Becoming a Bowhunter

By Beka GarrisMarch 4, 20241 Comment

“Mom, next time you should leave your bow at home and I’ll be the hunter.”

My 5 year old daughter made the statement casually, as if she was simply stating the color of the sky. We were walking on a well trodden deer trail in the woods, my longbow in my hand, as we kept an eye out for grey squirrels.

Since she was born, my daughter, Isabella, has accompanied me on almost all of my hunts. She spent hours perched in the backpack carrier, viewing the woods over my shoulder as I stalked deer, small game, shot 3D or went bowfishing. She knows more about the woods than many adults I know, and has always enjoyed the time outside. However, this was the first year she ever talked about becoming a bowhunter.

I assumed the time would come. While I always made her aware that she could make the choice of whether or not she would ever hunt, she always talked as if she would hunt.

A Bowhunter Is Born

She started shooting a bow at age two, and is a good shot. And while many people questioned whether two years old was too young, she’d proved them wrong. I had never pressured her to hunt, knowing she would ask when she was ready.

Turns out, 5 years old was the year she was ready to bowhunt.

In our home state of Ohio, there is a minimum draw weight requirement of 40 lbs to bowhunt whitetail deer and wild turkey. My daughter, at 5 years old, is obviously not strong enough to meet those requirements. That just wasn’t happening. However, there is not a minimum required draw weight for small game, which coincidentally is her favorite game to hunt. Even better, there is no age requirement to legally hunt.

I bought her an apprentice hunting license, and she was officially a licensed hunter.

A Bowhunter Is Born

Isabella’s bow of choice is a vintage fiberglass Bear recurve, handed down through three generations. It’s the bow she learned to shoot with, and she’s become extremely adept. While it’s only 18 lbs (less at her short draw), I have no doubt that it’s enough to knock down a squirrel or rabbit, given the opportunity. One day soon she may show interest in gun hunting or using a crossbow, however for now she only wants to hunt with the familiar.

Safety has always been our biggest mantra; being aware of each other and our surroundings, as well as not just randomly flinging an arrow without my say so. Safety always has been and always will be my top priority. If you’re taking a kid bowhunting for the first time I encourage you to do the same. Make it second nature and soon they’ll be schooling you on the practice of hunting safely.

Ethics is a close second to safety; however I also feel that ethics must be learned through doing. Yes, my daughter has seen my example, but it’s also something she will need to live and experience herself for it to come naturally.

Hunting squirrels has never been particularly difficult in my opinion. However, throw a 5 year old with a bow into the mix, and suddenly it seemed almost impossible.

A Bowhunter Is Born

Our backyard is full of mast trees: shagbark hickory, black walnut, red and white oaks. It’s squirrel heaven. Every day we would see fat grey squirrels scurrying through our woods and across the backyard, gathering nuts. Often we would sneak out the door and try to get close enough for a shot. I would hang back and let Isabella go first to see if she could get close enough for a shot. It was cute to watch her try to spot and stalk, her hands tightly gripping her bow as her curls bounced with each step.

She’s had several shot opportunities over the past fall season. Sometimes she wasn’t patient enough and shot before the squirrel was within range. Other times the squirrel never stopped running, and her arrow would hit the dirt where the squirrel had been just seconds before.

I tried to talk her though the process each time, and told her I was proud of her regardless of the outcome. She knows that missing squirrels happens to even seasoned bowhunters such as myself. And while she would get discouraged, she didn’t give up. I made sure to stay positive, telling her that eventually she would get her opportunity. If she wanted to keep hunting, we would continue. If she wanted to head back to the house, that was ok too. I followed her lead, and kept everything light and fun. Its important not to force expectations on them when they first start hunting, as it can ruin the experience. It has to stay fun, or all interest will disappear.

How young is too young to start hunting? Read more in this ARTICLE

A Bowhunter Is Born

I know many people may judge my decision to let her start bowhunting at such a young age. Her chances of getting a squirrel or rabbit aren’t extremely high. But to me, that’s not the point.

I feel it’s important to let your kids experience what hunting REALLY is. It’s not about killing something every time you go out. More times than not, hunting is a walk in the woods with your bow and enjoying the outdoors.

My 5 year old is learning how to spot movement before she is spotted. She’s learning to identify bird and squirrel sounds and what they mean. She’s learning shot placement, patience, and improving her shooting skills. Killing something will just be a bonus.

And with her determination, I know it will just be a matter of time.

Watch the video below for a First Buck story with team member Matt Miller and his son, Matty.

Beka Garris
Beka Garris is a wife, mom and traditional bowhunter living in Southern Ohio. When not hunting, she enjoys shooting, bowfishing, gardening and cooking.
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