With summer vacation approaching, it’s a great time to introduce kids to bowhunting. They can spend summer outside practicing archery, learning about wildlife, and getting qualified for their bowhunting license. They’ll spend less time playing indoor games and more time outdoors in fresh air. Archery also helps kids practice math, so they’ll continue learning all summer.
So, how do you introduce the next generation to bowhunting?
Getting kids into bowhunting differs from recruiting adults into bowhunting. For instance, adults can withstand long hunts in cold weather, but kids should start with fun, comfortable, low-stakes activities. Hiking, archery, bowfishing, short hunts and sampling wild game are excellent for introducing youths to bowhunting.
Whenever possible, kids need parents and mentors to help them learn these activities. If you’re a parent, bowhunting is a shared activity you can learn with your child. It’s an opportunity to bond and experience the outdoors in new ways.
But, you don’t need to be a parent to help the next generation of bowhunters. Mentorship opportunities are often available through archery clubs and state wildlife agencies. Here are some ideas for getting young bowhunters started.
1. Like a Walk in the Park
A 30-minute hike is a simple, effective introduction to bowhunting, but don’t hike like a hiker. Hike like a hunter by looking for game sign, trails and animal activity. Make a big deal out of seeing animals, and don’t miss opportunities to teach them something new.
If you see a squirrel jumping limb to limb, point it out with the same excitement you would point out a giant buck. Explain that squirrels eat acorns and deer eat acorns, too. Kids soak up information, so lay out all the fun facts you can muster. Don’t be surprised if they become a bowhunting expert quickly.
While hiking, always look for foraging opportunities, which reinforces the idea of visiting the woods to look for food. It’s easy to gather wild foods like chestnuts, hickory nuts, ramps (onion family) and dandelion greens. Kids feel proud when contributing to a meal, and that feeling carries through to hunting.
2. Go on a Mock Hunt
A mock hunt will be like your typical hunts, only shorter and with your little buddy. The key is brevity and tailoring the hunt to the child. If you make it fun and interactive, you’ll hook them.
When hunting on your own, you might prefer a treestand, but with kids you’re often better off in a box blind or ground blind. Ground blinds are great for kids because the blinds help them get close to animals without being detected, even if they move around a bit.
To make them feel like part of the hunt, have them bring a toy bow or camera. A toy bow will only be a prop, but they’ll feel like they’re part of the hunt. Cameras are great for keeping kids engaged. Bring a camera and a large SD card so they can take as many pictures as they want. The camera will keep them interested and looking for animals.
It’s also an excellent opportunity to point out little things that make hunting enjoyable. Study how light hits leaves, take note of the woods’ silence, and appreciate the anticipation of amazing moments you’re certain to witness.
3. Introduce them to Wild Game
Eating wild game is an important step for all new hunters, and especially for young hunters. When serving children their first wild-game meal, remember their favorite foods when preparing the feast. Stick with familiar dishes like tacos, burgers and meatballs. This familiarity helps connect them to new protein sources.
Archery is a big part of bowhunting, and it’s also a fun way to get kids into bowhunting. Shooting at 2-D and 3-D animal targets gets them excited about bowhunting, and teaches them proper shot placement.
They can take archery lessons at an archery store or youth archery program. Classes help them learn to shoot and meet other kids who enjoy archery.
5. Bowfishing and Small-Game Hunting
Youths can tag along on hunts at any age, but to actually hunt, they might need to pass a bowhunter education program and reach a minimum hunting age. Such requirements vary by state, so check your state wildlife agency’s website for your state’s regulations and requirements.
For first bowhunts, bowfishing and small-game hunts provide fast action and plenty of opportunities. These are fun, low-stakes activities that don’t require young hunters to sit quietly for hours.
Kids are the future of bowhunting. For bowhunting traditions to continue, we need more young hunters going afield. If you can coax your kids out of the air-conditioning to try some of these activities, you can create a bowhunter for life. They might be hypnotized by a glowing screen today, but tomorrow they’ll be outside spending time with family.