A new ‘Hunger Games’ movie is coming out later this month. The horrors of war, coming-of-age, yaddah yaddah yaddah-all you really need to care about is the fact that this movie is doing wonders to promote a sport that has been too long overlooked by society: archery.
Archery is a most noble endeavor that dates back to the Paleolithic era, and today is considered an Olympic sport. According to the U.S. Collegiate Archery Institute, more than 30 universities across the country have competitive archery teams and there are likely many more non-competitive clubs. One of the largest is in DePaul’s own backyard, at Purdue University. And of course, target archery isn’t the only game in town. Thousands of people every year register with the Illinois Department of Natural Resources to become bowhunters and bowfishers.
Katniss Everdeen, meanwhile, the protagonist of the Hunger Games series, is a prolific archer and bowhunter, and thank God for that. There are too many movies where the heroes use their incredible team sports-Fu or where the heroines unleash a storm of dance-jitsu to save the day. This girl, on the other hand, is a dead-eyeing, name-taking, ass-kicking archer that would make Robin Hood proud, and I look forward to seeing a new generation take after her. Archery ranges in Chicago smell too much like baby boomer as it is.
“But how can I become a good archer?” some may ask. “I have no pre-pubescents that inexplicably need to be killed for the preservation of governmental order. Where will I ever learn to shoot a bow?”
Well the answer, friends, is at your local archery range. Never mind the baby boomer smell; most archery ranges in and around Chicago are friendly, helpful institutions where the seasoned can practice their skills and the uninitiated can learn the fundamentals of putting arrow A into target B. For DePaul students living deep in the city, The Archery Bow Range at 1757 N. Kimball Ave. offers beginner classes, archery bush leagues, and facilities for parties and day camps. Range fare runs at $10 an hour, plus an additional $5 an hour for gear rental.
More rough-and-tumble individuals can take a sojourn west to Forest Park, where the Archery Custom Shop on Madison and Harlem has been a Chicagoland mainstay of target archery and bowhunting since 1948. Current owner Terry Pryor has been shooting before he could walk, and is always eager to welcome new faces to his range – even if he doesn’t always show it.
“Yeah, archery’s really blowing up in Chicago,” he says while dismantling a crossbow. “Especially with that ‘Hunger Games’ movie and ‘The Avengers,’ we’ve got more and more kids coming in here wanting to learn how to shoot.”
The Custom Shop is a bit cheaper than the Kimball range, with a range use fare of $8 an hour and a $3 equipment fee. However, it lacks the multitude of classes and programs offered by the Archery Bow Range, and judging by the sheer volume of dead animal parts and camo paint that adorns the walls, it’s not a place for the faint of heart. But don’t let that discourage you. Pryor and staff know their stuff, and are always willing to help a curious patron. “Just don’t use a crossbow,” Pryor warns, cursing at the one he’s still fiddling with. “Damn things are no fun at all.”
So, crossbows are out. But that still leaves one wondering, “What exactly do I need to be a Katniss-esque badass?” Well, if you’re really brave, all you need is a bow and some arrows. But as any archer worth their salt will tell you, that’s a damn decent way to get real hurt real fast. Realistically, what you need is a bow, arrows at least as long as your forearm, an armguard – to guard your arm from the bowstring as it slings the arrow – and a decent quiver (arrow-box) of some kind. Altogether, that kind of starter kit will cost anywhere between $200-$600, depending on how swank you want your gear to be.
The hardest bit will be choosing your bow. Bows come in more shapes, sizes and styles than people, and choosing the right one can be hard. The most popular styles today are compound bows – short mechanical bows that use pulleys and levers to anchor an arrow, often used by bowhunters, and western recurve bows – the kind that Katniss Everdeen, along with most Olympic archers, uses. Even in those two categories, though, there are still dozens of different makes, models and styles. This author’s recommendation is to start simple. A wooden or fiberglass western recurve that’s maybe three-quarters of your height when strung is usually a good fit, and the draw weight – how many pounds of strength you need to draw the bow back-should be somewhere between 20 and 40 pounds.
After you’re all set with your bow, it’s time to think about form. There’s a bazillion videos on YouTube that could explain how to do this better than an article can, so there’s no need to go into it here. Suffice to say, though, you are not Katniss. You are not Legolas. Do not try to shoot like them on your first time out. You will get hurt and it will ruin your day.
Instead, start small. Practice drawing the bow, holding it steady at full draw, keeping your body perfectly perpendicular to the target, and releasing arrows smoothly. And when you start shooting, remember the archer’s paradox: because an arrow twists around the bow when it is shot, it is actually easier to hit a microwave 20 yards away than a garbage can 20 feet away.
So there you go. You’re well on your way to inciting revolution against a repressive regime of people with really bad hairdos. And if you ever find yourself frustrated, just remember the wise words of old Terry Pryor: “If you’re having fun, you’re better at archery than most folks. Who wants to shoot at something if you can’t enjoy it?”
Indeed. May the odds, and the target scorecards, be ever in your favor.