An unsettling fact these days is that we are steadily losing hunters in the United States far faster than we can replace them. According to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the number of hunters dropped from 2011 to 2016 by 2.2 million participants. Many factors contribute to this loss in numbers, some of which we can control, and some we cannot. One thing that everyone can do to help offset these losses is to introduce a young person to hunting. What is the best weapon to use with a young person who is just starting? Crossbows carry many advantages over other weapons that make them ideal for introducing a young hunter to the woods.
A great way to familiarize a young person with the outdoors is to take them deer hunting during the early fall archery season. The weather during this time is nicer than during the winter months when deer gun season often occurs. Most states have a minimum required draw weight of around 40 pounds for vertical bows, if they are to be used as legal archery hunting equipment. Typically, children under the age of 14 are not yet strong enough to pull back the bowstring of a vertical bow at 40 pounds of draw weight, which means they cannot legally hunt with a vertical bow during the archery season. Kids are then limited to participate only as observers of the hunting experience, and they cannot be the actual hunters. Being an observer is never as much fun as having the chance to directly participate. Since a crossbow does not require that you pull and hold the bowstring to take a shot, a child who has access to a crossbow can become the hunter and no longer just an observer.
Modern crossbow cocking assist mechanisms like the ACUdraw from TenPoint Crossbow Technologies now yield a high mechanical advantage, enabling a youth to cock a crossbow without physical assistance from an adult. Keep in mind, however, that a child should always be supervised by an adult when handling a crossbow.
Archery hunting with a vertical bow requires hours of practice to master the proper shooting form and to become proficient enough to ethically harvest an animal. Learning to shoot a crossbow requires less practice time to become proficient, and most modern youth hunting crossbows now shoot with enough performance to produce total pass-through shots on deer out to 30 yards. In fact, many youth models on the market today shoot with more speed and energy than can be produced by a recurve or compound bow with a 40-pound draw weight.
Another advantage of a crossbow over a vertical bow is that the crossbow does not need to change in size every year or two to fit the shooter. Proper fit is critical to achieving accuracy with a vertical bow, and parents sometimes need to purchase two or three vertical bows for their children as they grow. A child can use the same youth model crossbow throughout childhood, requiring only one purchase.
Crossbows also make very little noise when they shoot, as compared to a rifle or a shotgun, and some children who are just learning to shoot may find the crossbow to be much less intimidating to handle. Crossbows exhibit a small amount of recoil after the shot, but young people seem to get used to this recoil very quickly. At times, overcoming the recoil from a hunting rifle or shotgun can be difficult for some children, and the experience could cause them to lose interest or become fearful of a firearm altogether. With a crossbow, the child can practice a shooting routine more effectively and develop shooting confidence more quickly than with a firearm. Arrows can be shot many times when practicing with a crossbow, while firearms require that you purchase multiple boxes of ammunition for practice, which can get quite expensive.
Remember, beyond the type of hunting tool that a child uses, the most important thing that you can do to contribute to the future of hunting is to take a child along. The lifelong memories you will make of this shared experience will be special forever.
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