By Joseph Robertia
Jaron Swanson, 12, looked downrange at his target and knew where he wanted to send his arrow. Now he just needs to make it happen. He tried to relax, took a breath and slowly exhaled, drew back on his bow and then held it, and held it — and held it a little too long.
“You don’t want to hold it too long, you’ll eventually start to shake,” said his father, Aaron Swanson.
Jaron took the advice. He drew down, shook his arm out a bit, re-sighted and drew back again, this time letting the arrow loose without much pause. A “thunk” roughly 20 yards away revealed that his dad’s advice had been as good as Jaron’s aim. His arrow was just a hair away from the bull’s-eye.
“That’s it. Good job. Just like that,” the elder Swanson said.
After Jaron had gone, Swanson let a few shafts fly down range, as did his other son, 15-year-old Brady. They were all close to their marks, which Swanson said was the point of being at the archery range, located in the basement of Wilderness Way in Soldotna, early Saturday morning.
“The more arrows you shoot the more comfortable you are,” he said.
Wanting to stay sharp prompted the family to join a six-week archery league offered by the outdoor store.
“We’ve had the range for several years and a lot of people that seemed interested in starting a league, so we decided to give it a try,” said Brian Richards, store owner.
The league began two weeks ago, but Richards said it’s not too late to jump in, since anyone who missed the first week or two can make up by shooting more arrows in the coming weeks.
“The way it works is people shoot 60 arrows a week and we tally the scores so that at the end of the six weeks we can figure out who is first, second and third in each class,” Richards said. “Anyone jumping in late could just shoot 120 arrows for a week or until they’re caught up.”
The three class divisions — traditional, bowhunting and freestyle — are designed to meet each shooter’s needs.
In terms of traditional, Richards said this division is for archers who preferred the equipment that started the sport.
“Traditional is basically recurves and long bows without sights,” he said.
In this division, shooters also release the arrow with their fingers, rather than by way of specialized release equipment.
The bowhunting division is what the name implies, and people may use their compound bows, as well as open sights, short arrow stabilizers and quick arrow-release mechanisms. This was the division in which the Swanson was interested.
“I did a lot of archery as a kid but within the last few years we started really getting back into it as a family. Brady and I have hunted caribou with our bows, and it’s a great father-to-son, son-to-father activity, and one that puts meat in the freezer, but it takes practice to do it right,” he said.
Wanting to ensure they have clean kills in the field, they practice as much as they can before ever setting foot in the forest.
“We shoot paper targets at home, and we go to the (Kenai Peninsula) Archery Range off of Arc Loop Road in spring and summer, but we’re trying to get better by shooting year-round, not just a few weeks or months before moose season,” he said.
Anything goes in the freestyle division, with those shooting in this division typically using target or competition bows with magnified sights, much longer stabilizers than the other two divisions and quick-release devices.
“It’s really a different world,” said Lenny DiPaolo, of Kasilof, whose 12-year-old daughter, Abby, shoots in the freestyle division. Abby shoots competitively, having won the Alaska State Archery 5-Spot tournament in Anchorage two weeks ago.
DiPaolo said Abby’s interest grew from classes he taught to other youngsters.
“We shoot here at the house all the time and I’m certified to teach the National Archery in the Schools Program,” he said.
Last winter he held a well-attended introductory archery course for local kids. Some of those youth are in the archery league this winter.
“It was basically, ‘Here’s all the parts and pieces and how it all works.’ I introduced them to the gear, the terminology, proper form and lots of safety,” DiPaolo said.
Richards said that as representations of the use of bows in popular culture have grown, so, too, has interest in using them.
“With the ‘Hunger Games’ we’re seeing more and more kids getting into it, but also it’s a really fun family sport, too. Right now we have four kids in the league. The youngest is 11 and they’re scored with a handicap so that they can be competitive with everyone else. In the future, if we have more interest, we could always create a youth league so they could compete just with each other,” Richards said.
DiPaolo, who also shoots in the bowhunter division, said he is already enjoying it.
For those interested in joining the league, the cost is $5 per week and includes paper targets. Shooting is at the shooter’s leisure during store hours, though they do need to call or sign up in person for their desired day and time each week. The winners in each division will receive a $50 gift certificate, with prizes for the second- and third-place finishers.
“We also like to have a tourney at the end where everyone in the league shoots together,” Richards said.
For those interested, but without their own equipment yet, Richards said they have a couple of youth bows in the store so parents can determine which style and size of bow works best for their youngster before making a purchase. For more information on the league, call Wilderness Way at 262-3880.