to the center of your handlebars.
Q. Can I hunt near bike trails on state and federal lands?
A. Always check with officials who manage the land you plan to hunt. Some areas allow hunting the woodlands surrounding bike trails, while others do not.
A version of this article was originally posted on Realtree.com.
To learn more about how to bowhunt, here are a few ways to get started:
- Check out Archery 360’s “Intro to Archery” for a quick introduction to different types of bows and how to shoot.
- Read the basics on where to hunt.
- Now that you’re armed with enough knowledge to ask serious questions, find a bowhunting shop in your community and talk to an expert, get some instruction and meet like-minded people.