THE SPARE BEDROOM of my house looks like an REI store during one of its used-gear sales, only not as organized. Where a bed and a nightstand were once visible, there is now a pile of dinged-up skis, scuffed helmets and climbing ropes snaking out of faded backpacks with busted zippers. Yes, in the four years we’ve known each other, my wife Elizabeth and I have compiled an impressive collection of gear. And it’s not just for decoration. We’ve fired up our tiny backpacking stove in the Utah desert, pulled on our harnesses to tackle stone towers in Wyoming and clicked on our avalanche beacons before blazing down untracked Colorado mountainsides. Every piece of equipment in that heap has a memory tied to it that we’ve made together. All of it, that is, except my wife’s hunting bow.
Of this fact I am regularly reminded at family gatherings when, over rounds of beers, her folks regale me with tales of Elizabeth’s shooting prowess. I’ve heard numerous times how she’d been taught by her father to handle a bow and arrow at the tender age of 9 and how she could land three consecutive shots inside a bull’s-eye no wider than a coffee cup from 20 yards away. Aside from instilling virtues like discipline, responsibility and a sense of accomplishment, bow hunting also gave my wife’s family plenty of fond memories—and these particular memories, I don’t share. Like the time Elizabeth fended off an amorous bat while perched in a tree on one hunting trip, or the time her father stared down a bobcat that wandered a little too close to his tree stand.
Still, after all that, I’m ashamed to admit that I have never even seen Elizabeth shoot her bow. With a trip to her family’s northern Michigan hunting cabin looming, though, I finally decided to change that. I was tired of simply hearing about Elizabeth’s adventures stalking white-tailed bucks in the woods. I wanted to learn what it feels like to stare down the length of an arrow, a target in my sights.
There was just this one thing: I’m not a hunter. I mean, I think twice before squashing spiders. Besides, hunting requires freezing your rear end off in the middle of nowhere for untold hours while you wait for something—anything—to happen. I can barely handle a six-minute ride on a ski lift. But that didn’t mean I couldn’t enjoy the sport Elizabeth loves—it just meant I’d be shooting at paper targets instead of real animals. So with that in mind, I signed up for an introductory lesson at one of Portland’s largest indoor archery ranges, Broken Arrow Archery in Milwaukie.
The fact that Hollywood sirens like Liv Tyler, Keira Knightley and Oscar winner Geena Davis are all avid archers has helped drive the sport’s popularity. (Davis made headlines when, after taking up archery in 1997, she narrowly missed landing a spot on the U.S. archery squad for the 2000 Summer Olympics.) From 1995 to 2005, archery ranked as the fourth-fastest growing sport in the country, trailing behind only the X Game-worthy sports of skateboarding, kayaking and snowboarding.
When Elizabeth and I step inside Broken Arrow Archery’s 9,000-square-foot shop just off SE McLoughlin Boulevard, however, it becomes immediately clear that, unless we’re talking about Rambo, such Hollywood glam is a long way from Oregon. Chock-full of camouflage hunting garb, several mounted bucks and one honey of a bearskin rug on the wall, Broken Arrow isn’t exactly an ideal spot for PETA board meetings. Still, the vibe is friendly. “We get plenty of competitive people who come in to shoot,” says 54-year-old owner Chuck Pedracini. “But there’s always someone at the range willing to help you improve.”