When you encourage a young person to try archery, you're doing much more than simply introducing them to a new hobby or sport. You alone have the potential to ensure a thriving future for archery and bowhunting. You can assure the enjoyment and support of hunting for future generations. You'll be instilling values and ethics and a sincere appreciation for the environment and the wildlife that inhabits it, as well as a wealth of information about hunting safety, laws and outdoor knowledge. In an ever-increasing "urban" society, where a multitude of activities and extra-curricular options are available for our kids to pursue, it's apparent that many of the "outdoor" traditional pastimes and experiences are feeling the pinch. Our highly computerized society caters to immediate, fast-paced technology and leaves little room for patience and its rewards. It's vital to our hunting heritage that we each take the time to introduce a young person to archery and bowhunting, to teach them, mentor them and show them the wonders of a life enjoyed in the outdoors. If we do it right, if we take the time to pass along our love for hunting, our care and concern for wildlife and the environment, we will be rewarded by knowing our efforts have impacted and affected another life, and that they in turn may do the same someday.
The author's daughter, age 12, already displays good shooting form.
First thing to keep in mind about kids: they're young. Do you remember being young? What did you want to do? First and foremost, you wanted to have fun; and that usually meant spending time with friends. You liked to try out new things and you liked to mimic grownups. It was great to get the grown-ups attention and even better to win their admiration for a job well done. Being able to master a skill that typically is tackled by an older person...hey, that was cool! Guess what? Introducing someone young to archery will give them all of the above. Their new-found skills will instill self-esteem, respect, and confidence. Archery teaches them excellent concentrations skills and teaches them to have patience with themselves, and ultimately with others as well.
Invite a young friend to your home or local archery club to try out shooting. Better yet, grab a group of young friends; the more the merrier! Begin with teaching the basics about a bow. Keep it simple and keep it brief. The emphasis should be on practicing correct form and on getting the kids to hit their intended targets. Begin with simple, short shots. Don't work on distances longer than 15 yards. Keep them focused on the basics and on hitting their target and they'll be happy and eager to shoot more. By all means, don't frustrate them by overloading them with too much information. Getting too technical at the beginning and they will lose their attention and boredom will set in quickly. There's plenty of time to cover the "engineering" aspects and equipment "how-to's" along the way.
Cover these basics first:
- SAFETY! Specifically outline the safety rules involved while shooting a bow, while drawing, and when retrieving arrows
- Cover Compound bow basics: riser, limbs, cams, string, sight, rest, etc.
- Discuss fingers vs. release
- Explain and illustrate how to correctly draw a bow and warn them about dry-firing bows and the dangers involved
- Explain anchor point and illustrate good form
- Explain aiming, the use of sight pins and how to adjust pins
- Pass around an arrow and point out its parts
- Briefly discuss field points and broadheads
Once a brief overview is given, make sure everyone gets a bow and holds it and becomes familiar with it.
This young bowhunter, Travis Haukom, just 7 years old, already enjoys the challenge and satisfaction of hitting the target.
Practice drawing and letting down, making sure no one dry-fires their bow. Do a mock line-up as if shooting and run through the rules. Make sure everyone is aware to wait at the shooting line or at their designated shooting positions until a signal is given to retrieve their arrows. Be certain everyone knows how to safely remove arrows without jeopardizing the safety of others in the area. Show them how to carry their arrows safely.
Without question, you want them to have fun. Make sure they don't focus on hitting the bull's eye, but rather concentrate on shooting form and straight arrow flight to begin with. Be sure to shower everyone with positive feedback and constructive criticism. The main objective is to have fun and enjoy themselves while learning the basics correctly. A firm foundation will catapult them forward and leave them hungry to learn more.
As they progress in their shooting, begin to focus them more on perfecting their shot and sighting in their pins. Still strive to make shooting fun. A great way to have fun with kids is to blow up balloons and use those for targets. Kids get a kick out of "popping" the balloons and they're a cheap way to make shooting challenging.
Balloons can be easily moved to different distances for different abilities as well. You can also put "prizes" inside the balloons....small trinkets or candy or even a coupon for ice cream at the local ice cream shop...any of these will certainly bring a
smile to a youngsters face. Another target kid's love is the 3-D targets. Today, you'll find a myriad of fun targets to use, from simple "blocks" to deer, bear, raccoons, turkeys, hogs, to dinosaurs! Just imagine the delight of some young kids who get to take a shot at a prehistoric dinosaur!
Despite varying ages, these kids all spent a fun-filled afternoon taking aim and popping balloons with their arrows!
Bring along soda or snacks to enjoy after shooting. If someone tires, let them take a break. Again, this is meant to be fun, don't be a drill sergeant.
Kids are sponges and love to learn when they find something appealing. Bring along your extra bows, archery equipment and tackle box. Let them look through it and ask questions about the items you keep on hand. Bring along family photos of hunting trips or trophies. Show them basics in maintenance and care of archery equipment. Bring your treestand and safety harness and give them a demonstration.
Mentoring and Clubs
Recruit other parents who'd like to help out. The more help you have, the easier it is to organize more outings and the easier it will be to find mentors when the time comes. The number one way to ensure that these kids will continue to enjoy archery and bowhunting will be to provide a mentor for them. It's essential that someone help them continue to learn more as they grow and as their interest in archery and bowhunting grows.
Many organizations offer archery and/or bowhunting classes. Search the yellow pages or the internet for some of these helpful organizations in your area:
- Your city's parks and recreation dept.
- 4-H Clubs
- Local Archery Club
- Local Archery Pro Shop
- Local Sporting Goods or hardware store
- Large Sporting Goods retailer
- NWTF or WITO programs
- State DNR/Fish & Game offices or websites
- Family or friends who hunt
- Junior Olympics Archery programs
To the Hunt
When it's time to take to the woods, do so with enthusiasm and with all the focus on the child you're introducing to hunting. It's not about you or your hunt or your success -- it's all about
them now. Show them how to dress for concealment. Explain the different camouflage patterns available and talk about dressing in layers for warmth and comfort. Make sure they know how to dress appropriately for the weather. Talk about becoming "scent-free" and take turns spraying each other with scent suppressant products. If you use face paint, use it on them as well. They'll love it!
Dress your kids right when you take them into the woods for the first time, and be sure to include them in your usual pre-hunt rituals like camouflage face-painting.
If you prefer a head net, bring one for them too. Above all, be certain they'll stay warm and dry to increase their enjoyment in the field. Bring along binoculars and a camera for them, some snacks and a notebook to record animal sightings and weather conditions, or to doodle in if they become bored. Before climbing into the stand, discuss safety and be sure to both wear a safety vest or strap. Show them how to use a pull rope to haul your bow up to the stand. Let them do it. Talk quietly with them while in the stand, pointing out wind direction, clouds and any deer sign. Identify different types of trees and discuss the food that's available for deer. Work out your own "sign language" to use in case a deer is spotted. Make a game out of guessing distances of various land-markings around you. These games will not only make them more aware of their surroundings, but also make them become better hunters. You'll be giving them useful skills without them even realizing it. Hopefully you'll both have a close encounter with some type of wildlife that will fuel their desire to come back again for more.
Regardless of whether a child's interest focuses on either archery or bowhunting, or any type of hunting for that matter, the child's success and continued interest will depend largely upon the encouragement and enthusiasm you show them. Do everything you can to include them and mentor them through the years. The results will not only be rewarding for the youngster, but for yourself as well, and you'll be doing your part to ensure the future of hunting is in good hands.