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The distinctly non-menacing-looking standing grizzly bear target

It’s hard not to feel like an imposter shooting 3D targets with primarily bowhunters. Their consistent accuracy looks so fluid and effortless. The feeling doesn’t make it any less fun, though.

two figures to populate your dreams

this green pig is much more than it seems

We shot our indoor 3D league last night. After failing so abjectly last week without my stabilizer, I put it back on my bow, in spite of the awkwardness it adds to close quarters lineups. And I did much better, scoring 189 out of a possible 300.

I have to tell you, shooting 3D targets is way more fun and interesting than regular target practice. I don’t even really know how to talk about it, because almost everything about this club is outside my range of experience. There are easily like a hundred short stories, probably even novels, and I’m only beginning to catch their drift. I wonder if it’s my extreme outsider perspective, like those first two weeks of a new job, before you’re sucked in to the interpersonal dynamics of the organization. Since this is completely voluntary, well, I don’t know. I think I have to participate a whole lot more before I can begin to understand. And most of these people shoot 300s, every time, with no sights, no stabilizers, and no fanfare.

Thus far, I am so impressed with the general level of craftsmanship, from the very fine and hotly debated techniques of arrow making, to the individual expression and creation of quivers. Not to mention the home-brewed limoncello and wines, which make an appearance after the shoot proper.

And yet. I’m shooting arrows at the sides of things that look like this:

You really don’t see the face when you’re aiming for the clean kill zone

Actually, I’m not all that conflicted. As a meat eater, how could I be? I still doubt I will become a hunter, but pursuing this sport, this art of archery, is landing me on the edge of… potential? crossover? reconsideration? Nah. Truth is, I like shooting arrows and hitting precisely what I’m aiming at. And as long as I have the opportunity, I’ll continue to leave meat-making to the pros, with appreciation and gratitude.

In which we walk an outdoor 3D course

Our archery club’s mascot

The photos seem to tell one story, but my experience of walking the mile-long 3D shoot with Freddy and a small group of alpha archers was really quite pleasant.

The targets are mildly less surreal set out in the woods than they seem indoors, more like bad lawn ornaments. That you get to shoot arrows at.

Each archer shoots one arrow, with the scoring as follows: Kill (very small) Circle, 12 points; Kill (small) Circle, 10 points; Vital Lung Area, 8 points; Body Hit, 5 points. Shots in the leg below the body line, or in the antlers or ears do not score.

Shooting at anything other than a course 3D target is one of the five ways you can get disqualified.

This black panther was menacing a duck decoy some wag had set out. (From the predator series of Rinehart targets, which includes a baboon.)

The whole course was well marked with informational signage. I even sort of known what this means now.

A melancholy bison

An elk

A discarded deer

in which we take another lesson

And in which we learn that everything we’ve been doing is wrong. OK, not every thing. But basic things. Like, how I hold my bow. Fundamental. Crucial. The instruction is to let the grip of your bow rest in the web of your forefinger and thumb. That’s it. The natural inclination is to grip the bow, to steady it, to prevent it from falling after the arrow is loosed. But that is incorrect. You want to support your bow, but let it do what it does, unimpeded by your insecure, overcompensating, grasping clutch. This is much, much harder than it sounds to do. Multiple combinations of finger placement practice — forefinger-thumb touching, thumb straight, fingers loose — all resulting in involuntary clutching of the bow’s grip at release. It was freaky. I’d get all set up, instructed, reminded, centered, deep breath, aim, draw, set, release — and then, when I’d check, there was my bow hand, clasping the grip. You have much to learn, grasshopper.

Mr. Dean is a very, very good teacher, and a master himself. He instructs, reassures, and leaves you to your own discovery, all in good measure. I practice until I’m too tired —admittedly not long — and then start to pack up my gear. Other archers begin to arrive. It’s Friday night. I’m beginning to recognize, and greet some of the regulars. Archery is an interesting community, and I love the diversity and the continuity, the devotion that keeps people coming, practicing, encouraging others — enjoying doing this.

(It takes time, and practice, to get good at a new thing. How could it be otherwise? Yet why, as adults, are we so impatient with ourselves, so critical of our learning curve? I know one reason: it’s quite uncomfortable. I’m used to being generally competent at doing stuff. It wasn’t always like that. Where is my beginner mind and the grace that goes with it?)

