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Archery is hands down the coolest thing for a child to get involved with. Just put a bow and arrow into their hand and watch their face light up. I personally don’t have children (yet!) but my nephew, Zayne who is 11-years-old, has been bitten by the archery bug.
He is right at that age where he is finished playing with toys and wants to get into archery for real. All you parents out there with children like that have probably asked at some point or another, “What size bow should I get for my child?”
The size of the bow to get your child depends on each individual child but in general, it comes down to draw weight. At 10 or 11-years-old, the average child should be pretty comfortable with a 15 lb recurve bow or a 25 lb compound bow. Youth recurve bows are typically less than 50″ in length, tip to tip, and youth compound bows usually less than 40″ so they are very manageable for kids at that age.
I bow that I would recommend that fits this description is the PSE Archery Pro Max 54 Recurve Bow. It comes with an adjustable target sight, arrow rest, quiver, 3 carbon arrows, armguard, finger savers, and recurve bow stringer. It even comes drilled and tapped to install a bow stabilizer. This is a perfect package for any child starting out in archery. You can pick it up from Bass Pro Shops for an outstanding price here.
How to determine the size of a bow
When you are considering a bow, there are 3 important characteristic measurements that matter:
- Mass weight
- Draw weight
The length of the bow determines how easy it is to maneuver. A longer bow will generally be more difficult to carry around through the bush (if your child is into field archery, see my article here), while a shorter bow is quicker to handle and easier to carry through the bush. Bows designed for children, or Youth bows, are usually less than 50″ tip-to-tip (with the exception of a few that are designed really for kids to get used to adult-sized bows).
Mass weight of a bow is just how heavy it is. A heavier bow will make your child’s arm tired faster than a lighter bow. It will also help to develop your child’s arm muscles quicker so that over time, their aim will become steadier.
There is a fine balance here that needs to be considered: if it becomes a chore to shoot, then eventually your child may lose interest in archery altogether. The goal should be fun. The fact of the matter is, though, pretty much every bow is so light that shops don’t even list the mass weight.
The most important characteristic of the bow is the draw weight.
Draw weight is a measure of how hard it is to pull back the string when the string is pulled back a standard distance of 28″. For example, a bow with a 40 lb draw weight means that when the string is pulled back to 28″ your arm is holding back 40 lbs of weight. A draw length less than 28″ means the draw weight is reduced. For recurve bows, the standard 28″ draw length is used because that is the draw length of an average person.
That brings me to my next point.
How do I measure draw length?
There are a few different ways to determine a person’s draw length:
- the Height Method
- the Arm Span Method
- the Measuring Tape Method
The first method has to do with the height of your child. The general principle is that the human body is proportioned in such a way that if you know a person’s height you can figure out certain other measurements. Simply measure your child’s height in inches and divide by 2.5.
For example, the average height of a 10-year-old boy or girl is 54.5”. Therefore the average draw length = 54.5” / 2.5 = 21.8”
The next method, the Arm Span Method, is the exact same. Measure your child’s arm span from the tip of the middle finger to the tip of the other middle finger and divide by 2.5. This works because the arm span is equal to a person’s height!
These two methods give a good idea but the most accurate method is to use a measuring tape.
Simply take a measuring tape and hold it upside down as if you were holding a bow. Now draw back the end of the tape simulating drawing back a bowstring as shown in the picture below. Pull the tape back to the corner of your mouth and take the measurement. That is exactly what your draw length is.
I like the Measuring Tape Method best because it simulates the exact motion of drawing back the bowstring and, therefore, gives the most accurate measurement of draw length. You also don’t need any special equipment, other than a measuring tape.
For example, I am 5’11”. Using the height method, my draw length should be 28.4″ (71″ / 2.5 = 28.4″).
Now, when I used a measuring arrow specially made to determine draw length it turns out my draw length is actually 31″. If I had cut some arrows to match the 28.4″ draw length those arrows would be 2.6″ too short!
When I measured my draw length using the Measuring Tape Method described above, I got exactly 31″.
Use measuring tape folks.
Recurve vs Compound
Ok, so you now know how to size up a bow and you know how to size up your child. Let’s talk a bit about the different kinds of bows out there.
There are 2 basic kinds of bows: traditional and compound. Traditional bows can be further broken down, but for this discussion, I’ll stick with recurve bows because they are the most common.
The main difference between these types of bows experienced by the archer is in drawing back the string. As you draw back the string on a recurve bow, the force required to draw the string back increases so that at full draw (28″) the force is at the maximum weight. So at full draw, an archer shooting a 40 lb recurve bow would be holding back 40 lbs. The most common recurve bow draw weight is in fact 40 lbs and probably for that reason.
Recurve bows and Traditional bows, in general, are much longer than compound bows as well. Youth bows range in length from 40″ to 50″ and adult-sized bows are 54″ on the short end up to 70″ for some longbows. The length is measured from tip-to-tip.
By contrast, compound bows are much shorter and the length is measured from axle-to-axle.
Typical compound bow lengths range from 25″ to under 40″. The biggest difference between recurve bows and compound bows draw weight is the bow let off.
What is bow let off?
Compound bows operate using a system of cams (off-center wheels, if you will) that the string rides on. As the bowstring is pulled back, the maximum draw weight is reached before the bow is a full draw. As the string is pulled passed the peak weight point, the weight lets off so that at full draw the archer is only holding a mere fraction of the full draw weight.
