Published March 30, 2008, 12:00 AM

Young Buck Fever

An anxious father introduces his 7-year-old son to the world of bowhunting
He let the arrow fly. “Oh my gosh,” he said, somewhat startled. “Did you hit her?” I yelled in a whisper. “Yeah,” Jonas replied with an exhale.

He let the arrow fly. “Oh my gosh,” he said, somewhat startled.

“Did you hit her?” I yelled in a whisper.

“Yeah,” Jonas replied with an exhale.

My son stood in the ground blind, shaking almost as much as I was. Right before the shot, Jonas had to move his body to square up on the doe. The move blocked my view out the blind’s window.

After he released the arrow, the deer ran into the standing corn field. I saw some stalks tumble but never caught a glimpse of the shot. Had he really hit her?

We stared at each other in the darkness of the blind, almost as if we were both in a time-out. Jonas was wide-eyed, breathing fast and looking at me in disbelief.

I’m sure to him I looked the same, which couldn’t have been very comforting. His reaction shouldn’t have surprised me. He was only seven years old.

I can’t imagine what an overwhelming experience it must have been for a young boy to be that close to a deer and have the chance to kill it. A confident child and an anxious father entered the woods that day. By the time it was over, we had each grown a foot.

The equipment

I got Jonas set up for about $400.

I went to the local sporting goods store and picked out a Parker Buckshot. The bow has 80 percent let-off, an adjustable draw length from 18 to 28 inches and adjustable poundage from 30 to 40 pounds. All adjustments can be made without the use of a bow press.

Parker, like some other companies, offers an appealing plan that lets the bow grow with a young hunter. Once Jonas can exceed drawing 40 pounds, I can send the bow and $50 to Parker and they will ship the bow back, equipped with new limbs that adjust from 40 to 50 pounds.

Buy some quality youth arrows and don’t cut them an inch. It’s going to look like a telephone pole hanging off the string, but that’s O.K. You are going to want as much mass as possible to make up for the lack of poundage.

Tip them with a 125 grain, cut-on-contact broad head. This combination will provide for the best possible penetration.

Four key things will help your child become accurate and comfortable while shooting the bow: a youth release, a whisker biscuit arrow rest, a wrist guard and a kisser button.

The release and whisker biscuit are the most obvious because they both assist in keeping the arrow in place. Fingers and a launcher rest are a recipe for frustration as the string will twist and the arrow will flip off the rest.

The wrist guard is something you should have your child wear from the beginning. I didn’t, only because I have never needed one.

That was a mistake. Jonas had only been shooting for a couple weeks when my experimentation with his draw-length had a negative result. I didn’t know what had happened. He shot an arrow and walked into the house without saying a word.

“That’s not like him,” I thought.

After a 10-minute wait for his return, I went inside and found him lying – teary-eyed – on the couch.

Now, Jonas is not a wimp like me. I tear up when a needful soul wins $50,000 on “Deal or No Deal.” Jonas regularly withstands his flu shot with just a grimace, so I knew something was up.

“What happened, buddy?” I asked.

He rolled up his sleeve and showed me a string-welt on his arm that looked like Mick Jagger’s lips. It was my fault because I had been tinkering with his draw length and set it too long. I was simply honest with him and told him that sometimes the string hits your arm. In a perfect world, that would have been enough to get him back to practice, but it wasn’t.

One month later, donned in a heavy winter coat with a wrist guard in place, Jonas was finally willing to cast another arrow. He had not lost his interest in hunting, but the unexpected pain he had encountered earlier was enough to make him resist my persistent requests that he practice.

Have your child wear the wrist guard from the beginning and you will hopefully be able to bypass the setback I encountered.

The kisser button is the final addition to the setup that will help with your child’s accuracy. I can’t explain it any clearer than I did to Jonas: “Kisser button in the corner of your mouth, tip of your nose on the string, put the pin in the center of the peep sight, put the pin on the target, shoot when you’re ready.”

