Legolas, Katniss, Hawkeye, Robin Hood—there are a lot of high status archers in fiction. With the popularity of these characters, you may have wondered what it would be like to pick up a bow yourself sometime. I’ll give you the SparkNotes summary: It’s pretty addictive.
When I was still learning about archery, it seemed like the cost of getting started would be prohibitive. The price of bows, arrows and private lessons could easily add up to several hundred dollars, and that was just for the opportunity to try things out.
Archery on a Little John Budget
Luckily, my early assumptions were wrong. It turns out there’s a simple and cheap way to engage in archery as a hobby rather than immediately going down the competitive path.
Like shooting ranges, there are also archery ranges, and many of these locations are run by volunteers. Group practice lessons are usually offered on a regular basis with loaner equipment, and it can be as cheap as nothing (yes, free) to $5-15 for sign-ups. It’s really that easy to get started.
The length of these sessions often span over an hour, so you’ll get plenty of hands-on time with the equipment.
Some ranges are run by private clubs instead of volunteers, and those may require memberships to use. I would say $50-100 for a year membership isn’t crazy though, since weekly classes can add up over time.
Finding My Footing
My first experience going to a range was nothing but positive. My friend and I signed up for a class online (they fill quickly, so try to schedule as early as possible) and arrived in front of a homey log cabin about 10 minutes outside of any major city. To the side of the cabin lay a sprawling field with targets of various shapes and sizes, which eventually disappeared into the wooded area nearby.
As we entered the cabin I was greeted by the warm, smoky scent of a burning fireplace, and one of the volunteers ushered us toward the rest of the newbies waiting for the introductory safety lesson.
Since there was time to spare, my friend looked around the room and found a group of unusual sticks (or so it seemed) sitting on a table. As we pondered their use, another volunteer walked over and introduced us to atlatl.
Atlatl are ancient Aztec thrown weapons which use a shaft to hurl darts (which look more like spears) hundreds of feet away.
The man who explained this actually ran a business selling the weapons and had made the ones lying in front of us. After this interesting segue, it was time for the beginner’s lesson, which only took about 10 minutes.
We were taught how to hold a bow and arrow, where to position our feet and how to aim. Safety involved shooting “in your lane” instead of crossing along other participants’ lines of sight, waiting to hear a whistle to gather up arrows and being aware of pointy bits on equipment that could hurt you if handled hastily. It was exactly what we needed to know, no more or less.
Breathe In, Arrow Out
We were then given the chance to shoot out back. A variety of targets lie in front of me, from cartoon ducks to realistic tigers and traditional target circles. I nocked an arrow on my bowstring and pulled back, holding it close to my cheek as a nearby volunteer guided me.
With a thrum, the arrow loosed and whisked through the air, diving into one of the target circles. I used my two remaining arrows and found that even the smallest adjustments could send them along wildly different arcs, as one found a home next to my first arrow while the other flew past it and pierced a wooden post (definitely not one of the targets).
Not too horrible for my first time, I figured. I stepped back and waited for the other students to finish, then at the call of a whistle we went and pulled out our arrows.
I smirked to myself, comparing my sloppy shots with the view I’d had of some of the senior members earlier. Wielding bows with fancy scopes and metal grips, their groupings were immaculate and found the bullseye every time.
At first my thoughts were consumed with aiming better, then something funny happened. Arrow after arrow I found my breathing slowing down. My arms relaxed and I started releasing the bowstring rather than plucking it.
Not every shot was perfect, but as I heard the familiar twang over and over, the “ssshkt” of the arrow smoothly sliding into the target, I felt at ease.
The dwindling daylight painted gold on the surrounding trees and I breathed in clean air, far enough away from the city that it felt truly fresh. Who knew archery could be so meditative?
The volunteers patiently guided me and the other beginners, while the more experienced visitors provided friendly banter and showed how much we could improve in just a few months.
A Hobby with Everyone in Its Sights
At least at my local club, the student demographic is one of the best I’ve seen in any organization. There’s usually an even split of men and women, both young and old, and people span several races. I don’t know if archery’s siren song is so alluring that it’s able to pull in a broad audience, or if I lucked out and ran across a particularly good location. Maybe a bit of both?
There are those who are serious competitors, hunters who have brought down massive elk and other game, and people like me, just looking to learn a skill while winding down for the day. Despite everyone’s different backgrounds I’ve never met someone who’s been less than accepting of all skill levels.
I’ve been going to group lessons for about a month now, and have even managed to hit a few bullseyes. It’s been a fun and mostly peaceful experience. Some days there aren’t as many students, and I get to quietly go about my business without feeling like I’m intruding in anyone’s space.
I wouldn’t say it’s uncomfortable shooting with a big group, but it does feel busier than I prefer. I may be paying for an official membership soon, so I can improve my aim on my own time.
Aiming for the Stars
The first day my friend and I left the range, we saw a group of deer nibbling on grass along the edge of the target field. They didn’t look much bigger than the 2D deer targets we’d been shooting moments earlier, and the irony wasn’t lost on us.
The only area the little animals felt safe was at the very place people were learning the skills needed to hunt them. But they didn’t care, and none of the members did either. I think that says something about the maturity and mindset of everyone involved.
I don’t have a comprehensive list of locations to share, but if you want to get your ranger on, I’d recommend searching for your location + “archery range” or “archery group lesson.”
I wasn’t sure what to expect going in, but I was surprised to find how soothing it was, and that the learning curve isn’t especially steep.
Now to try things blindfolded while riding a horse…
Image credit to Caitlyn Willows for photo of atlatls.
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