The amount that the draw weight is reduced is called the bow let off.
For example, a lot of bowhunters hunt with bows that have draw weights of 60 lbs and an 80% let off. That means at full draw (past the peak point) the draw weight is reduced by 80% and I’m only holding 12 lbs and NOT 60 lbs. BUT when I release, the bows unleashes a 60 lb force!
That’s the power of the cams! I can sit all day holding that 12 lbs until the perfect opportunity presents itself.
For that reason, compound bows would be good for children who prefer to take their time aiming.
A started compound bow that would recommend is the Genesis Youth Compound Bow. It’s not the cheapest but it is by far the BEST option out there for a started compound bow for a 10-year-old.
This bow will last them until they want to upgrade to the big leagues and can’t outgrow it: it’s designed that way! It comes in a package that includes the bow itself, an adjustable arm guard, 5 aluminum target arrows tuned specifically to the bow, and a belt quiver. You can get the package from Bass Pro Shops here.
You’ll need to get a release aid since the package does not include one. I’d recommend the Tru-Fire Patriot Caliper Release – Jr. Model, also available from Bass Pro Shops. This is just your basic caliper type, index finger trigger, release aid.
This should do them just fine until your child is ready to graduate to more advanced release aids. I’ve written a detailed article all about the different types of releases and you can read it here.
How do I know what draw weight the bow is?
There are a couple of ways to find out the draw weight of a bow:
- Read the draw weight form the inside of the lower limb
- Find the manufacturer description
Every bow will have the draw weight marked on the inside of the lower limb. The mark will tell you the length of the bow and the draw weight for those limbs at that bow length. It also means that the draw weight is for a 28″ draw length: a shorter draw length will be less draw weight and a longer draw length will be more draw weight.
If you’re not sure, you can always ask someone in the store or check the website of the manufacturer. All the bow information will be listed but if it is not then you should probably go with a different bow.
Determine your child’s skill level
The skill level of your child is also a factor when choosing the right size of bow for them.
When I was 10-years-old, I had already gone through all the bow and arrow toys out there and was semi-regularly practicing with my red fibreglass Walmart Special longbow. I was pretty familiar with how to comfortably shoot my bow and could lob arrows into a target at 25 yards with relatively consistent accuracy.
I did not have any formal coaching or training of any kind and I had never been in any competitions before. My dad would take me to the local archery club and watch me shoot for hours. My parents didn’t have tons of money; they just got me whatever they could afford at the time.
I was a self-taught, recreational archer. That was my skill level.
So, when one day another more experienced archer at the club offered to sell me his old compound bow, complete with 10 aluminum arrows, I was thrilled! I had seen all the other guys shooting what looked like high-tech fancy bows but I knew we could never afford that. This guy was offering the whole package for $100! A pretty good deal at that time.
The first shot from my new bow was a dream! I was used to my Walmart Special flinging arrows in the general direction of the target and every so often I could group the arrows into about a 12″ area. This compound bow made those groups into 4″.
I was over the moon!
This bow had a 25 lb draw weight and measured about 40″ in length. It was a little heavier than my old fibreglass bow, but I honestly never noticed. I was distracted by all the FUN I was having! This is the bow I used for my first 3D tournament where I got 2nd place.
The point is this: if you start your child out with just a basic bow, like an inexpensive youth bow, they will learn good form and have lots of fun. They will get loads of experience shooting arrows downrange and it will be a blast. They will start to learn the flight of the arrow and compensate for arrow drop to be able to hit targets at whatever range they want, but their groups will be pretty big.
When they graduate to an adult bow or a higher quality youth bow, they will appreciate that bow much more than if they started out with the high end one from the start.
Just for fun or competition?
Like I described above, at 10-years-old I was a self-taught recreational archer and was perfectly happy with the basic bow and arrow kit I was using. If your child wants to shoot arrows just for fun, I recommend getting them a basic bow and graduate up as they develop their skill.
If your child has more experience and wants to participate in archery competitions, I would recommend getting them a more high-quality bow that will offer many years of shooting life.
Competition recurve bows can be pretty pricey but they also offer a much smoother draw and release and can be custom tuned for perfect accuracy. If you get a take-down recurve bow with ILF limbs, you can swap out the limbs for different draw weights instead of buying a whole new bow (check out my article on ILF limbs here).
How often do they want to shoot?
There is also the consideration to give to how often your child will want to shoot. If you have your own land or a large backyard, your child will have plenty of opportunities to practice as often as they want.
If, on the other hand, if you live in the city or an area where you are not allowed to shoot bows and arrows in your backyard then you’re probably looking at getting a membership to a local archery club.
Membership fees and structures will differ according to the club and your location but in general, you can get an annual membership for around $200. Most archery clubs will offer an option to use the range for a drop-in fee. Where I live, it’s about $15 and you can come and go throughout the whole day.
It’s pretty easy to search “archery range” or “archery club” on Google to find all the local spots in your area. Be sure to factor in the membership or drop-in fees when making the decision about which bow to get your child.
How much is this going to cost me?
I’ll cut right to it: you can expect to pay about $50 for a basic beginner recurve bow & arrow set all the way up to around $150 for a little more advanced compound bow & arrow set that will last longer.
That should get you started with your child’s archery career.
When they become more advanced or if you want to start them out with some higher quality gear, check out my article about how much it costs to get started in Traditional Archery.
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