With three sharp blasts of a whistle, about 15 young archers trudge past the shooting line to yank their arrows out of brightly coloured targets at the end of the hall. They scribble numbers on scraps of paper as they score their shots.
One point for the very outer rim of the target, escalating all the way to 10 points for the bulls-eye in the middle.
The targets range in size from 80 to 40 centimetres across, just as the archers range in size from barely bigger than their bows to muscled teenagers straining against the tension of the string.
With quivers full of arrows strapped to their hips, the sharp-shooters of the Young Olympian Program took over the Williams Lake Sportsmen’s Association’s clubhouse on Thursday night.
There are 33 skilled young archers in the program, so the clubhouse is teeming with supportive parents and mentors every Thursday night from 5 to 7:30 p.m. as the archers work on their various skills and form.
There are six volunteer coaches for the JOP archers and Al Campsall is one of them. He says that more than anything, archery is a set of skills that come with dedication and practice.
“It’s a sport that doesn’t require a lot of athletic ability,” he says. “It just requires concentration and proper form.”
And the young archers of the JOP seemed to have concentration in abundance. You might assume that putting bows and arrows into the hands of children would ensue in confusion or chaos, but that was certainly not the case at the clubhouse Thursday night.
Brows furrowed intensely and strings cut into cheeks as the archers took deep breaths and adjusted their form by millimetres to improve their shots. They would loose their arrows, lower their bows and take criticism and encouragement from the coaches.
They were practicing target archery, one of three versions of the sport. In this particular version archers arrange themselves along a line and shoot towards targets, which vary in size depending on the skill of the archer. Points are awarded for each spot the arrow hits the target.
Ty Thurow and his younger sister Joelle were two of the archers at practice this week.
“I got into archery through my brother and my dad, before he had kids he did archery with hunting, so we got into it through him,” says Joelle. She started in the JOP when she was only five-years-old. Now, she’s eleven and a Canadian archery champion.
“I first started shooting when I was three,” notes Ty. “I had just a very small bow and I would go out and practice with dad when he was getting ready for hunting season.” Ty is now a seven-time national champion at only 14 years old.
The Thurow kids are no doubt talented and enjoy the sport immensely. For Ty, it’s the fierce competition and chance to win that endears him to the sport. His sister prefers the chance to hang out with her family and meet new friends. Both of them are headed to a worldwide archery competition in Las Vegas in February where, according to Ty, “anyone who is anyone in archery will be there.”
But the talent in the Cariboo Archers comes from more than just the youth participants. Campsall estimates that the club has 50 to 70 archers who make use of the facilities regularly.
And the club offers much more than just target archery.
The two other versions of the sport are field archery, in which targets are placed outdoors throughout the woods, with distance markers telling you how far the shot is, and 3D archery.
Campsall heads down into the basement of the clubhouse to explain the concept of 3D archery.
There is a veritable menagerie of animal figurines riddled with holes set up in the shadows of the dark basement. It’s like stepping onto an eery safari but in a place where moose, bears, and six-foot-tall penguins exist in the same place.
About a month ago, the Cariboo Archers secured the spot of hosts for the 2018 and 2019 BC Provincial 3D Archery Championships. While a regular 3D archery shoot would see the animals freed from their basement storage and placed about in the woods, the provincial championships will see a slight variation on the norm.
“We’re not going to do a regular 3D shoot this year because it’s a hell of a lot of work,” says Campsall. “We’re going to run a flat field shoot just out the back [of the clubhouse] which is really fun and easy to set up.”
The animals will be placed at varying distances from the shooting line, and archers will be awarded points based on which “organs” they hit. For a straight shot through the heart, 11 points.
The lungs are worth eight points, and aside from the hooves and antlers, everything else is five points.
About 120 to 150 people will be in Williams Lake to participate in the provincial championships.
Even if you’re not quite at the championship level, or not even close at all, the Cariboo Archers are eager to have you. The club is starting a ladies archery night on Mondays from Nov. 13 to Dec. 18 for women of all skill levels.