It may sound like a lot at first, but I repeated it every time before he shot an arrow until it was so engrained in his head he gave me a teen-age-toned, “Yeah, I know.”

I don’t use a kisser button when I’m shooting. I have a solid anchor point I am confident in. Jonas gazed in confusion when I first started talking to him about anchor points so I had to make it a physically stimulated process for him to understand it.

He now knows if he can feel the kisser button in the corner of his mouth and the string on the tip of his nose, he will cast an accurate arrow. This process creates a dual anchor point that results in a consistent sight picture.

The key to practice is to start in the spring. That way there is plenty of time to deal with lulls in interest and unexpected “Mick Jaggers.”

Child psychology 101

It’s not easy, and don’t think it’s going to be. You have to walk a fine line between teacher and parent.

The key is to adapt to your child’s behavior, working at their pace depending on maturity, interest and ability. Most importantly you have to keep yourself in check.

This may all start as a flirtation with hunting. You may go to the local pro shop, buy the equipment and start doing some shooting, not really considering it possible that your child could kill a deer this year.

Maybe next year right? The second you realize your child has the potential to kill a deer, you will feel more pressure than having a once-in-a-lifetime North Dakota bighorn sheep tag in your pocket.

You will want your child to harvest a deer so bad you will feel the pressure. While you will likely preach “it’s all about the hunt not the harvest,” you will be thinking about how sweet it would be for your child to close the deal.

Just remember, a child can be a hunter and a hunter can be a child. The mental challenge presents itself when the child appears at the time you want the hunter to be there.

For example, Jonas is famous for fracturing my anticipation with an untimely “when can we go?” with an hour left of legal hunting.

This was the time I expected him to be the most vigilant. “How could he possibly be thinking about leaving?” He is a child, that’s how.

He does not have the patience and discipline of an adult, yet he is a hunter. It is your job to tame or accept the behavior, depending on your child’s personality and day-to-day factors.

Don’t think for a minute that a long day of travel, followed by target practice and a mile-long walk to the blind doesn’t take its toll on your young one.

They will not persevere as well as we can. Think of every three-hour hunt for them as a nine-hour sit for you and it will put some perspective on what they are going through.

Can you sit for nine hours without getting restless or impatient? You will find yourself telling your child to be patient. You must be patient as well … your child is a hunter.

Choke hazards

Remember when they were a toddler and every time you took a trip you had to scan for and secure the items that would invariably end up in their mouth?

That is how you need to think. It may sound a bit neurotic, but it is so important.

If you don’t, your child will: sit on your knife, grab the business end of an arrow, lean their face into every sharp branch, grab a thorn bush, trip, trip and trip again, and not have fun.

The clumsiness that makes you laugh at home can end a hunt in a heartbeat. Your job is to run interference.

The broad head should be respected. I will confess an error of which I am not proud.

I thought it would be safe to allow Jonas to carry his bow with quiver attached because of the foam and tension security the quiver offered. While weaving through the brush on the way to a blind one day, I looked back and saw something that nearly made my heart stop.

Jonas was hopping a log and I saw the three razor-sharp blades of his broadhead as the dangling arrow smacked against adjacent saplings. The arrow had somehow partially dislodged from the quiver and its path was at the mercy of the surroundings.

I turned to Jonas and said, “Do not move an inch.”

He stopped and looked around for a deer he assumed I had spotted. I slowly secured the arrow in the quiver and took the bow from his hands.

He was not afraid, like I was. I explained the dangers of tripping or falling with an unsecure arrow and he seemed to understand. I took the quiver off and let him carry just the bow.

That’s how we travel in the woods now. I was fortunate to learn this lesson without an injury.

You must constantly be scanning and anticipating for danger. I’m not talking about a mountain lion attack or an avalanche. I am talking about things we take for granted.

My father and I have hunted together for 20 years. We can follow each other through the woods in near silence, knowing how and when each other will move. We know to give a little space when the leader is spreading brush.

