It's even more special when the child comes up with the idea on his or her own. In my family, my son first expressed interest in archery as he watched me set up a 3-D shoot at the Sidney Shooting Park outside Sidney, Nebraska. He was five at the time.
The decision concerning when a child is ready to take up shooting sports rightfully belongs to the child's parent or guardian. Some children as young as four or five may be responsible enough for real archery equipment, yet I know some teenagers I wouldn't trust with a toy plastic bow and rubber suction-cup arrows. If you do decide your child is ready and responsible, there are a couple of beginning options to consider.
The main decision is whether to start the child shooting a traditional longbow or recurve bow, or to jump right in with a children's compound model such as the Mini Genesis® Package. Genesis makes an excellent youth starter bow, and the Mini Genesis is a downsized version for very young archers. The package retails for less than $200 and includes all that's needed to get a small child shooting arrows.
For my son, Alex, I opted to go the traditional route, and selected the Fred Bear Lit'l Brave Youth Recurve Bow. I won't lie. Price was a motivating factor. These days, kids are prone to change hobbies as often as they change socks, so I didn't want to invest a whole lot until I was sure archery was something Alex would stick with and the Bear bow retailed for less than $50. That's substantially less than beginner compound bows. And I also opted for a traditional start to the sport because I have heard from others that it is easier to learn to shoot instinctively off a "naked bow" and then move up to compound bows with sight systems later than doing it the other way around. Others may disagree with me on that point, but I've found it to be the case personally.
The Lit'l Brave has the look and feel of an adult-sized recurve and is a takedown bow that makes transport easy. Another added feature is that it comes drilled and tapped to accept accessories such as an attached quiver and sights. It also comes with two arrows. Made with the youngest archers in mind, it's extremely lightweight and easy for small hands to hold. The bow also comes with a stick-on E-Z Draw™ arrow rest and a cut out riser ensures adequate vane clearance. Recurve bow draw weight increases the farther back the bow is drawn, so depending on the draw length of your child it can range from 13-28 lbs. and draw length is designed to range from 16"-24". Like most traditional bows, the overall length is longer than compact compound models at 46". For comparison, the Mini-Genesis compound bow has an axle-to-axle length of less than 30".
My son took archery seriously and dedicated himself to practice. By the time he was six he competed in his first 3-D shoot and won the youth class competition. Practice continued into the fall, and I determined he was ready for his first small-game bowhunt.
With the right arrows and points the Lit'l Brave does have sufficient close-range power to harvest cottontails, so I took Alex on his first spot-and-stalk hunt for rabbits. If you can see the rabbit first, it will usually hunker down and let you get pretty close. Alex had a self-imposed range limit of 10-ft. for a humane kill, and we lucked out with a couple of rabbits holding tight long enough for Alex and I to close the distance. For safety, I held his quiver until it was time. Then he put the arrow on the string, drew back in the form he'd perfected during practice, and put the arrow right behind the first rabbit's shoulder. It didn't go far, and a bowhunter was born. As you can see from the look on his face in the photo, that first rabbit was every bit as big a trophy as any elk or deer a man three times his age would harvest.
In an age when shooting sports are under a lot of pressure, it's important to let responsible children with a desire to try them do so. There are many makes and models of children's and youth bows available from Cabela's. Comfortable weight, fit and feel are important considerations, and I advise starting light. Often parents will buy a bow hoping a child will "grow into it", but if a bow is hard for a young archer to draw from the start it's likely to dampen enthusiasm for the sport. I think it better to start light, master form and accuracy, and then move up to more powerful bows when your child asks to. Doing things the right way from the start will get a kid excited and enjoying shooting sports from day one, and hopefully that enthusiasm will last a lifetime.
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