There’s strength in numbers, and the only way to increase our numbers is to recruit the next generation of bowhunters. Here’s how to turn your child into a bowhunter.
Seven years ago, I introduced my brother, Marc McDougal, to bowhunting through Wisconsin’s youth-mentor program. We hunted deer during fall 2009, but a deer never offered Marc a shot opportunity. Still determined, Marc expressed that he’d like to bowhunt turkeys the following spring, so I helped him submit his application.
He pulled a tag, and preparations began. We tested out several broadheads for flight and penetration, as he was only drawing Wisconsin’s minimum legal weight. I worked closely with him until he was beyond proficient. He spent countless hours shooting his bow, even when I was busy working.
The first morning of our hunt, we heard many gobbles, but none of the birds visited our decoy spread. After returning home for a quick breakfast, we were back at it in a new location. Within 30 minutes, three jakes appeared. They somehow made it right to our decoy before we saw them. I gave Marc the green light to draw back. The birds caught his movements and steadily walked away. I was glad he practiced the self-control to pass the poor shot opportunity.
I headed for work, but our mother took Marc back out for the evening hunt. A close call with a bearded hen left Marc excited for the next few days of hunting.
The next few days, however, produced only poor weather and hen sightings – difficult circumstances for a beginner, no doubt. On the bright side, we had one hen that began pecking the head of our decoy. Though it was entertaining, we just couldn’t buy a tom or jake. Wind, rain and snow made the next two days miserable for bowhunting.
Becoming a Bowhunter
The fifth and final day of Marc’s turkey hunt greeted us with a beautiful sunrise. We hunted a couple hours before church that morning, and gobbles echoed in the distance. However, none of the vocalists appeared.
After church, we knocked out a few slices of pizza, and were back in our blind for the afternoon. I quickly placed two jake decoys and two hen decoys within 10 yards of our blind. The waiting game began.
Still drowsy from rising earlier that morning, I laid down in the blind for a nap. As I rested, I prayed that Marc would get a bird. I opened my eyes momentarily, and saw that Marc was reading his Bible. I smiled to myself.
About 30 minutes later, Marc said, “There’s a hen or a jake!” I sat up and peered out the blind to see a bearded bird running our way. “That’s a big tom!” I said. “Grab your bow and get ready, ‘cause he’s coming quick!” I hissed.
Within seconds, the bird covered 100 yards and began pummeling our jake decoy. Marc hit full draw as the tom jumped wildly on our imposter. As the bird paused momentarily and quartered away, Marc sent a perfect arrow into the big bird’s lungs. “Marc, you smoked him buddy!” I hollered.
Recovering Marc’s bird was a moment we’ll never forget. His ear-to-ear grin told me he enjoyed the experience immensely, and that he’d become a bowhunter. I was so excited for him.
Now 17 years old, Marc is an avid outdoorsman. It’s in his blood. Every free moment finds him walking in the woods, shooting his bow or planning a hunt. Since his first bowhunt, Marc has now taken multiple deer and turkeys with archery gear. Plus, he shoots competitively and recreationally year round. He loves everything archery. A large part of that is due to his early introduction to bowhunting and the good initial experiences he had.
One might wonder how to introduce a young person to bowhunting. First, let me stress that not all kids are ready to bowhunt at age 10. Some won’t be ready until they are old enough to drive, and some might not be ready until they graduate high school. It depends on their desire, maturity level and how responsible they are.
Regardless, the first step is always outfitting them with a bow. Of course, the bow you purchase, whether new or used, must fit properly. Tons of well-meaning folks get their youth archer a cheap bow that doesn’t fit, just “to see if they like it.” Of course, there’s not a quicker way to sap a youth’s spirit and desire than to outfit them with inferior, ill-fitting equipment.
Have your prospective youth practice at a range or in the backyard, but don’t force them to shoot. Offer times when you can help them out with their shooting, but never badger them. If they’re going to become bowhunters, they must desire to shoot and prepare without your begging. And when they shoot, note their decision-making skills, their passion for shooting and their responsibility levels. If all of these things align, ask if they want to take the next step and try bowhunting. If they’re unsure, offer for them to accompany you on an upcoming bowhunt. Hopefully they’ll witness you taking an animal, which could help sway them toward or away from bowhunting, but at least you aren’t left wondering. And, if they don’t share your excitement in a kill, don’t rule them out as a non-hunter. Give them a couple years, and then offer to take them again. Don’t press the issue though, because there are already enough anti-hunters. We don’t need more.
Make it Comfortable
When introducing a beginner to bowhunting, make sure everything is set up comfortably so he/she enjoys the experience. I’m not talking about building a cabin-like shooting house; simply make sure the treestand or ground blind from which they’ll be hunting is very accessible and comfortable. They shouldn’t struggle or risk safety to access a stand. And, be sure to introduce them to safety harnesses and lifeline ropes immediately. An unwanted accident could deter youth from taking up bowhunting as a lifestyle, plus, it’s just not safe.
Of course, try to take your student bowhunting during optimal conditions, or at least make sure they’re dressed appropriately for the conditions. Numb toes or fingers aren’t fun, and if you don’t encounter any game, youth bowhunters will only remember the negative aspects of their first few bowhunts, such as numb extremities.
Teaching Shot Placement
Work with your student bowhunter on the practice range to establish shot-placement ethics and knowledge. Do this and it should come naturally in the field. If not, always be right over his/her shoulder to advise when to draw, what angle to take and where to aim. If they double-lung their first game animal, the clean kill will improve their inaugural experience of killing an animal. This isn’t something to take lightly. And when they do take an animal, support their excitement, but always teach them to respect the animal.
Learning to Track
If a tracking job is simple, let your student bowhunter take up the trail. Let them experience searching for spots of blood, and make decisions about where to look, under your supervision and guidance, of course.
Bowhunters for Life
Without question, your approach to introducing youth to bowhunting must be careful in order to ensure a quality experience that will make them desire to go again and again. Exercise patience and make the entire experience comfortable and enjoyable. After all, we’re trying to recruit the next generation to become lifelong bowhunters. This is a healthy movement that’ll increase bowhunting’s longevity.