The 10 Commandments of Bowhunting – Johnny Costello

The 10 Commandments of Bowhunting – Johnny Costello

The 10 Commandments of Bowhunting – Johnny Costello

During my journey along the heavenly path of bowhunting I have acquired a certain set of summons to abide by. This list lengthened as my seasons raced along, but now this ole’ man has finally settled into the reality that these compiled “commandments”, if you will, are protocol for me to feel unabridged during my preparations, as well as during my time spent in the wondrous wild I have come to love and cherish. I have learned to practice all of these “religiously” in order to give me the highest percentage of a chance of experiencing even one extra encounter with any form of wildlife than I would have otherwise. This includes birds, varmints, predators, and the like. My ultimate goal is to have everything naturally come to life around me like I wasn’t even there. This is my belief, and here is how I pursue it.


A – Hunt strictly and steadily with every subtle step while the wind is in the forefront of my thoughts.

B – Employ optimum cleanliness, achieved with scent-preventative (non-UV) clothing, proper soaps, shampoos, sprays, deodorants, detergents, and scent-proof boots and gloves. This will minimize the chances of catastrophe when the wind unpredictably changes in a moment. I have learned that these simple solutions have repeatedly given me that few more seconds I needed to reposition, back out, or sneak a shot off. I’m also certain that these applications weaken your scent enough to momentarily confuse even the smartest of animals downwind from you. I also believe some products can actually eliminate your smell as long as you aren’t profusely sweating, or if you have been eating the wrong foods during the season. This is a critical factor that should not be ignored.

C – When I am in the hunt I use the finest deer, elk, predator, and cover scents always. I have found this to be one of the most determining factors I put upon myself. My blinds are kept scent-free when not in use, and are sprayed down and cover-scented with “Evercalm” before each and every hunt.

D – My treestands and blinds are strategically placed with extensive thought involved. Thermals, predominant winds, weather forecasts, bull and buck travel corridors between feeding, bedding, and waterholes, existing shade, shelter, shooting lanes, scrapes, rub lines, wallows and good background are all studied and respected accordingly to prevent detection…. long before I ever commit to installing my stands.

E – When treestand hunting I never leave my pull-ropes or lifelines hanging. They will eventually become a 30 ft. human scent-wick while waving a huge red flag to mature animals. I use the wind-up pull ropes, and of course this is where owning high-quality scent-proof gloves becomes insistent. My ladders and steps are always “handled” with the same consideration every climb.

F –  Peeing and squatting is unpreventable, but leaving a scent trail is. I always carry a pee-bottle in my pack. Avoid a plastic one (I had one break in my pack once.. say no more). I use aluminum or glass with a sock stretched over it to muffle the sound. When I’m  facing a #2  I get pretty creative as to how and where this gets done. Your strategic burying capabilities are cardinal at this point, and this reality should not be neglected. I carry a large “back-up” freezer bag in my pack for treestand hunting. Yup..that’s right. This “matter” may contaminate your area for a whole season if you so desire, so 911’s should be expected and prepared for thoroughly. Luckily, learning self-control of my faculties buys me plenty of time.

G – How I get to and from a stand is a priority. There is always a right way and a wrong way, and it always pertains to the wind. After learning the right way I mark my path with reflectors for night travel. Normally I develop two ways going to and from because of wind and thermal changes at different times of the day. I habitually clear anything that may rub against me and I always off-set my own path from active game trails.


A – Practice shooting year-round. Become as one with your bow and keep it that way. Adjust consequently with the stretching of the string. Avoid over-shooting. (Please take note that I use the words “practice” and “memories” often in this article. Bear with me, for these words serve each other very well, and exemplifies the whole point I’m trying to make.

B – Learning to read yardage may be one of the most important demands of all. Of course I use a rangefinder, but mostly for developing instinctive sight/shooting habits and for making yardage landmarks in my stand perimeters. However, long-distance shooting is a whole different ballgame. Every yard matters, therefore requiring extensive practice and analysis in the field. This is why my rangefinder is always within reach. The same goes for treestand or blind shooting. Degree of angled shots from high elevations and making accurate shots through portholes while sitting or kneeling can be very difficult to achieve without constant practice. Lifesize 3D targets along with obstacles between us can help dramatically during this type of rehearsal. Always envision the vitals of your quarry when taking aim. See the eventual exit wound and what’s in-between it and “the spot” before placing your shot.

