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Junior Rifle and Archery League member Ashley Propkopik, 16, lines up a shot at the Chester Rod and Gun Club's indoor target range. (BARBARA TAORMINA PHOTO)

Young NH archers learning the point of the arrow


ON SUNDAY MORNING, kids, women, beginners and seasoned archers with decades of bow-and-arrow experience were lining up together at the indoor range at Pioneer Sportsmen's Club in Dunbarton to shoot in the first leg of the New Hampshire Bowman's Grand Slam Tournament.

Archers competed in the Vegas 600 tourney, a series of 20 three-shot rounds at targets of primary-colored concentric circles 20 yards away from the firing line. Participants were entered in different classes according to their skills and experience, but archers with high-tech compound bows with levers and pulleys shot side-by-side with elementary school-aged girls handling traditional longbows that have been popular since the Bronze Age.

"That's the way it is in the archery community," said Dan McBride a Concord-area archery instructor. "People don't judge one another, they help each other out and it's very family-orientated. If you aren't having fun with archery, then you're not doing it right."

And lately, a lot of people are having a lot of fun with archery. Hollywood hits like "The Hunger Games" and "Brave" are credited with inspiring a new generation of archers, particularly young girls. But interest in archery started growing before the release of popular films featuring teenage sharpshooters.

"I used to think it had something to do with politics, but now I'm not really sure," said Mike King who runs the 4-H Junior Rifle and Archery League at Chester's Rod and Gun Club. A few years ago, King had groups of about 20 and 30 kids between 8 and 18 signing up for bi-weekly instruction in rifle shooting and archery. He now greets about 100 kids who show up every other Saturday to shoot arrows at a wall filled with multi-colored balloons and a handful of dollar bills. Kids who hit the currency win it as a prize.

Matt Poulin, the new president of the NH Bowmen, which is affiliated with the National Field Archery Association, hopes his and other clubs can capitalize on the archery trend and make the most of the moment.

"My goal is to build on the new interest and get more kids shooting," said Poulin. "They're the future of archery."

Parents and archery instructors see a long list of benefits for kids in archery programs.

"It's nice to see the confidence and leadership skills kids develop," said Nottingham resident Joe Drake, a 4-H Youth Development program coordination whose son Sam, 8, is in the Chester League . "When they are shooting, kids are working with adults. They learn boundaries and have a chance to explore their own boundaries."

Conner Graves and Jason Venner, both 14, help King keep things running in Chester, and both say younger kids pick up technical skills quickly. But both agree the league is about more than learning to handle a bow or a firearm.

"We help train them and make them feel comfortable," said Graves. "But they also have to have some discipline and responsibility."

Adults who competed in Dunbarton said the competitive shoots like the Grand Slam are about friendships and camaraderie.

"It's all about coming out and having fun," said Ken Eldridge, a native of the Laconia area with decades of experience in archery. "That's what archery is all about."

But for Eldridge and other hunters, archery offers a longer season and the ability to take two deer, double the bag limit for firearms. And many hunters who use both firearms and bows agree that archery requires more skill. Not only do bow-and-arrow hunters have to be closer, quieter and faster in their assessment of targets and conditions, they sometimes have to track an animal that has been hit.

Bow-and-arrow hunters who need to consider wind, arrow trajectories, targets, speed and distance seem to develop a sense about when physics is with them and when it's not.

For Sutton resident Derek Lesperance, the tournaments help build the kind of concentration hunters rely on in the field.

"It's competitive repetition," he said. "One of the keys is to be able to control your own tendency to be distracted. It's all about aiming and a deliberate thought process."

King sees kids who come to the Chester Junior Rifle League program also developing their abilities to listen and concentrate. But what he really enjoys is seeing a child's confidence level jump at the popping sound of an arrow piecing a target balloon.

"Kids are empowered when they understand things and they know what to do," he said. "And I just like helping kids be successful."

btaormina@newstote.com

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