Recently, bowhunter Mandy Hulett asked me if her young son Evan’s archery equipment was adequate for killing deer. She lives in a state where there is no minimum age limit for hunting, so it falls on the parents to decide when their children are ready to hunt. Most states have minimum bow draw-weights for deer hunting, which can certainly be used as the starting point. If your youth can’t pull the minimum required poundage, then they can’t hunt. But sometimes even that is a poor guide for starting young archers off right.
In my home state of New York, the law is “over 35 pounds.” In my humble opinion, anything less than 40 pounds is asking for wounded deer. Some hunters want to tell me about all the deer they have killed with bows below this poundage, but it doesn’t impress me or change my mind. No doubt someone out there has killed a deer with a jackknife. This article isn’t about the extremes. It’s about physics, common sense, and the law of averages. To get your young archer started right, you need to remove hurdles and put the odds of success on their side.
Start with the Arrow
Depending on your young hunter’s age and size, we could be looking at a draw length of 24 to 26 inches. If we spine these short arrows for only 40 pounds of draw weight, then we are looking at a very light arrow. Because we know it is momentum that kills deer, we have to solve that problem first. To weaken the spine of a heavier arrow, we need only to add length to it or add weight to the head. In other words, your youth may be shooting an arrow that is 28 inches long even with a 24-inch draw length. And it will most likely have a heavier head, not a lighter one. It may look a little odd, but who cares as long as it gets the job done, right?
Even with heavier arrows, we still don’t have anything close to the momentum produced by bows over 60 pounds. That pretty much throws mechanical broadheads out of consideration. It simply takes too much extra momentum to push these arrows all the way through a deer after the blades open. That’s why they don’t recommend mechanicals on dangerous or larger game. Even the heavy poundage bows can’t afford any momentum loss on these animals. So we’re going to have to use a conventional broadhead, which is really no problem if you understand how to tune them. Remember, you are working with lower momentum arrows, so you need to be thinking penetration. A long, two-blade, cut-on-impact head will win that battle every time.
On to Fletching
To stabilize these arrows, you will need maximum helical fletching, and probably 4 to 5 inches will work best.
If you do all these things, you should be looking at a total arrow weight of 500 grains or so. Sounds kind of heavy for a little 40-lb. bow, but it’s our only choice to get the momentum we need in an effort to make up for the power we don’t have. Remember, every 50 grains of arrow weight is equivalent to adding 10 pounds of bow weight. Yes, doing all these things will make for a slower arrow, and this set up may only be good out to 15 yards. Again, I say “So what?” if it gets the job done right. Where is the harm in instilling ethics in our youth?
Tuning and Arrow Flight
Now you simply have to spend the time it takes to get this setup tuned. It may not be easy, but we’re talking about not wounding deer here, so take however much time you need. I wish I could tell you exactly what the ideal setup should be, but with all the variables it will have to be case-by-case. I have no doubt it can be accomplished with carbon, aluminum, or even wood arrows for that matter. Or you can go to a competent archery dealer, one who understands the physics of archery tackle and the limits of low-poundage bows. If all they talk about is how fast they can make the arrow go, it would be best if you go find another archery dealer. My very competent archery dealer in Vermont was able to get perfect arrow flight from a 40-lb. bow using an arrow in 500 spine. It was 27 inches long, had a 100-grain insert, and a 125-grain two-bladed broadhead. It was fletched with three, 4-inch helical fletchings. The whole thing weighed in at 523 grains, giving it a hefty 13 grains per pound of bow weight. This is what your young archer should be striving for to quickly and humanely kill deer and not just poke and wound them.
After your setup is shooting perfect on targets (and that means with broadheads), spend time with your youth explaining anatomy and shot placement. If I was guiding a young person through this entry into bowhunting, I would ask them to wait for a full 90-degree broadside shot or maybe slightly quartering away. Their light tackle needs to impact both lungs and go all the way through the deer.
I would also put 15-yard markers at their stand site and tell them to wait until the deer is within these markers.
Passing a Proficiency Test
Lastly, I would get an agreement from any new bowhunter, young or not so young, that they will not hunt deer until they can pass a proficiency test on 3-D deer targets using the tackle they will be using to hunt. That will take a lot of pressure off parents because it puts the responsibility smack dab on the youth.
I had a father bring his son to our Quality Deer Hunter proficiency test last year with that in mind. His son would have badly wounded all three of the targets he shot at had they been real deer. Kids need to understand you will support them when they are truly ready and not before. That young man did not hunt deer with his bow last year, but he’ll be back to try the proficiency test again this year.
QDMA is working hard to recruit more youth and new hunters to our sport, as they should (and I encourage you to support them by becoming a member). But let’s do it in a way that creates responsible, ethical hunters. Unprepared hunters and wounded deer is not the future of hunting. Let’s start them right!
About the Author: Bill Badgley is a QDMA member from Cambridge, New York. He created and teaches a Quality Deer Hunter course each year to help local hunters fine-tune their archery equipment and firearms, understand deer anatomy, and improve shot placement. Bill also created QDMA’s CyberDeer shot-placement training software.