C – Maintain consistent tuning of your bow and arrows. Paper-tune often and listen for unwanted noises during your release. String-stretch can cause big changes in these areas, so beware. Tuning arrows is a kick to me. I eventually will find my best flying arrows and number them. I will always have a favorite (I have an arrow that has killed 3 bucks in a row and counting). I have this really cool “Goat-tuff fletching tool” that makes it easy for me to systematically develop and maintain “Fave-5’s” for my quiver. Just like muscle cars, what’s under the “hood” is what wins…not looks.

D – Take every measure possible to quiet your bow. The things an animal is capable of doing once your release is heard almost defies logic.

E – Keep your bows, releases, and treestands lubed and inspect them frequently for loose parts etc.

F – Keep all of your gear scent-free, even during the off-season. This includes packs and boots. An Ozonics system at home accomplishes this easily, or simply storing everything separately from the inside of the house in a scent-free area will serve the purpose

G – Safety must be exercised at all times. Lifelines, harnesses, and climbing savvy are crucial when hunting off the ground. Importantly, I have the very best lighting systems for getting in and out in the dark. The art of hanging a treestand safely is paramount, not only during the installation but also for the critical climb in and out. Arrow clearance must be checked immediately with each hunt, especially when blind hunting. I draw back with an arrow knocked and test for obstacles and clearance daily.

H – Shooting with all of your gear on and with broadheads attached to your arrows is vital when preparing for opening day.

I – Always inspect your arrows for weak or cracked shafts, damaged nocks and bent inserts.


A – Purchase quality layering systems for every type of weather condition. Have breathable apparel for hot conditions. I believe it to be a must to wear super-quiet fleece (or something comparable) when “calm weather” bowhunting. This is a prerogative to me. I always test my suit by simply drawing back a few times and listening carefully for unwanted sounds, because I know my prey is for sure.

B – Once again, scent control garments are a mainstay in my arsenal.

C – Own different camo-patterns so you have the freedom to choose which one suits your surroundings best. Be sure to have black for blind hunting. I simply carry a black pullover, gloves, and mask in my pack when hunting from a blind.

D – Give yourself choices of good footwear for different climates, terrain, and wet weather conditions. Traction, comfort, quietness, warmth/coolness, and dryness are key in the outdoor world. I always have more than one pair of wet weather boots available to me to switch out when possible.

E – Extremely high-quality raingear is instrumental here in the Northwest. Once again you should find the best quality and quietest suit offered I’ve learned that what I wear under my raingear can significantly improve the quietness of it. Of course if it’s windy or raining hard this usually isn’t a factor.

F – The bows I have chosen are the best money can buy. I do not settle for less in this area. They are fast, light, forgiving, smooth, quiet, and extremely accurate. If I blow a shot it is most definitely all on me, and I subsequently have to live with that. There are many excellent bows available to us these days, so this isn’t as difficult to achieve as some of the other goals I’ve mentioned.  My machines are decorated with the finest accessories I could find, and are treated like my best friends. I guess you could say they are carefully coddled. Own a quality hard case. Accessories make the difference.

G – My trigger release is also a pampered and petted piece of genius. I just can’t believe the technology that is offered to us in this respect. Mine fits like a glove, functions smoothly with a hair trigger, it’s fully adjustable with a ball-bearing 360 degree rotating head that smoothly eliminates torque, all while being virtually indestructible.

H – The arrows and broadheads I shoot are just as important to me as my bow. To be frugal in this department would be asinine. I own the straightest shafts in the world and I married them to the most taming vanes available. Then I capped them with the deadliest, sharpest, best flying broadheads on the shelf. Maintain the razor edge of your broadheads as they age. The end result is they fly like darts, cut like butter, and paper test perfectly. (Be sure to choose the proper stiffness splines for your bow.) The flight of my arrows are the essence of my being, along with the crimson results. My freezer continues to show proof of this.

