Few things trump getting a youngster involved in the sport of archery. Not only are you passing on a time-honored tradition, but you’re passing on something that has likely, in many ways, shaped who you are as a person. Seeing that fire ignite in another — watching them grow in their newfound discipline — provides a level of enjoyment that is hard to match. The key is making sure their experience is a positive one. Overlook a few basic things, and that once excited little shooter may put down the bow forever.
Proper Fit & Feel
The welt on his arm was growing. He was flinching at the shot and having a difficult time getting the bow to full draw. The bow was a hand-me-down from his father. It was old and had limited adjustment capabilities. His father was encouraging him, but you could see the joy fading from his eyes. He didn’t want to send another arrow down that indoor lane.
It’s paramount you get the youth you’re mentoring into a bow that will work for them. The good news: you don’t have to drop a ton of coin to do this. I highly recommend visiting a quality pro shop and letting a trained professional guide you through this process. I realize some of you may have to swallow your pride to do this. I did. I do my own bow work and test and tinker with lots of different bows each and every year. I’d have no trouble setting draw length, adjusting poundage, twisting cables, and the list goes on. With that noted, I quickly discovered it was best for me to be just a dad in the bow-find process. My son wanted the experience he’d seen me have many times over. He wanted to walk into a pro shop. He wanted a pro shop employee to measure his draw length and help him find a bow that was perfect for him.
When you go the pro shop route, you can just be dad, mom, or friend. It’s awesome to watch a youngster test a few different bows — have their draw-length measured and discover a poundage that will work for them — while you relax and smile.
Find a bow that fits them and that they shoot well out of the gate and you’ll have a happy archer. Take a bow that doesn’t fit them and try and make them fit the bow, and you’ll see a youngster toss in the white towel.
The same holds true for arrows and accessories. While many youth bows come outfitted with a litany of accessories, you may need to find a sight, rest, stabilizer, and quiver that works with their setup. Arrows also can’t be overlooked. I can’t tell you how many youth archers I’ve seen at tournaments shooting 300 spined arrows out of a 35-pound draw-weight rig that are way too long. A youngster will never get the type of accuracy they are capable of if you don’t match an arrow’s spine to the weight they’re pulling.
The Right Release
Release manufacturers don’t make a single release, right? Instead, they make multiple models and offer index-finger, thumb, tension and hinge-style options. There’s a reason for this. One archer may shoot a single-caliper index-finger well while another will surely struggle with the release. It’s important to let your new shooter experience multiple release types and styles. I’ve seen lots of shooters — both young and old — shoot a release with a nylon strap attached to the head of the release very well. Give that same shooter the exact same release with a rigid bar attached to the head and they struggle. Why? Simple. It's all about the "feel". Archery is a very gear-specific sport and finding a release that provides confidence is very important.
I taught elementary school for nine years. Currently, I coach high-school football as well as numerous youth summer sports. Teaching my oldest son, Hunter, to shoot his bow was a nightmare. Why? I really didn’t know how to teach him. I knew what I expected him to do, but simply couldn’t verbalize it well. I got frustrated. He got frustrated. The bow got put in the garage. Great move, dad!
I learned to shoot my bow via the school of hard knocks. I never spent time with an archery coach until last year. Wow! What a difference it made. I’m not telling you to shell out lots of greenbacks on a coach, but I would recommend a few lessons or possibly enrolling your young shooter in a class. If that’s not an option, think outside the box. When things went south with my son, I reached out to a good friend. This friend is an accomplished 3D archer and a successful bowhunter. He came over to the house multiple times and got Hunter going. It was great. I could just be a supportive dad, and let my friend do the coaching.
I see too many young archers trying to shoot too far too soon. This is a problem, and if you can, nip it in the bud from the get-go. Yes, there is a time and place for long-distance practice, but the first week, month, and even year isn’t that time for a new shooter. Archery is a close-range sport, and young shooters need to experience success and be able to track their progress. Be sure the archer you’re mentoring is spending lots of time at 20, 30, and 40 yards. For some shooters, especially if they are very young, the focus should be on shots at 10, 15, and 20 yards. Trying to back up in distance too fast will lead to target panic and poor shooting habits.
Let ‘Em Hunt
I know gagger bucks and bulls get the “likes” on Instagram. I know you’d love for your new-to-bowhunting youngster to send carbon through the lungs of a bruiser with heavy horns atop its head. It’s possible, but it shouldn’t be the goal. Young bowhunters need to have success. They need to have the green light to drop the hammer on does, cows, spikes, and fork-horns. Few things boost confidence like shooting game, and the more game they shoot, the more proficient they will become. Young shooters have plenty of time to kill big critters. When they first start out, though, and until they’re ready to start seeking out more mature animals, let them shoot what they want.