Mr Speed and I confer and order take-out Chinese to pick up on our way home, pay for our lesson, and buy quick-release adapters for our bow stabilizers that coincidentally can also anchor the wrist straps we learn Olympic archers use to prevent —surprise, surprise — bow clutching. How reassuring, somehow, that this tendency is endemic, natural, even to highly, highly trained archers. When we walk out to the car, it’s still light.

in which we have a home range

the target at 20 yards

Mr Speed has krafted a practice target, and measured out a range in our backyard! After researching materials and a few failed foam-buying attempts, he used cardboard and tightly wadded old clothes to create a very satisfactory and serviceable target.

the target, cardboard and wadded up old clothes

It is mildly amusing for two designers to shoot arrows at a Mac Pro box. I still need to make some bullseye designs, but we were so keen on practicing in our own backyard. I already know what will be on the first one: a deer tick.

in which we watch 3D practice at a clubhouse in the woods

giant bunny target (not currently in use)

On Freddy’s invitation, we went to Narragansett Bow Hunters to watch their indoor league shoot 3D targets. The NBH clubhouse is a long rectangular no-frills building at the end of a hard-packed dirt road through the North Kingstown woods, and is “Rhode Island’s only club devoted exclusively to Archery”. Freddy is the very friendly, incredibly knowledgeable and helpful godfather of archery we met at Tangy’s. Like our teacher Mr. Dean, Freddy is a great storyteller, absolutely hilarious. As for 3D targets… well. I am a rank n00b, but they really are a world unto themselves.

Totally conflicted here, being an animal lover, as in alive and furry and wild and free, but also an animal flesh eater, as in venison and wild boar are two of the most delicious things I have ever tasted. 3D targets, in archery, are a means to an end — the skillful dispatching of an edible animal to a cooking pot or the elimination of a noxious competitor for your garden. But also, 3D targets are made of molded, painted foam with replaceable “vital” areas, and are just surreal to look at, on a par with slightly sinister manikins at amusement park exhibits. 3D targets are sad and icky, but that’s not really the point. Archers are shooting at what they represent, not what they actually are. I’m trying not to over-think this, but it was, like, the first time I’ve ever seen a room full of them — with parts of fake Christmas trees set up as shrubbery — and it made an impression.

Of course the best part of the evening was meeting and talking with some of the league members. There were 30 or so men and their sons, of every age, shape, size and style you can imagine in a small-town, small-state club. Their range of equipment and accessories ran several gamuts, too, from handmade exquisite to functional and utilitarian, from basic to hi tech to super ultra magical. One gentleman held his black-and-white fletched arrows in a quiver he had made from an entire skunk; another had one made from a raccoon. They were beautiful. I saw at least 30 different bows and styles of shooting. The atmosphere was relaxed and friendly, a gathering of outwardly very different people who, for all their various reasons, love archery.

Clearly, I have much to learn. I don’t know if I’ll ever shoot my arrows at 3D targets. But I do like shooting arrows, and I feel there is a place somewhere for me here in the greater archery community. The short story is that I downloaded the forms, and Mr Speed and I have applied for membership at Narragansett Bow Hunters.

in which we acquire stabilizers and string wax

discarded and abused canoe, West Warwick, Rhode Island

Our archery range is located in downtown West Warwick, in the very large basement of a building on Main Street.

the backside of a building that is not Tangy’s Archery, on Main Street

Mr Speed has temporarily solved my continuing inability to wink my right eye — and therefore my ability to aim — by popping out the left lens on a pair of reading glasses, and gluing black felt over the right. They work quite well, far better than the pathetic band-aid I desperately tried using last week (much to the amusement of all archers present), and more comfortable and less dramatic than the eye patch I attempted wearing. What a difference focus makes!

Mr. Dean gave us a few stabilizers — a weighted rod that sticks out off the front of a bow — to try out, and I was very pleased that the one I liked best was the one with the coolest design (at least in our price range): a 30-inch, multi-rod Cartel Balkan Al/Carbon. And, they both fit in our case, on the arrows side.

Then we were told that we need bowstring wax, to keep our strings… waxed (and “clean and healthy”). Later, I learned

“Waxing the bowstring is necessary for a number of reasons. First, under high magnification, the fiber make-up of the string is visually different from what you may think. Millions of extremely fine fibers going in many directions make up a single strand. The general flow is unidirectional lengthwise with a clockwise twist. All those millions of fibers need a lubricant between each other in order to not create friction or any other force to compromise their integrity. The more unidirectional fiber flow, the better the string.”

I never, ever want to compromise the integrity of my bowstring, and I totally seek unidirectional fiber flow, so we got some special bowstring wax, too. Actually, Mr. Dean gave us a tube.

Case is getting heavy!