I – My Optics are simply an extension of my eyesight. My eyesight has brought me my string of success. These extra pair of eyes are not only like having x-ray vision to find even the most hidden trophies, they can even tell you how far away they are. It’s like having one of God’s ultimate gift in your hands. I carry the very best on the market for this reason.

J – The packs I wear are an extension of my home. They need to be quiet, comfortable, waterproof, and large enough to carry all of the essentials to keep me predating at a high-octane level, and to keep me in the field longer. It’s substantial to have the right packs for the right hunt. I own the finest. If you’re like me you are carrying things like water, flashlights, matches, GPS and compass, first-aid kit, card reader (if needed), food, raingear, phone, wipes, scent killer, scents, extra clothes (when needed), pee bottle, ziplocs, processing tools, extra batteries, rope, calls, ribbon, rattle horns (when needed), spotting scope (when needed), and 5 hour energy drinks etc. Organization of all of these items are key for success.


A –  We all know the weather can become a huge obstacle in our quest to succeed. However, with each condition comes a potential strategy that can turn it in your favor. Obviously snow can be extremely helpful by assisting the hunter with improved tracking abilities. Also most prey becomes much easier to spot. Usually your quarry won’t realize this until it’s too late. When it’s nasty they become more mobile in order to find available food. I love sinking an arrow into a trophy under these conditions. I will most definitely enjoy easy blood trailing. Of course rain quiets the forest floors and fields and deadens your sound with it’s own. Depending on what type of game you are pursuing they all react to rain a certain way that can be relatively easy to predict. Study this well during your pursuits. Dry hot weather creates advantages as well. Waterholes become a magnet to all living things.The ground becomes incredibly noisy, becoming a huge advantage to the still/stand hunter. The same noises you contend with from bugs, squirrels, birds, and other movements they need to decipher as well. This helps cover sounds you may make in a stand, or at least confuses them as to what  the sound is from. Animals seek cool dark places on Norheastern slopes during the heat of the day, giving you an advantage to locate, intercept, and capitalize on their bedding areas. Windy conditions can also increase your chances of stalking animals for similar reasons. With all of the movement from leaves, branches, grasses, and the swaying and cracking of trees, your movement becomes less pronounced. Calm, quiet conditions require the hunter to be the best he can be to avoid detection, but this can also improve his visibility and ability to pick up sound and movement. Fog doesn’t necessarily hinder the bowhunter either. This condition allows some movement when needed, and your scent doesn’t carry nearly as far.

B – Predators can change the face of a scape overnight. This is usually short-lived, but their activity stirs up movement and increases the travels of their prey while taking them out of their normal routine. This enhances the chance of them making a crucial mistake, as is the intent of the predator’s pressure. When my trail cameras show me this type of activity, I often keep hunting the same area. This choice has served me well. Besides, the excitement of having this company around me is what I call a bonus.

C – When camping becomes necessary I have the finest tent and sleeping gear I can afford. I optimize my comfort so I can rest thoroughly. Without proper rest I would quickly unravel and become useless in the field. To eat well and stay dry and warm/cool is of the utmost importance.

D – Egos and jealousy are somewhat common in the hunting world, especially in the difficult field of archery. Frustration can sometimes be overwhelming when attempting to bring home a mature trophy, and many times I have seen this problem ripple into families, friendships, and even amongst total strangers. This can be very detrimental to the hunter and to the sport itself. We all have a responsibility to represent our sport with class and dignity if we want our rights to withstand the forces of our adversaries. I have witnessed reactions from hunters about hunters that has been nothing short of pathetic. Most of us praise our fellow hunters’ successes, and this praise is more than likely returned when we prevail ourselves. Gossip and hearsay can spread like a cancer from one bad apple, and can eventually turn someone’s celebration into a nightmare. Competition can be very heavy and wearing on the sportsman, so if size matters to you it should be pursued with class and respect for all others around you. I’ve learned that genuinely honoring other archers’ successes has a way of bringing good fortunes back to me. I’m more interested in seeking knowledge from them than seeking revenge. These poor actions contaminate our pride with poison. Modern bowhunting is far different than the past. There are so many of us pounding the brush these days that we tend to overlap more frequently. As populations increase our domains are shrinking. These concerns are putting more of a demand on us than ever before to exercise good sportsmanship and conservation at all levels. We need to stand by one another like brothers. If I want to sleep better and hunt better I praise my fellow hunters. When the changing of the guards occurs our children will thank us for it.

