Hunting Small Game Hunting Rabbit Hunting

My Daughter Shot Her First Rabbit at 5 Years Old — With a Bow

Here's how I decided that my daughter was ready to bowhunt
Beka Garris Avatar
rabbit hunting
The author's daughter during her first season of small game hunting. Beka Garris

My late-season rabbit hunts look a lot different these days. My 5-year-old daughter marches in front of me, her curls bobbing with every step as she follows the white tip of our beagle’s tail into the brush. Our pup, Amber, circles through a maze of blackberry brambles and returns to my daughter, jumping up to put her muddy paws on the knees of the worn camo coveralls. She is rewarded with a pat on her furry head.

Rabbits or not, they’re both certainly enjoying themselves. We all are.

My daughter, Isabella, was rabbit hunting with me before she was even born. I ran my old beagle nearly every day the winter that I was pregnant, and it was a great season. When Isabella was 6 months old, I shot a rabbit in the backyard, proud to be somewhat successfully juggling motherhood and my love for hunting. 

Every year after that, my daughter spent rabbit season perched in a backpack carrier, looking over my shoulder while I trailed my beagle through the thickets in search of cottontails. 

This past fall, while the changing leaves still clung to their branches and my thoughts drifted to big whitetails, Isabella decided that she too wanted to bowhunt. She insisted that she was ready. I didn’t doubt that she was. She had started shooting a recurve at just 2 years old, and has become a phenomenal shot. 

As I’ve written previously for Outdoor Life, I know that many people would have most likely told their child: You’re too young and too little to shoot a bow. A lot of hunters would say two is too early to begin teaching kids archery. But I do everything I can to nurture any interest Isabella might have in activities that involve getting outdoors. So by age five, I figured she probably was ready to go bowhunting. 

Since big game was clearly (and legally) out of the question for such a small child who pulls an 18-pound bow, we set our sights on small game. I purchased her first official license, an apprentice license that allowed her to legally hunt as long as I accompanied her. 

Before long, many arrows were flung at flighty gray squirrels, with some close calls but no hits. Yet, Isabella didn’t give up. Every time she would retrieve an arrow that missed its target, she seemed more determined to get the next one. 

“I really hope I shoot my first animal this season,” she said to me solemnly, tucking her brightly fletched arrow back into the quiver. 

A Girl’s First Rabbit

rabbit hunting
Isabella and her pup Amber chasing rabbits.

Photo by Beka Garris

Squirrel season ended, along with deer season, and the bleak month of February stretched before us. The only hunting season still open was for rabbits, and I knew she still had a good chance. 

If you haven’t ever hunted rabbits, you should know that it’s a blast, particularly with a dog. There is no need to be quiet, no need for any specific gear or camo. It’s a great way to introduce kids to hunting. Even without a dog, it’s not hard to walk through thick underbrush in pursuit of cottontails — they often stay still until you almost step on them before zigzagging off and occasionally stopping. This makes for great shot opportunities, and since rabbits are thin skinned, you don’t need a large caliber or heavy draw weight in order to kill one.

One chilly day I packed up the truck with our beagle and Isabella and we headed to some public land down the road. I had always seen rabbits while deer hunting here and figured it would be a good place to try running the dog. Within a few minutes of getting dressed and letting Amber loose, she was on a trail.

I spotted the rabbit almost immediately, huddled under a huge puff of dead grass. It was a great hiding spot, but not quite good enough for a seasoned rabbit hunter to overlook. I stepped forward quickly and grabbed our dog, holding her back to give Isabella a chance to spot the rabbit as well. 

She scanned the grass for a few seconds before spotting the rabbit frozen in the brush, its breathing barely noticeable as it tried to remain invisible. I knew we only had a matter of minutes — maybe seconds — before the rabbit panicked and ran. We were too close.

“You can shoot whenever you’re ready,” I told Isabella. My heart was pounding as I waited. 

Her pink-mittened hands held her little red bow steady as she took a step forward, drew, and released an arrow. 

The arrow hit the rabbit and I saw it flop, then try to retreat farther under the grass, then lie still. 

“You got it Isabella!”

rabbit hunting
Isabella with her first rabbit.

Photo by Beka Garris

She started jumping up and down with joy, which was a reaction fitting for a five year old (or anyone else) who had just successfully taken their first game animal with a bow.

“I finally shot my first rabbit! FINALLY! I’m so proud!”

Upon retrieval of the rabbit, I could see that the arrow had gone directly into the vitals. Whether by luck or intent, I wasn’t sure, but there had been no suffering. 

Read Next: Some Kids Just Aren’t Meant to Be Hunters. But All Kids Should Get the Chance

I don’t think anyone could be more proud than I was at the moment. Not only had she made a great shot, but she had hunted for weeks without giving up. This season had been a preview of what hunting truly was. It requires patience and dedication. You don’t get to enjoy success every time, or even most times. But when you do, it’s well earned.  

Later that week, as we ate a dinner of barbecue rabbit nachos, Isabella declared it the best meal she’d ever had. 

“I’m so glad I got this meat,” she said. “I can’t wait to shoot another.”