By Brianna Mathias
DASSEL, COKATO, MN Standing straight with her arrow firmly knocked and drawn back, the archer takes a deep breath. In an intensely focused state, her eyes adjust and she’s ready. She releases the bowstring and watches her arrow fly directly into the center of the target.
Though it is not offered as a school activity, a sport increasing in popularity is archery, which is available through Dassel-Cokato Community Education.
“We tried establishing a shooting club for teenagers and older kids,” archery instructor Bill Bull said. “About four years ago, we only got three to four students, and then the next year, we got two or three, so we decided we needed to do something different.”
At that point, Bull came up with the idea of the Dassel Rod and Gun Club teaming up with Community Ed for an archery class.
Learning takes off
“It must be something the kids like because it’s filled up pretty fast every time we’ve offered it,” Bull said.
This sport is unique in what it teaches kids, according to Bull.
“Archery is kind of a discipline sport,” he said. “I tell people I don’t necessarily teach people how to shoot, I teach people how to aim. Because a lot of times, shooting implies some kind of gun, where this is archery.”
Bull said an important part of archery is learning the basics.
“The first week, I lay down the rules of how we conduct an archery field,” Bull said. “We spend about half of the first week just on how to perform the sport of archery, and then the rules that govern what we’re going to do out here.”
To avoid kids getting hurt, the laws are taught as soon as possible.
“Conduct on the range is probably one of the most important things,” Bull said. “People can get hurt, not necessarily by a bow, or an arrow shot by a bow, but also by tripping and falling with equipment, or pulling an arrow out and sticking somebody with the blunt end.”
After conduct is explained, Bull said he teaches form, which includes steps kids need to repeat over and over again to improve accuracy.
“We teach them to stand in a certain way, feet shoulders-width apart,” Bull said. “I practice a lot on form, doing things over and over again.”
After the basics are taught during the first week, Bull said lessons go a lot smoother.
“One of the things I like to impress upon them is that when you’re on the archery line, you may feel a little giddy or funny, but the guy or gal next to you is seriously trying to improve,” Bull said. “They might not appreciate a lot of jumping around and telling jokes. So I tell them they can just talk archery when they’re on the archery range.”
Sometimes, lessons are learned quicker by certain people.
“Usually, when boys and girls of the same age group are shooting together, the accuracy of the girls will far exceed that of the boys,” Bull said. “It’s just something that happens.”
Because of the good he’s seen come from the archery classes, Bull said there is going to be an intermediate class in September. The only way students can get into the class is by having taken either a spring or summer class.
“In the intermediate class, only six people will shoot at a time, and we will work on coach-pupil principles,” Bull said. “So the person shooting will be the pupil and the person standing behind them will be the coach.”
Bull explained that it would be nice for students to be able to coach each other.
“Having learned all these archery techniques, it’s nice to have someone saying, ‘you’re not standing straight enough,’ or ‘you’re not anchoring at your cheek,’ and just going through the steps,” he said. “Then, they’ll retrieve their arrows and switch positions.”
As the weeks have gone by, the students have spent less time retrieving arrows that missed the target.
“They’ve improved in their demeanor, in their attitude of what they’ve got to do here, and in their proficiency,” Bull said. “They are really good.”
One family’s three children, all different ages, came to the class never having shot an arrow before, according to Bull.
“The first week, we had 50 percent of the arrows out in the grass,” Bull said. “By the end of the second week, they were all hitting the target with all five arrows.”