Introducing youth to bowhunting means learning ethics, responsibility, respect, and overall involvement with nature and the environment. It is so much more than just another extracurricular activity in today’s fast paced world. Successfully showing youth’s bowhunting hinges on how rewarding they perceive it, not you.
Hunting Stealth Skills
Bowhunting is so much more than shooting a bow and arrow. Stealthy hunting skills are required. A simple typical bowhunt of hiking a kilometer and then ascending into a treestand during dusk hours will be a long journey for a child on their first bowhunt. That plan is simple for the veteran bowhunter with years of experience, but for newcomers half their size: the walk will seem far, the treestand will seem like a mountain top, the fall of darkness will bring fear and purpose of the evening might not be clear.
I always made a game plan with my kids in the truck before we stepped outside, explaining when quiet time began and how far we had to walk (the units of measure being the width of the school playground). We took our time getting into position by walking slowly and quietly. We investigated any game sign like trails, scat or tracks along the way which helped confirm the possibility of seeing an animal. As the sun sets be prepared to field questions on when the hunt will end and fears of darkness. One simple bowhunting lesson to teach early-on is not to be afraid of the dark. Let the children lead the way home with a flashlight but stay right with them. Reassure them that they are safe and keep them focused on the task of navigating in darkness.
Show kids how to use all the tools of bowhunting. It will make them feel useful and part of the hunting team.
Monkey See, Monkey Do
Do not expect youth to sit quietly and do nothing while you bowhunt. Anything you do, they will want to try. Anything you have, they will want. Teach them how to use the range finder. Let them do the rattling or calling where possible. Binoculars are always a challenge, but once kids figure them out, you will never get them back. If you have a seat in a blind, they need seat that allows them to see from the blind as well. If you whisper, they will want to do the same. When you eat or drink something, they will want to follow. Let them do everything but the shooting when they are young. It makes them feel like they are part of the team and helping out, not just observing. You would not go hunting without comfortable warm clothing, so ensure they have the same.
There are few good bows that foster shooting skills at a very young age
$1 at the dollar store is what I paid for my children’s first bow. The only goal was to make the arrow stick to the wall – anywhere! I eventually bought them a 10-20 lbs bow that they used on paper targets and attempted to shoot small game but was hard to tune for accuracy. Their third bow was highly adjustable and deadly accurate when they held their form. Shooting birds, gophers and squirrels was well within the realm of possibilities. I made sure to plan trips solely where they hunted small game and I just helped them.
Shooting is one thing to start at a young age, but watching animals up close is another. What kid does not like going to the zoo? The great thing about getting close to wild animals is there is no cage to obstruct views, no predictable behaviour and pressure to stay quiet and still. It is a sense of accomplishment as well. Put a youth within arrow striking distance of a wild animal – that’s a challenge you can start at any age (if you are willing to carry them into position). Some kids last longer than others when the action is slow but all kids are amazed for hours when animals are plentiful.
Make the experience fun and rewarding for kids, not you.
It is not about you, but rather, them. Do whatever you need to do to cater the bowhunt so that they enjoy the experience. If that means leaving early, then so be it. If that means shooting a lesser animal or none at all, then that is how it goes – something every bowhunter learns anyway. Let them talk after being quite for a couple hours, especially if it is dark, even though you would not do it. It helps them feel safe and acts as a reward. Whether the initial bowhunt becomes a core memory, or is simply a one-time event will not depend if an animal hits the dirt. It will mostly rest on how well you manage the overall experience from their point of view.
Small game bowhunting allows youth numerous shooting chances within an hour.