E – A man’s work and home life can have an enormous impact on how we practice and hunt the way our hearts want us to. Some people are blessed more than others but I’m not one of them. This is a very difficult paradox that needs to be handled cautiously, but it can be done. Adjust to your own means. For example, 20 arrows a day isn’t a bad practice. Being limited to hunting on weekends, as frustrating as it is, seems to be working ok for me. Of course it has everything to do with preseason scouting and stand preparation. I actually do my homework year round in this respect. I’m fortunate enough to have a soulmate who has been willing to learn to video and hunt with me while helping with preparations etc. This not only relieves pressure in our home it is a huge asset in the field as well. The joy that this has brought is priceless. This arrangement should at least be considered, when possible.

F – Logging and land development can sometimes seem catastrophic initially, but with careful studying you can turn this nightmare into a dream come true.

That’s exactly what my partner Tim Thomas, Lisa, and myself did this past season. We took advantage of the fresh 300 acre clearcut that changed the face of our stomping grounds by quickly analyzing the changing movements of the local deer herds. This led us straight to brand new “honey-holes”, as we went 3 for 3 on elusive Blacktail bucks. Learn your area well and you will almost always find the answer.


A – I’m never deterred by lack of activity. I shift gears, move to another stand, make new stands, study trail cameras thoroughly, and if need be I travel to other areas that I have prepared during pre-season. I’d like to think of myself as a problem solver, while showing patience and a burning desire to keep hunting.

B –  I accept discomfort. No matter how hard I try to avoid discomfort I always wind up enduring it, especially when stand/still hunting. I stay put, stay strong, stay focused, and stay still.

C – Extreme obstacles, such as steep rugged terrain, swamps, slashy forest floors, rivers, creeks, thickets, deep snow and ice, poison oak, and blackberries can slow a hunter down to a crawl. With proper physical and mental conditioning these barriers can be embraced and conquered.

D – I devote all daylight hours to being successful. Yes, this does include rest when necessary.

E – No matter how physically or mentally demanding your job is, when you get home pick it up a couple of notches and get after it, whether it’s practicing, scouting, stand preps, or hunting itself. Make every minute count.

F – I always sneak into my areas way before daylight, and in the evenings I stay put until after dark. For whatever reason animals don’t seem to spook as much when they can’t see you well. When my identity is limited many of my spots stay active even when I bump the animals I’m pursuing.

G – I get to bed very early so I can wake up early… every morning. I refuse to rush after waking, for this is when I forget things and make mistakes. The last thing I want to do is to have to rush into a stand or to where a herd has previously been found. This is no way to start your day.


A – When it comes to bowhunting I’m a “no holds barred” kind of guy. I try all new breakthroughs with enthusiasm. If something helps even a little bit I throw it in my arsenal. If I experience even just one little encounter more than I would have if I didn’t use these products then I am a happy camper. I like having every advantage I possibly can to help bring the bacon home, and to create incredible memories on top of it. I’ve read so many critics reviews that express doubt about some of the products I use. I can only say “huwhaaaaat?” My experiences don’t lie, and I will not be influenced otherwise. There are many hunters that are not the “bells and whistles” type, as they put it, and they like to try to get things done traditionally. To those hunters, I salute you. However, I personally like alot of action with success as the result, and I’ll do whatever I can to increase my odds.

B – Scent control products are advancing rapidly, and I am one who is always watching to see what’s next. I am a huge fan of carbon and silver, as well as with hygiene, detergent, and soap and spray products.

C – HECS garments have brought my hunting experiences to a whole new level. I consider this product to be a major breakthrough in the industry. My encounters have multiplied with bizarre “never seen before” episodes happening right in front of my eyes..great ones that I will never forget. These memories are priceless to me, so why put a price tag on them?

D-  Bow silencing products have truly come a long way. I want my bow to be as silent as it can be, for I have watched far too many slow-mo videos of bucks jumping the string and ducking and dodging perfectly tossed arrows only to disappear into the shadows. Silence is golden, so seek it.

