It was nothing to look at, really. I remember it having gray fiberglass limbs, a black handle and a white string. My sister brought it home from high school after one of the coaches gave it to her when the P.E. department received new equipment. In spite of its simplicity, that bow, with all of its 25 pounds or so of draw weight, was a thing of wonder and intrigue to an 8-year-old boy.
My dad didn’t know the first thing about bows, but he did buy me a cedar practice arrow, yes just one, to go along with it. Needless to say, I spent a considerable amount of time searching for that arrow when it didn’t find the target. I certainly didn’t know it at the time, but that plain little bow and single arrow would ignite a fire and passion that would have a tremendous impact on my life, and that still burns in my heart and soul today.
My two boys became interested in bows at a young age as they watched me shoot in the backyard. It wasn’t long before they were involved and joining in on the fun. Another little simple fiberglass bow, this time a red one, did the trick. They both have their own compound bows now, and they deer hunt with me each fall as the tradition continues, etching indelible memories and teaching life lessons that only quality time spent in the outdoors can do.
Unfortunately, kids spending time in the woods is becoming less common as hunter numbers are declining with each passing year. Youngsters, the potential future stewards of Georgia’s wildlife and great outdoors, today have many activities vying for their time. An introduction to bowhunting is a great way to reverse that trend and help create a bond that can last a lifetime.
Here are some things to think about as you get started with that introduction — a few lessons learned over the last four decades since I launched my first arrow.
The Right Bow
There are a wide range of youth bows to choose from today, many available in complete packages with all the accessories and ready to shoot right off the shelf. Starter bow sets can be purchased for as little as $100 and up, depending on what you’re looking for. Search online, or better yet go to a local archery shop and check them out. If you’re not familiar with today’s bows, an experienced buddy or pro-shop owner can be your best friend. They can help you and your new bowhunter make good decisions about correct draw weight, draw length and how to properly set the bow up.
With a little experience you’ll be up and shooting in no time. Make sure you start out with an easy-to-handle draw weight. Pulling a bow string and anchoring properly uses muscles differently than kids are used to and may be a little difficult at first.
When my oldest son, Andrew, was 8, I bought him a Browning Micro Midas compound. He started shooting it at about 25 pounds and had worked his way up to 40 pounds by the time he handed it down to his little brother and got a new one a couple of seasons later. Draw length, the distance between the grip and the string-anchor point at full draw, is very important when shooting a bow. Purchase a bow that fits properly with the draw length set near the minimum adjustment, and it can be lengthened as the child grows.
Arrows and Accessories
To ensure proper performance, arrows need to be matched to the bow. Arrows made from aluminum and carbon will both work fine, as will the choice of feathers or vanes — whatever fits your budget and preference. I purchase arrows by the dozen for my kids and cut them a couple of inches longer than they require, which gives them an extra season or two before they outgrow the shafts.
If you think there are lots of arrow choices as you thumb through the latest archery catalog, just wait until you get to the broadhead section. While an adult can shoot most any broadhead out of a properly tuned bow, young archers shooting low poundage are limited. I’ve found that heads in the 75- to 100-grain range work well with short arrows and light-to-medium bow poundage.
I also advise shooting fixed-blade broadheads. Youth bow-and-arrow combinations simply don’t supply the kinetic energy needed for adequate penetration with expandable heads. Sharp broadheads perform quite well out of today’s youth bows, which as a result of technology are quite fast com- pared to bows from years ago. Andrew killed a buck using a 37-lb. compound and 75-grain Muzzy broadhead a couple of years ago, hitting the deer in the spine at 18 yards and dropping him. The broadhead was buried so tightly in the buck’s spine I had to work with a pair of pliers to remove it.
The choice of arrow rest is very important for beginning archers who often have difficulty keeping an arrow on the rest when drawing the bow. You can multiply that degree of difficulty by 100 when they draw on a deer for the first time.
There are many good rests on the market, but I personally have to give the nod to the rests that “capture” and hold the arrow in place such as the Whisker Biscuit. It’s as close as I’ve seen to a perfect rest for kids.
As far as sights are concerned, I like to keep it simple. For a true novice I’d recommend removing all but one pin to avoid confusion. My 9-year-old, Austin, started off with one pin and now shoots with two, set at 10 and 15 yards.
An arrow quiver, wrist sling, small stabilizer (optional), peep sight, nock and string silencers pretty much round off what’s needed on the bow itself. I prefer a detachable quiver that can be removed and attached to a bracket on the tree or stand once the hunt begins, reducing the bow’s weight and making it easier to hold at full draw.
Release aids hadn’t been invented when I started shooting bows, and I still shoot with a finger tab today. However, to shorten the learning curve and increase accuracy I recommend a release to anyone getting into bowhunting. Like most accessories, there are many different models on the market. A pro shop will let your new bowhunter try a few releases out to find one he likes.
One of the great things about bowhunting is that you can practice most anywhere. If you have a safe area with a good backstop in the backyard where you can shoot 20 yards or so, you’re all set. We’ve shot many arrows in our unfinished basement at 10 yards and under. As a matter of fact, close up shooting is recommended for the new archer, as he is learning proper form and technique.
Confidence built at short range will go a long way toward accuracy at longer distances. We started out shooting dots to set the sight pin and to learn to focus on a small target.
There are many ways to make shooting even more fun, a key for kids. Small balloons attached to the target make for instant gratification when hit. You can cut up pieces of cardboard and play a game of tic-tac-toe or let the kids make up their own game. The next step for us was shooting a 3-D deer target, which opened up a whole new avenue of learning. The importance of picking out a small spot, kill-zone location, deer anatomy and shot angles are all topics of bowhunting’s teachable moments you’ll need to take advantage of during these practice sessions.
