November 21, 2010

Trail & Error: Pop goes the archer's target

By Shannon Bryan Staff Writer

In a traditional hunter/gatherer society, I would find myself relegated to the vegetable garden, pulling onions from the dirt rather than losing arrows deep in the Maine woods.

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Shannon Bryan aims for balloons during a lesson at Central Maine Archery in Auburn.

Elizabeth Briggeman photo

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Shannon Bryan reacts when her arrow hits the target.

Elizabeth Briggeman phoo



30 Belgrade Ave., Suite C, Auburn

(The shop has a move planned in the near future to Washington Street, Auburn)


$25/hour for a 1:1 lesson, includes equipment and lane rental


81 West Gray Road / Route 202, Gray



55 Cumberland Ave., North Yarmouth



300 Main St., Old Town



39 Maine Ave., Gardiner



95 Main St., Freeport

800-559-0747 ext.37220;


100 Cabela Blvd., Scarborough


Stalking prey isn't on my list of talents. I lack the stealth, aim and noiselessness of a huntress.

That is unless balloons were food, and were found in nature pinned to trees and low-lying brush, in which case I could feed the entire tribe.

My balloon-hunting confidence stems from a recent archery lesson at Central Maine Archery in Auburn. The bow-centric shop, owned by Jess and Tom Hartford, sells a range of bow-hunting and archery accoutrements.

There's also a 16-lane indoor range and four-lane virtual range for fine-tuning skills.

But before Jess Hartford could let me and fellow student Elizabeth Briggeman of Saco get all Robin Hood on the range, we had to talk safety.

For example, arrows are always aimed down-range and bows are hung up on hooks overhead when an archer isn't shooting. The "all clear" needs to be given before heading down-range to retrieve arrows from the targets (or side walls, as the poorly aimed case may be). As far as protective gear goes, Hartford handed over thick leather guards that are strapped to the forearm to safeguard against a wayward bowstring.

After using a simple hand-to-eye test to establish our eye dominance, Hartford lifted two recurve bows from their resting place on the wall. She pointed out the nocking point -- a metal bead on the bowstring that indicates where the arrow tail is attached -- and the arrow rest, where the shaft of the arrow is loaded.

Then, bless her unwitting heart, Hartford handed me the bow. She helped me nock the first arrow and instructed me on my grip, holding my arm straight, but keeping my elbow loose.

I pushed aside a growing fear that the bowstring might snap and -- in its terror -- flail about like a live wire, ultimately slicing my ear off. Instead, I followed Hartford's instructions, drawing the bowstring to my chin rather than my cheek (my ear breathing a sigh of relief).

Ten yards ahead stood a stack of layered foam with two targets affixed to its face. On each of the targets was an inflated red balloon.

My eyes honed in on the latex prey ahead. Could this be the moment when my inner hunter's dreams are realized? My fingers released the string, sending that inaugural arrow whizzing clear past the target. It hit the floor and slid to an abrupt stop at the back wall 20 yards away.

I'm certain I heard the balloon laugh.

"Your height was perfect," Hartford said. My stance, on the other hand, needed some tweaking. I adjusted a bit, keeping my feet shoulder-width apart and my body perpendicular to the target.

With another arrow loaded, I lifted the bow and drew the string, this time closing my left eye as Hartford instructed. Arrow No. 2 dove into the foam backstop.

The paper target was still unharmed, but the arrows were at least moving in the correct general direction.

The third attempt missed the circular target, too. And after the "all clear" was given, I walked down-range to retrieve the insubordinate arrows.

Round after round, I sent arrows sailing. The balloon avoided them all. But those misses were impressive in their consistency. The arrows huddled together in the foam backstop like separated kin overjoyed to find one another again.

In the lane next to me, Briggeman was likewise struggling. Our respective balloons had grown bored, I imagined, and were planning a dinner date, believing it was only a matter of time before we novice archers would forfeit.

But I kept at it, chanting "Kill the balloon" in my head. now my arrows were nudging up against the balloon, causing it to flinch.

I drew another arrow, perhaps my 13th of the day, and shifted my aim ever so slightly to the left. My fingers released. The balloon had no time to react before an audible "pop" sounded as the arrow plunged straight through the heart of it. I echoed the sound with an audible shout.

Perhaps the encounter was a bit one-sided, considering the balloon's immobility, but I'll take it.

While I relished the belated triumph, Briggeman persisted in her attack in the other lane. She shot a few more rounds, cursing the balloon under her breath.

Finally, after checking to make sure the lanes were clear, she marched down to the target, pulled an arrow from the backstop and stabbed it into the balloon.

"There," she said. "I got it."

Our inner hunters had emerged. And we were having balloon for dinner.

Staff Writer Shannon Bryan can be contacted at 791-6333 or at:


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