Written by Erik Jutila from Outdoor Empire.
If you are a hunter and a parent, or a hunter and a mentor, you can probably expect the next generation to start asking about tagging along on the hunt at a pretty young age.
The opening morning when I shot my biggest Roosevelt Elk to date, my good hunting buddy was absent because his first son was being born.
Three years later, his son was toddling behind him as he prepared for another opening morning. Young Will desperately pleaded to be allowed to get his “gun and boolits” and tag along for the hunt.
In most cases when children take an early interest in hunting (or just idolizing a hunter), they start to ask about going hunting quite a while before it is realistic.
When it comes to the timing for their first hunt, it falls to the parent or mentor to decide when the time is right. For any type of hunting, there are a lot of factors to consider. But for archery, there is arguably even greater deliberation.
I urge people deciding when to take a young first-timer not to use an arbitrary age requirement, but rather evaluate their readiness based on the following qualifiers.
A significant barrier to a youth hunter entering archery is the physical requirements of hunting with a bow. Unlike touching off a rifle shot with the squeeze of a three-pound trigger, drawing a bow takes a significant amount of strength.
State requirements for minimum draw weight may vary. Like for Washington, it is 40 pounds to hunt big game. If your aspiring hunter is otherwise ready to go, this could be the final hurdle.
You must also consider that the 40-pound number is not like your max bench-press weight that you can do for one brutal rep. The hunter must be able to draw the legal limit safely and repeatedly as they practice becoming proficient with their bow.
In addition to the physical requirements of drawing their bow, hunting can be a lot of work once you hit the woods.
While a person can always plan a hunt that caters to a young hunter with less stamina and strength, keep in mind that pressing a youth hunter’s physical limits may cause them to burn out at a young age.
All hunting requires understanding ethics and limitations, as well as the ability to make tough decisions based on those factors in tense and exciting moments.
How far is too far to shoot? Is a shooting lane a little too small? Are the animal’s vitals a little too obstructed? These are the types of questions we are faced with while hunting with a bow and your young hunter should be prepared to answer them.
Of course, they are likely to have someone helping them through those decisions initially. But it is essential that they can grasp the concepts and reasoning behind the decisions.
Taking a hunter that is not ready to make sound decisions may result in an unsavory ending for the animal, hunter or both.
Trying not to downplay the need for preparation and practice while hunting with other weapons, I think it is fair to say that archery takes another level of discipline when it comes to honing skills.
It is crucial that the young hunter is consistent and accurate at a given range and they understand that they should only take shots that are within that range.
The amount of effort that it takes to develop these skills may provide a natural barrier to some kids’ first hunt. Explain the importance and expectations of accuracy, and then allow them to dictate how much and how often they practice.
If they do not enjoy shooting or are not driven enough to practice without being forced, maybe this is not their year. Forcing them to practice is likely to provide inadequate results and catalyze burn-out.
In addition to being physically prepared, they should also be mentally prepared. In most states, this includes passing a hunter education course. That should have provided them a solid foundation of knowledge related to safety and ethics.
You should also consider if they are prepared to take an animal’s life. It is a moment that many are always a little uncomfortable with but it has the potential to be a scarring event if they are not ready for the gravity of the situation.
Archery hunters, in general, are among the most hardcore of hunters. Hunting with a bow is not a great match for someone with a fleeting or cursory interest in hunting.
If you are not sure about their passion for hunting, the degree of difficulty from the get-go may discourage the development of love for the sport. Explain to them the list of factors that they are being measured against to determine their readiness.
If they are as eager to meet the expectations as Will was to tag along with his Dad, they probably have the passion for becoming a successful young archer.
Considering that we are hoping that our youth enjoys hunting for many years, others may be better suited to spend some time hunting with a modern firearm which arguably requires slightly less practice, patience and finesse to achieve success.
Eventually, youngsters may organically begin fulfilling qualifiers or years down the line. They may find their way to archery as their hunting interests intensify and become more refined.
I want to emphasize explaining the qualifiers almost ad nauseam before, during and after the process.
Hopefully, this will help inspire them to meet the requirements. And down the line, they will be able to impart the same standards to the next batch of young hunters.
Ultimately, this will help create generation after generation of safe, ethical and successful archery hunters.
Also, in the great cyclical nature of all things, they can apply similar standards to themselves when they start to consider the timing of giving up archery.
That decision is made in the context of sound ethics and a life-long hunting experiences but it can also be based on the following, similar factors.
At some point in our old age, we might lose the capacity to draw a 40-pound bow. I think other physical ailments are likely to prevent us from being consistent shooters.
I know several older hunters who gave up archery when they couldn’t get a clear sight picture and aim accurately anymore. Others quit because though they could draw the bow with relative ease, they could not hold it steady enough.
Passion + Preparedness:
For this end of the age range, combining these factors makes sense. There comes a day for some when they no longer have the passion for being out there to put the miles on their boots.
Staying in good physical condition to shoot a bow and hike in the woods may take an increasing amount of work and that work might not be worth it to a person with a waning passion for hunting.
I hope and expect that when I reach the twilight of my hunting days, I am still experiencing the same enjoyment just being out in the woods, spending time with friends and family and seeing the animals in their element.
I think my passion may outlast my skills and my late years may lead me to the decision of hanging up the bow. But I want to keep lacing up my boots to be out there, enjoying as many of those moments as I can.
Whether you are deciding if a young hunter is ready, it is time to quit hunting as a senior or you need a hiatus in the middle of your hunting years, these qualifiers are means to analyze a more simplistic set of standards.
To spend a season in the woods archery hunting, any hunter should be safe, ethical and competent with their bow.