E – The mechanics of bows are improving at an alarming rate, and this is one of the coolest trends to be following. Cams are improving every year, bows keep getting faster, lighter, quieter, and more accurate. Tradional bows are getting almost too beautiful to shoot. Speed is maintaining with lighter poundage bows. Shorter bows are becoming more forgiving. Now you can change draw lengths without a press? These advancements are very exciting to me.

F- Bow accessories have been keeping the pace with the bows they clothe. Sights have transformed into artwork, while making it so much easier to sight in these days, along with the brightest of pins. Stabilizers are futuristic. Arrow rests defy logic, as they have become everything from self contained to offering total arrow clearance, regardless of bow speed. Detachable, lighted Quivers from under the hood and on top? Wow! Man does this help prevent damage and hang-ups when pulling a bow up into a treestand in the dark. Trigger releases have become a micro-machined miracle, with accomplishments like torque elimination and fold-away features. Bowstring improvements have solved so many problems of the past, such as twist and stretch issues. Even bow waxes are becoming more sophisticated. Do I sound excited? You’d better believe I am.

G – The arrow arena has it’s own reasons to be applauded. Shafts are truer and tougher than ever before with unmatched penetration advancements. .001 straightness? Holy cow!! Strength in tiny diameters? Sheeet! Competition in the vane industry has forced the making of the most taming and toughest vanes in history. The choices of broadheads that these products thrust have simply been blowing me away. Now when they say “it flies like a field-point” they actually mean it. When you hear them saying “it will change blood trails forever” it’s actually true. Also, the technology in mechanical broadheads has reached an all-time high. Because of this it’s putting pressure on the many stubborn states to finally legalize mechanicals for big game. This is cool stuff happening and we get to reap from it.

H – Blinds and their accessories have shown vast improvements. Blind webs are at the top of the list in my book. To be able to weave surrounding foliage onto my blinds has made a night and day difference in our success rate on the ground. Quality bowholders and comfortable adjustable seat options also show special improvements. Treestands have become more comfortable than ever. Ladder stands are even becoming more trick these days.

I – Lifeline safety ropes are an outstanding achievement. These are a must to the tree guy. Harnesses have evolved to be light and comfortable with no restrictions while being much easier to put on, especially in the dark.

J –  Optics have become astonishingly improved. The ARC system in rangefinders is beneficial for elevated hunting tactics. Having the rangefinder engineered into the binoculars is also a major breakthrough. Water-proofing has finally been achieved.

K –  Finely detailed and realistic turkey decoys have shown one of the most impressive advancements to the bowhunter.

L – Calls have become extraordinarily improved upon. Diaphragms are comfortable and easy to use, rattle bags are convenient and work well, bugles have become refined, box calls, slates, and strikers keep advancing, and predator calling machines are off the grid.


A – The older I get the more aware I become of that for me to keep my chops up I need to keep shooting..shooting..shooting. If I don’t I seem to get a little lacks-a-daisy about even the basic fundamentals of proper shooting form. This only leaves me with having to re-polish my skills when the seasons sneak up on me. Rather than stumble through the frustration of it all I force myself to stay in touch with my bow year round. Besides, there are always variables that need constant attention when it comes to the mechanics of a bow. String-stretch and twist alone requires adjustments that are much easier to stay up on with daily practice. Plus, with these habits I stay keen to lubricate and maintain my” love machine” overall.

B – When I practice on a daily basis my hand-eye coordination becomes much sharper and stays that way. With this comes an improved competence to judge yardage without a rangefinder. This ability is an overwhelming advantage to the bowhunter. I do not have the freedom or the means to travel to shoots far and away, and my job gives me very little freedom in the summer. Consequently I’ve developed my own personal target range. I have spot shooting targets and a variety of 3-D targets at variable distances and degrees of angles. I even have a treestand practice area. This is extremely beneficial to me. I am constantly “multi-position” shooting, for I am certain that my shot opportunities will put me in unconventional postures compared to the typical upright shooting form.

C – Stretching and muscle conditioning is a must in order to become consistent with your shooting ability. This is the easiest way to keep proper form at all times. I stretch before and after shooting and muscle development simply comes hand in hand with practice itself. Once again, I never over-shoot, nor do I put myself in a position where I’m forced to. I think this mistake is the easiest way to pick up bad habits which is always followed with a bad attitude.