Check out one of the numerous archery clubs across the state. They’re great places to practice and meet others with similar interests that are willing to help.
Up a Tree
The first year I began taking my kids bowhunting I purchased a couple of 15-foot, two-person ladders and they’ve worked out perfectly. I cut and lowered the shooting rails, allowing them more room to clear the bottom bow limb when making close shots, and attached camouflage netting to the sides. If you’ve ever watched a kid try to sit still for 2 minutes you’ll fully understand the value of the camo!
A stand that allows you to sit right next to the young hunter is extremely important. This gives you the opportunity to whisper comments as a coach when a deer approaches and also quietly answer the seemingly endless questions — “What was that noise?” “How much longer until it gets dark?” “Can I use the bleat call again?” “Can I shoot that squirrel?”
Being close was an exciting key factor in Andrew’s first bow kill when he was 10 years old. We were in a ladder overlooking a small food plot in Rockdale County on the afternoon of November 20. As we sat quietly chatting, I glanced over Andrew’s shoulder and saw a small buck trotting down the logging road toward the food plot.
I whispered to him to stand up and get ready as I remained seated. The 3- pointer entered the plot, stopped on cue right by our 20-yard rock and began feeding. After a few seconds, Andrew slowly turned his head toward me and in a shaky voice whispered, “Daddy, I can’t shoot yet, he’s angling toward me.” I smiled, realizing he had indeed been paying attention during our practice sessions.
The deer soon turned broadside, and I told Andrew to take the shot. He was shaking so badly as he started to draw he mistakenly touched the trigger on his release and it snapped off the string, making a slight noise that caused the buck to snap his head up and look up our way.
“Don’t move!” I whispered as I grabbed the back of his legs, somehow thinking I could prevent them from quivering. After what seemed like an eternity, the buck miraculously lowered his gaze and began feeding again. Andrew clipped his release back on the string, came to full draw and sent the arrow on its way, a little high and back, but perfect all the same as the arrow center-punched the buck in the spine and dropped him in his tracks.
Andrew quickly turned to me sporting a wide-eyed look that was a combination of shock and elation. “I got him, Daddy! I got him!” We hugged as well as a grown man and a 10-year-old boy holding bows and wearing full-body harnesses 15 feet up a tree could possibly hug.
Big, safe permanent stands can also be good choices for hunting with kids if you choose to hunt from an elevated position. Another option is placing a hang-on stand just above and off to the side of a one-man ladder. This will still have you within arm’s reach.
Safety should be the No. 1 consideration when bowhunting, and that concern is heightened even more when kids are involved. There are stands I hunt out of that I won’t even consider letting my kids climb into yet, and the same goes for the use of climbing stands. Their experience, coordination and ability to assess risk are simply not developed to the point where I’m going to push the envelope one iota.
Safety harnesses come in youth sizes and should be adjusted properly and worn at all times. Statistics have shown that the danger of falling is greatest when climbing into and out of stands, and this is one reason I prefer ladder stands or using a ladder to access a permanent stand. I go a step further just in case a misstep is made. After attaching a length of climbing rope to the tether on my kid’s safety harness, I climb the ladder first and strap myself in. I then wrap the rope around the tree and keep it tight as my little hunter climbs up. The same process is reversed with them climbing down first when the hunt is over.
OTG (On the Ground)
Ground blinds are great, safe options. I prefer to build my own ahead of time if possible, going as natural as the terrain will permit. Blown-down trees, planted pines with low limbs, clumps of bushes or briars are all possibilities that can be made into great blinds with a little work.
Pop-up blinds that can be set up anywhere in minutes have exploded on the market over the last few years. I bought one big enough for all three of us to hunt out of. If you hunt on private land and can manage it, I suggest set- ting these blinds up a week or so in advance so the deer can get used to them. We saw deer out of our pop-up the first few times we set it up on the edge of a food plot the same day we hunted, but they became nervous and wouldn’t quite come into bow range in spite of the brush I used to conceal the blind.
Make Bowhunting Fun
There are some lessons—a few I learned the hard way—that center around helping to make bowhunting a little more fun and interesting for kids. Always remember why you’re out there and forget about any real hard-core hunting until the kids get older.
We don’t carry them any longer, but when my boys first started hunting I would allow them to carry a Game Boy and play it with the sound off. Other games may work fine for your little one or even carrying a pad and pencil for them to draw with. I wouldn’t let my kids play their electronic games long, mainly because there are so many other things in nature to see, do and learn about.
One day Andrew found my Dad’s old fanny pack in the basement and asked if he could use it. I helped him fill it with a water bottle, snacks, one of my old grunt and bleat calls, a flash- light, an old knife, a pair of binoculars and anything else hunting related he could find to stuff in it. He’s very proud of “his” fanny pack and wears it proudly. In addition to making a kid feel more like a real hunter, some of these items may help pass the time in a blind or during a rainy day back at camp.
Taking a kid bowhunting will open up a whole new avenue of outdoor fun, anticipation and excitement — it certainly has for me. Ever since I took my son on his first bowhunt, it’s as if I were reliving my youth hunting days all over again.
If you know of a youngster that’s old enough to get started bowhunting, right now is a great time. Georgia’s bow season begins in less than four months. There are young men and women out there with a hibernating passion for bowhunting and the out- doors that don’t even realize they have it… all they need is a bow, an arrow and someone willing to teach them how to hunt with it.