Jonas didn’t know that and I should have anticipated it. The first time I inadvertently drilled him in the face with a sapling, I heard about it. It’s unlikely I will make that mistake again.

Your child will do the unexpected but will often be predictable. You will be excited to show your child the ways of a hunter. Don’t let that cloud your parental instincts of safety.

Your young hunter is most likely going to get hurt during your hunting season. Do everything you can to ensure the hurt can be remedied with a tweezers or a band aid.

In the blind

If you have ever hunted in a blind, you will know the ground blind is the way to go with a child. You can move around, get your equipment ready and even convulse your way out of a nap with little or no detection from surrounding wildlife.

This is the perfect setting for a young kid. It takes a bit of pressure off you and your child.

I routinely pack my bow in a soft padded case that doubles as a sleeping pad for Jonas. During almost every outing we would arrive at the blind and Jonas would start the hunt off with a 45-minute nap on the comfort of the bow case.

It was perfect for both him and me. This gave him time for needed rest and me time to organize the blind for his shot. The enclosure quickly becomes small when you add an extra person and all the equipment for two.

While the wind is most important, there are three more critical things you can do to increase your child’s chance of success: close the windows behind you, set the blind so the sun is at your back and wear black.

Your kid is going to have to move. It’s right above snacking and below torturing a sibling in the adolescent handbook. If the windows behind you are open, then light can pass through the blind.

If a deer is in position to see through the front window of a blind and out the back window, any time you move between the two windows a beam of light is blocked out. Even if the deer cannot discern what it saw, it knows it saw movement. The stomping, head-bobs and blowing are probably soon to follow.

Setting the blind with the sun at your back is another way to suppress the deer’s radar. If your open windows are facing the sun, once again you are faced with direct beams of light that highlight your movement.

With the sun at your back, your movements are completely shadowed by the blind. Combine that with dressing in black clothing and your movement will go substantially unnoticed. Camouflage has its purpose, but nothing blends into the shadowed interior of a blind like solid black.

Time to track?

I thought I heard the good “thump” after he shot. I didn’t see the shot and that’s what concerned me most. Jonas looked to me for answers, but I needed more information.

“Did you hit her in the lungs?” I asked, trying not to make it sound like the interrogation it would soon turn into.

“Yes,” Jonas said in complete confidence.

I stared him down, looking for a sign of insecurity or deceit. He didn’t waver. The entry point meant the difference between tracking the deer now or a long sleepless night.

I got on my hands and knees and told him to pretend I was the deer and point where his arrow hit. Even though I am quite ticklish, I didn’t laugh when he poked me in the arm pit. I was excited.

I reworded my questions several times over the next half hour. Finally, sick of the interrogation, he let me have it.

“Dad.” he said, pausing to make sure I was paying attention, “Do you trust that I know where the lungs on a deer are?”

“Yes,” I said sincerely.

He spoke as if I were the child.

“Then let’s go get my deer, I hit her in the lungs,” he said.

“O.K., let’s track her,” I said.

The standing corn field was perfect for tracking as every stalk she brushed against had smears of blood on them. About 100 yards deep in the crop, I saw her down.

“Follow the blood,” I said, prompting Jonas to take the lead.

He had not seen her yet. He went from stalk to stalk, following the blood for the last few steps until he saw his deer.

“I did it … I got a deer,” he screamed.

He ran to the beautiful doe, touched her, and then gave me a hug I will never forget.

Six months earlier, my young son touched his bow for the first time and now he was standing over a double-lung shot white tail. He was proud. I was proud of him.

We put in a lot of work to get there, sometimes learning as we went, but it was all worth it. I would not trade that wonderful October evening for the most sought after tag in the world.


Mathew Sanders, 36, is a sergeant for the Fargo Police Department. He has hunted for 21 years, concentrating primarily on whitetail bow hunting in the Sheyenne River Valley and the Turtle Mountains of North Dakota. He has had articles published in Petersen’s Bowhunting Magazine. He can be reached at matsanders@hotmail.com

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