A – It doesn’t matter how good of a shot I become, if I’m puffing, panting, shaking, and gasping for air I’m more than likely going to make a mistake. These kinds of errors can potentially snowball into a string of bad memories and an empty freezer. The only way to prevent these nightmares is to stay fit.

B – Respiratory and cardiovascular conditioning is as one with successful bowhunting. I have found that the best bowhunters in the world are consistently in great physical condition for a reason. This reason is why I strive to do the same. Their example is all I ever needed. The importance of running, cycling, general hiking, or any form of exertion that makes you sweat and breathe deeply is more than words can describe. Sweating and burning calories is an internal cleansing that will diminish body odor dramatically. Also, as I mentioned earlier, the conditioning that comes from shooting alone is as important as everything else I’ve mentioned. One of my weekly challenges is to hold my bow still, at full draw, for as long as I possibly can and then still be able to make an accurate shot. This has helped me tremendously in the field.

C – None of this can be accomplished without a good diet. I cannot even begin to say enough about this subject in this article. There is so much important knowledge I’ve stumbled on that I would love to share with you but it’s too extensive for this segment. However, It’s only practical for me to mention it briefly. To be vague the hunter should always be thinking about what he’s putting in his mouth to stay fit and to be capable of continuing to develop good memories. Avoid spicy foods and meat before and during your seasons if possible. Many foods put off an odor that’s strong and musky that will literally fume from the pores of your skin as you perspire. The prey we chase has been evolving to outsmart it’s predators for centuries, and through this evolution their noses have developed an uncanny knack of knowing exactly when they smell a meat-eater from a browser. Go figure.


A – By the time hunting season falls upon me I already have conditioned myself to hit the sack early every night. This simply allows me to jump out of my bag at  2:30 every morning frisky and eager to greet daybreak with fire in my veins. As my day progresses I listen closely to what my body tells me, and if I feel the need to rest my head for a spell that’s what I do. When I do I try to time it with the slowest part of the day. It is a priority to be alert and focused every second of a hunt. Sometimes the moment of truth can be staring you right in the eye in a blink, so if your reaction time is dragging even momentarily it could all be past you before you even think about hooking your release. If I allow my rest to slip away there is a good chance my trophy will slip away too. Many times I have found my whole season come down to one moment. I refuse to not be prepared for those few seconds that may change the outcome forever.


A – I am one who finds myself praying every day for a good aftermath in all regards.

B – I always express how grateful I am for all life and for the food brought to my table. This includes the beautiful land I roam, the freedom I’m blessed with, my rights to keep and bear arms, and for all the good memories that will last forever.     (Img.#40)-This memory of seeing Jackson Bartow’s face after he pasted this tom was forever precious to us.

C – I exercise my beliefs spirituality with every step I take in the wild, and I make sure I’m having fun while doing it.

D – I give thanks to all of the groups and individuals who battle every day to defend our rights and our freedom, abroad and right here at home.

E – I give praise to all of the great sportsman who protect and uphold our rights with wisdom and force.

F – I bow to all of the heroes who built our constitution and who historically fought for the freedom of all people in America.

G – I thank God every day for the majesty brought to my world, and for the health that keeps me hunting it with a ferocity.

I’m certain that I’ve probably missed some important factors for some, but these personal commandments have worked very well for me. I live my life according to them with confidence that I will be compensated for it. I have been a student of great hunters for many years. Along the way I’ve leaned towards people like Bob Fromme, Jim Ponciano, Tom Nelson, Scott Haugen, Larry D. Jones, Tom Miranda, Chris Rager, Dwight Schu, Jim Horn, Ted Nugent, Jerry Morrison, Tim Thomas, and the preachings of Randy Ulmer and Knight and Hale, all for their advice and wisdom. This blessed education has carried me far in my quest to succeed. When hunters at their level speak I listen very carefully, and I highly recommend you to do the same. I can only hope this may help or at least remind some you of how there may be a better way to bring success into your world of bowhunting, and maybe even the smallest changes will bring you accolades in a very big way.