Today those people are lifelong bowman Ryan Farner, the shop’s assistant manager, and National Field Archery Association-certified instructor Karl Okita, who recently placed third in the senior division of the Outdoor National Field Championships. Standing behind the “shooting line,” a thin black strip streaking across the floor 20 yards from a target that appears to be the size of a pea, Farner hands me a 66-inch-long “recurve” bow. Named for the way its ends curve outward away from the archer, this bow, aside from resembling a prop at a Renaissance festival, is the only one allowed in official Olympic competitions.
But before I can start winning any gold medals, or even learn how to properly yank the bowstring back, Farner gives me a safety primer. We’ll each shoot three arrows, hang up our bows and then yell “clear” to signal that we’re done. Once every shooter has finished, we can advance down the 20-yard range to retrieve our arrows and check our targets. This concern with keeping our bodies arrow-free makes archery one of the safest sports around. (You’re nearly twice as likely to be injured while fishing or golfing, for example, according to the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission.)
It isn’t the thought of being skewered with arrows that has me rattled, though. It’s my wife. She’s already peppering her target with arrows while I’m still struggling with heaving the bowstring back, an effort that’s all too reminiscent of my last tangle with a surly lawn-mower cord. Mercifully, our targets are only 10 yards away at this point. At the full 20 yards, I’d need the hand of God to help guide my arrow into one of the 10 rings on my 16-inch-wide target. Determined not to look like a complete fool in front of Elizabeth, I muscle back the bowstring and manage to start landing some shots. Most, however, are hitting the target high and to the right.
Okita steps in to point out one of my gaffes. “I call it ‘plucking the strings,’” he says, referring to the tendency of a shooter’s fingers to inadvertently jerk the bowstring outward, away from the body, when taking a shot. In order to straighten out my shot, I need to move my hand back more deliberately and smoothly when I release the bowstring.
Armed with fresh advice, I lock in another arrow and turn my head toward the target. I pull back the bowstring, release a deep breath and send an arrow hurtling through the air. Bull’s-eye! I scurry to retrieve my arrow from the target’s tiny yellow center, nearly ready to mount it on the wall since I’ll never have any horns. “You should have taken a picture!” I hear Okita yell as I snatch the arrow out with flourish. Dang. He’s right. And now the moment has passed. I pause, arrow in hand, hoping I can duplicate the feat. But as I look back up the range where Elizabeth is standing with a quiver of arrows on her hip and a smile playing gently on her lips, I realize I don’t care. I have all the memory I need.