Gary Lewis from Gary Lewis Outdoors shares his tips for introducing kids to archery.
“I can’t remember anytime when I wasn’t shooting a bow and arrow.” Ten-year-old Finney McFarland told me this.
At his young age, Finney has bagged a black bear with a bolt-action rifle and tagged alligators with his crossbow.
Finney's dad sees to it his kids - all four of them - develop their confidence through experience. They have an archery range in their backyard.
Finney can't remember the first time he drew an arrow.
“I would teach my kid to shoot a bow when he is three or four,” Finney said.
As soon as he could nock an arrow by himself he began to shoot his bow whenever mom and dad would let him out of the house. His favorite target was a three-dimensional foam stegosaurus.
Finney and his older brother were shooting bows and arrows before they ever heard of the movies Brave or the Hunger Games, but these two movies, combined with the Lord of the Rings trilogy are the reasons why the way of the archer and bowhunter are enjoying a resurgence with pre-teens like Finney and his brothers and sisters.
When the movies were released (Brave in June, 2012 and the Hunger Games in March, 2012), they spun a perfect storm of bow-buying in sporting goods shops, in an industry that didn’t see it coming.
Days after the Brave movie was released there were no youth bows left on store shelves or in warehouse inventories. But the industry caught up to the demand and now the market has better bows for young people and for beginners than ever. And because the heroes of both films were girls, a lot of the new archers are female.
For simplicity, for the building of good habits, for development of confidence, skills and strength, an archer should start with a recurve or a longbow and a dozen arrows.
Someone should teach the beginner how to nock an arrow: under the nocking point, with the odd-colored fletch pointed away from the bow. In the absence of a good instructor, YouTube lessons can help instill good technique, but there is no substitute for a lesson on proper stance, draw, anchor point and release.
Some of the top names in archery offer good starter bows and bow/arrow combos. Companies like Hoyt, Easton and PSE offer recurve bows to fit various ages and frames, with draw weights from 10 to 50 pounds.
Cabela's latest archery offerings include the Ranger, a 54-inch recurve built in the traditional style - with a laminated hardwood riser and laminated wood and fiberglass limbs. Designed for the beginner, it is a good match for a ten-year-old archer, but is not too small for an adult to shoot. With a draw weight of 25 pounds, it launches an arrow with authority, but is not too heavy for a young person to shoot.
The important thing is how a bow fits. Try to match the bow to the size of the shooter. A bow that is too hard to draw will never be used. And expect that a kid will grow out of it and need a new one in a year or two.
Primitive archery tackle – longbows, self bows and recurve bows – are rated by draw weight, the amount of strength required to draw an arrow back full length. Bows made for beginners are often rated somewhere between 20 pounds and 40 pounds, suitable for competition, small game hunting or just plain old stump shooting in the woods.
To hunt big game with a bow, most states have a minimum requirement of something like 40 pounds.
There is a place in every home for bows and arrows. If there are pests in the garden or if there is protein on the hoof out in the woods, a well-placed arrow is part of the solution.
Finney has yet to take a rabbit with his bow, but he watched his brother arrow his first cottontail and helped him clean it and eat it. There will come a time when the boys will put down their youth bows and will affix broadheads to cedar or carbon shafts and try their hand with deer and elk.
Perhaps we are drawn to archery because our ancestors bent their bows in war and in peace. Perhaps we are attracted to the sense of wild we find in ourselves or maybe it is a sense of self-sufficiency fulfilled in a singular focus, in a fundamental discipline, the limbs bent to our will, the string taught against our draw, the arrow alive with energy, arcing, almost mystic in its trajectory. Perhaps it is the ten-year-old inside each of us.
Gary Lewis can be reached at GaryLewisOutdoors.com.