It’s been a few years, but when our son first saw my old Horton Max 150 crossbow, he had two reactions, a scenario I’ve seen firsthand or heard about from other folks with children.
“What is that?”
“It’s a crossbow. You pull back the cable to cock it, put in an arrow and then shoot it.”
“Wow. Cool! Can I try it?”
By Alan Clemons
My answer was, “Of course,” and we took a few shots at my target in the yard. After showing him where to put his hand on the forearm and reassuring him there was no recoil, he fired. It didn’t take too many shots for the cool factor to sink in pretty deeply. Nor did it take long for him to ask about whether we could hunt with it. Children are curious, interested and eager to try something, provided they get support and supervision.
Gregg Ritz has seen this for years, since he was growing up in Ohio. Known for its great hunting tradition, Ohio was one of the first states to legalize crossbows for hunters other than those who had obtained a physician’s note stating a percentage of bodily disability. Arkansas is another state with a long history of allowing crossbows, adding them to hunting seasons decades ago.
The powerful leaps in technology and designs for crossbows, arrows, broadheads and optics have made impacts on adults and youngsters. The latter, of course, see these cool factors helped by archery inclusions in movies or television shows such as The Walking Dead, The Hunger Games, Underworld: Evolution, Van Helsing and others.
“The technology today … I don’t think we’re there, and it will continue to get better. It’s just amazing,” said Ritz, who has hunted across the United States and worldwide with bows, muzzleloaders and rifles. “You have to give it to the archery wizards of the world for continuing to make the improvements they’re achieving.
“I went to college at Ohio Wesleyan in Ohio back in the 1980s. I killed my first deer with vertical bow at age 11 and with a muzzleloader at age 16, and then crossbows came in. I think the stigma of being for old people or the disabled is going away. We’ve all heard those things for a long time, but we’re seeing more states and hunters accepting them.
“Go into a hunting camp with one, and you’ll people shooting bows and guns or whatever, but they’re looking at it. And it’s not your granddaddy’s crossbow now. They look cool — split limbs, stocks that look like they’re from an AR-15, rails and accessories. Before long, they’re asking about it, and some eventually want to shoot it.”
Ritz sees this with youngsters, partly because of the cool factor and because many of them have never used one. The crossbow is unique and has been since its origins in the 4th century B.C. Strong limbs, a thick cable or string, and a cable rail mounted on a shoulder support or gun stock comprise almost every crossbow design. The first forms of crossbows, believed to date to 397 B.C., predate firearms by centuries. Detractors who say the crossbow is a rip-off of a gun are wrong by about 850 years.
Today’s crossbow models are easily far more advanced than those of even five or six years ago. No matter the brand — TenPoint, Horton, Wicked Ridge or others — we’re seeing some of the compound bow technology brought into crossbows. These include split limbs, faster speeds, narrower axle-to-axle widths, the use of carbon fibers, and ergonomic and adjustable stocks. Crossbow scopes are being designed for speedier arrows and broadheads.
Going About It
So if you have children, when is the best time to get them interested in a crossbow?
“Give them the opportunity, and start them early,” said Sabrina Simon with TenPoint Crossbows. “My favorite thing to say about my boys is I wanted to get them interested in hunting, fishing and outdoors in general before the girls have a chance to get them. The girls will have a priority at some time, and I know that, but maybe they’ll come back to the outdoors.
“I was raised in the outdoors and my kids were going to grow up hunting and fishing. They started sitting in the tree or stands with us for little short times when they were 5. They didn’t start shooting to really shoot at anything until they both were 7.
“I was really surprised with Casey, who had showed the most interest in hunting, but at first didn’t show an interest in shooting. But then we were doing it a couple of nights a week, and he realized how good he was at it. Colby is younger, so he was excited to just do anything his big brother was doing. He didn’t care what mom and dad were doing. And lots of encouragement and confidence-building were big for both of them, which is something any parent should do with their children.”
Ritz encourages his children with confidence-building games with targets. He’ll hang paper plates one day and then colored balloons of different sizes the next. The children might have a challenge to hit a dot on a plate or a specific balloon. Similar to using spinner targets for a .22-caliber rifle instead of paper, the extra fun involved with the targets helps youngsters stay focused.
“How do you make archery interactive?” Ritz asked. “Use 3-D targets, play “hit dad’s arrow nock,” use balloons or whatever to make it fun with a crossbow or vertical bow. They’ve shot out a few nocks and arrows, but that’s OK. We have a good time, and it’s different. Kids’ attention span is all over the place. So we’re having fun and mixing it up.”
But that doesn’t mean the focus on fundamentals and safety goes by the wayside. Those are first and foremost for a bow or gun.
“With our kids, and I’d suggest this with any youngsters starting out, begin with a basic tutorial and learn what everything is and does,” he said. “Explain how a bow works, how the parts work, the function of each thing and so on. Discuss safety features on the bow, like to protect fingers, and how when a crossbow is cocked you abide by the firearm safety procedures with it: Point it in a safe direction, never point at anything you don’t want to shoot, keep your finger off the trigger, hands on the fore-end and no thumb or fingers up (over the rail).
Ritz will take a shot or two with new shooters to let them watch him with the process. He said after the shot, “It’s always that ah-ha! moment. There’s no noise or recoil. They say, ‘That’s it?’ and then they want to shoot.”
Ritz also uses a Caldwell Field Pod or shooting sticks to help support the crossbow if a bench rest isn’t available. Either support is great to help any crossbow shooter have better accuracy. TenPoint’s SteddyEddy monopod support system does the same.
“With the shooting sticks or Caldwell Field Pod, I can position their head and hands in the proper area,” Ritz said. “Another plus for kids is using a low-power scope or red-dot, something with no eye relief. Kids can put the red dot on the target and squeeze the trigger.”
As with many things, children pick up what’s going on pretty quickly. They might be eager, and safety must be adhered to, but don’t tamp that enthusiasm. Fuel it with fun target sessions, patiently answer questions and make the most of it.
“You try not to overinstruct, and that’s so important,” Ritz said. “Just creating the comfort zone around the crossbow … after a few dozen times, they start to get more comfortable with it. As they improve, I’ll reduce the size of the target. I might start with paper plate and red-dot. Then I’ll move to a smaller 4-inch plate, like you use for cake at a picnic. Once they naturally figure it out, I don’t have to instruct them about aiming for or hitting the bull’s-eye. I work on head placement and trigger control.
“Don’t let them shoot too much, either. Let them shoot eight arrows when they want to shoot a dozen. When they still have that enthusiasm, you’re ending on a high note. I’d rather have them shoot six good arrows seven days a week instead of 40 in one day and get tired or lose interest.”
Down the Road
What’s coming in the future for youth and female shooters? Likely some new crossbows specifically designed for smaller bodies. Technology will continue to improve, of course, and we probably will see more things like adjustable stocks, lighter materials and unique designs.
“I think the trend has been toward kids and women the past six to eight years, getting more of them involved,” Simon said. “Most outdoors manufacturers of everything across the board have made changes and adjustments to their products to accommodate smaller-framed folks. I think some are hesitant to say ‘youth’ or ‘women’ on their products because there are some men who might be smaller in stature. The point is, though, we’re seeing more options for more people interested in crossbows and the outdoors.
“As for specific crossbow products, there have been a lot of things in the works for a long time. Every company in the outdoor industry has been gearing things toward women and youth, and evolving in different ways. Obviously that’s where future sales will be.”
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