Like many kids, my first bow was a fiberglass toy recurve. Then around age 15, I decided to get serious about bowhunting and started saving to buy my first compound bow. The bow had no adjustability, so within a year the draw length was too short, the draw weight was too light...and I'd outgrown it.
Fast-forward to the present. I started my 8- and 11-year-old nephews out the same way-with fiberglass recurve bows. Then after watching them shoot for hours on end and honing their skills to the point that they were hitting the target consistently and having so much fun, I knew they were hooked and ready for the next step. Fortunately, they had a leg up.
Today compound bows have changed dramatically from when I got my first bow. A lot of young people's first experience with a compound is with a Mathews Genesis, which is used in the National Archery in the Schools Program (NASP), and is adjustable to fit any shooter. Good news for parents and other instructors: The Genesis system eliminates let-off so there are no specific draw length requirements, and draw weight is adjustable from 10 to 20 pounds. The Genesis is even available in 10 fun colors, including blue raspberry, lime, pink lemonade, black and camo. The only reason I didn't get the Genesis for my nephews, who were 7 and 10 at the time, was because they were already showing a lot of interest in my bowhunting adventures on my hunting show. I skipped the Genesis and ordered two awesome little compounds from Mission: the Menace and the Craze.
Unlike the compound bow I started with three decades ago, these adjustable bows can be sized to a shooter's physical stature. The Menace has an adjustable draw length from 17 to 30 inches and a draw weight from 16 to 52 pounds. The Craze has an adjustable draw length from 19 to 30 inches and an adjustable draw weight from 15 to 70 pounds. Though my nephews are a couple years away from bowhunting (they are not able to draw enough weight and do not yet meet the age requirement in many states), I was able to set up these bows to fit them and, in less than an hour, had them on target and hitting the bulls-eye. Once this happens, good luck getting them to lay down their bows and come inside for dinner!
The beauty of these bows is that as kids grow, just a few simple adjustments in the field or at the range will make it seem like they are shooting new bows. If you simply change the bowstring periodically, the bows will last for years and will still be very efficient hunting bows by the time they are young adults so they provide great value. NRA Publications' own Sarah Smith Barnum is a great example of how these bows also suit adults as she recently got into archery and chose the very same bow-the Mission Craze.So don't be fooled: The Mission bows are not typical kids' bows-but they are bows kids can shoot very well.
Once your son, daughter or other young person is ready to try archery, start with a fiberglass bow and gauge their interest. There are ample toy archery recurve bow-and-arrow sets with arrows, a target and a quiver on the market from companies such as Bear Archery (Wizard, Scout), Barnett (Lil' Banshee) and Kings Sport, to name a few. Check online at Cabelas or Bass Pro Shops, or stop at your local sports store or Wal-Mart. In many cases, it won't be long before you're shopping for a Mathews Genesis or stepping up to a Mission or other adjustable model. Note that when it comes to adjustable bows, as with some gun makers, there are a few bow manufacturers that also market their women's models to youth. Be aware that while the actual bow size may seem suited for kids, they may not have the adjustability kids need and they'll be higher-end models.
In addition to Mission's Menace and Craze, check out Bear Archery's Apprentice 3 and Diamond Archery's Infinity Edge. Again, these more advanced bows are more expensive, so be sure your child wants to pursue the sport. Remember: They are designed to grow with your kids, be effective as true high-tech hunting bows and last for years.
I have to say I've never met a young person who didn't want to give archery a try once I put a bow in their hands and showed them how to nock an arrow and pull back the string. As you help them learn and hone their shooting fundamentals-proper stance, grip, anchor point, release and follow-through-and hit more and more targets, their interest only grows.