Bowhunting Education | How Youth Bow Hunting Can Make Lifelong Hunters
Surely you’re familiar with the popular idiom, “Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime.” Here’s a surprising fact for some: this isn’t just about crappie tactics. It’s really about the value of teaching over just doing for someone else, which is especially true for youth hunting. Most of the time with children, it’s just easier to do something for them (e.g., tie their shoes, answer their math question, etc.) instead of teaching them how to do it themselves. But they’ll never learn and will always depend on you for that task. As parents, it’s critical that we equip our kids with the knowledge and skills to grow up and do things on their own.
This is an extremely important lesson for youth hunting. Sure, we could always feed our kids venison. But that’s cheating them of the amazing experiences that the autumn woods hold for archery fanatics. Bow hunting doesn’t just teach us about the natural world, the resilient wildlife species that inhabit it, and food awareness. It also teaches us virtues like patience, respect, ethics, confidence, responsibility, and emotional control. It doesn’t take much imagination to agree that more children would be better off as adults with these traits.
But on a larger scale, hunter recruitment and retention is extremely important for anyone who enjoys the great outdoors. Hunters are consistently at the forefront of wildlife conservation and habitat restoration efforts. As hunter numbers decline, so too does the funding and interest in these causes. Introducing children to the sport is the cure-all solution. Here are some tips and techniques to help introduce your child, relative, or family friend to youth hunting.
Awareness in the Early Stages
One of the first and most necessary things you should do is to get your youth interested and excited about hunting. This is fairly easy to do as most young kids are fairly interested in wildlife and nature already, but some will take to it slower than others. Have them watch your favorite bow hunting programs, such as Raised Hunting. Take them on walks in the woods or farm to explore new things. In the late winter and spring, take them with to go scouting and shed hunting. Teach them why deer rub trees and shed their antlers, and make it feel like a scavenger hunt. If they get tired or bored, accept that their attention spans will be shorter and be willing to leave early.
Try sitting in a blind with them where they can get away with some fidgeting and movement without spooking wildlife. Hopefully they can watch turkeys and deer at close range and feel the excitement that goes with it. Also show them the animals you harvest with your bow, so they can get an up-close view of the animal they are chasing. Make your excitement contagious when you’re showing them so that they can feel the same way.
This stage needs to focus on keeping things fun for them. You don’t want it to become a forced march for them against their will. If they have to hike long distances and get yelled at for goofing off, they may not be so inclined to go out again. The biggest thing you can do to help is just trying to have fun while you’re outdoors with them. Try not to be as rigid as you usually are while archery hunting on your own, be willing to laugh and joke with them, and don’t scold them unless it’s a dangerous behavior. The fun memories are ultimately what will get them to come back to try it again.
Time to Pick Up the Bow
If they seem interested in being outdoors and hunting in general, the next step is to get them their own youth hunting gear and a bow to practice with. Start young kids (i.e., 5 to 10 years old) off with a small compound bow that’s easy to pull back, such as the Bear Archery Scout compound bow for kids. Also be sure to grab some Gold Tip Falcon 35 Arrows, and a Tru-Fire Junior Release. You can even use round-tipped play arrows for a while. They can practice with these to grasp the basic concepts and safety considerations until they are able to use a youth compound bow. Most states allow youth hunting with a bow at ages 10 to 12, provided a licensed hunter accompanies them.
You can find youth compound bows for sale at almost any sporting goods store, like SCHEELS, near you or bear compound bows for kids through Bear Archery. Either way, they can help you find one that fits your child well. Like any hunting gear for kids, it’s tricky business because you don’t want to get one that’s too large for them, but don’t want to buy a new bow every couple years as they grow. Try to find a happy middle ground between these two approaches. Regarding the size, a proper bow shop can match a bow to your child’s frame, and determine the best draw weight. Start small at first (i.e. generally around 15-20 pounds), but allow them to work up the strength as their form improves. If you start too heavy, your youth may pick up some bad habits that will need correcting down the road. They won’t enjoy practicing and it could even discourage them from continuing to hunt.
Practice Makes Perfect
Once they’ve got good youth bows to fit them, you need to make sure they practice. As with any skill, the more they practice, the better they’ll get. The same is true for youth hunting. But as in the first step above, you need to keep it fun for them. In other words, don’t tell them they “need to practice 20 arrows a day or you’ll never be good enough to shoot a whitetail.” Hopefully that’s common sense, but it needs to be stated. Instead of that approach, get them interested in practicing on their own by setting up a small 3D target range in your back yard or taking them with to an archery range. When they get to shoot at anything from whitetails to dinosaurs to aliens, you can bet they’ll stay interested. Even for adult bow hunters, it’s nice to have some variety! Get them comfortable shooting from ground level before moving to an elevated position.
Raised At Full Draw Camps
(video)- Raised At Full Draw Camps, educates and involves the youth in the outdoors. These camps are to save the heritage of hunting and to pass it on to the next generation
If they seem really interested, you may want to send them to youth summer camps to learn some more archery skills, practice with peers, and just generally have a fun time. The Raised at Full Draw (RAFD) bow hunting camp exists to help youth learn archery and hunting techniques through hands-on outdoor education activities in a fun camp style of learning. It follows the curriculum of the National Bowhunter Education Foundation (NBEF) book, and ultimately does lead to bowhunting education certification.
Another nice way to keep them practicing is to start a weekly family bow hunting practice session, where the whole family gets to work on their shooting skills. A family that bow hunts together stays together. Or at least that’s what they say, right? Keep it interesting by playing different archery games and challenging each other in friendly competitions. For example, the best shot of the week gets to choose a fun meal for the family. Or perhaps they get out of doing dishes or mowing the lawn that week.
Take Your Youth Hunting
If they’ve practiced like we discuss above, they should be ready for youth bow hunting in a real situation soon. You’ll have to make that call based on the accuracy, consistency, and dedication of your youth. It’s usually required to sit with them during the youth hunting season the first couple times in a blind or tree stand, so you can advise them in a pinch and observe how safe they act in the tree stand. Set them up with a Rage broadhead to ensure their quarry won’t go far.
If you feel like they are acting safely and responsibly, and could ethically make a good shot, you may decide to let them hunt on their own the next year. This can be a nerve-racking decision, but you have to let them “fish” on their own at some point.
Congratulations! You helped create a potentially lifelong bow hunter, who will likely teach their kids and others someday, thus ensuring the future of our cherished sport. And if we all introduce at least one child to the tradition of hunting, our future looks brighter than ever.