Move over, Robin Hood. You’re no longer everyone’s favorite archer.

That title is now firmly in the grasp of Katniss Everdeen, the teenager who will launch arrows in a fight for her life when the certain blockbuster “The Hunger Games: Catching Fire” opens on movie screens nationwide Thursday night.

Katniss’ heroism and courage in three “Hunger Games” books and one film have already scored a bull’s-eye for archery, helping to make the sport suddenly hip among young people.

Archery fans in Maine fully expect that this latest film, starring Oscar winner Jennifer Lawrence, will keep those arrows flying.

“When the first ‘Hunger Games’ movie came out (in 2012), we didn’t even have to advertise,” said Darcy Nicely, who runs Nicely Equipped Archery in Gorham with her husband, Matt. “People just sought us out. It’s crazy how fast archery has been growing.”

The boom is being seen at archery ranges, where classes are filling fast, and at sporting goods stores, including Freeport-based L.L. Bean, which says sales are brisk.

The sport’s national governing body, USA Archery, saw a 34 percent increase in participation in its youth competitions in the past year – from 1,329 kids to 1,778. It also has had a 48 percent increase in memberships – from 5,580 to 8,269 – since the first “Hunger Games” film came out.

The group is now using the books and films as a marketing tool. On the USA Archery website is a message reading “Seen The Hunger Games? Want to try archery? Click here to get involved.”

“Once the (first) movie came out, we saw a discernible spike in younger folks taking archery classes, and we also saw a very steady increase in sales of our family archery sets,” said Mac McKeever, spokesman for L.L. Bean. “It’s a relatively easy, approachable activity that doesn’t require joining a team.”

Archery isn’t necessarily cheap. Beginner equipment such as L.L. Bean’s family set sells for $149, and most novices can get all the essentials for under $200. But a serious competitor could spend several times that on gear. And most first-timers will want lessons; Nicely charges $160 for eight weeks.

Factors besides the “Hunger Games” series are fueling the archery boom. The animated Disney film “Brave,” which came out in 2012, featured a girl archer as hero, and the 2012 Summer Olympics included archery among its televised events.

Once embraced primarily by summer campers and hunters, archery is now catching fire among youngsters who see it as cool.

“I was interested in archery a little, but ‘The Hunger Games’ is what really got me to do it,” said Sarah Joyce, 11, of Standish, who takes weekly lessons at Nicely’s range.

Elsa Hersey, a 10-year-old fifth-grader at Small Elementary School in South Portland, got interested in archery a while ago. Her family bought an archery set to use in the backyard. Once Elsa heard about the “Hunger Games” books, her interest grew, and now she’s reading the series.

“I think indirectly, clips and previews of ‘Hunger Games’ fueled her interest, but once she started (archery) she really wanted to read the books,” said Elsa’s mother, M.J. Benson. “I feel like it’s a story that fascinates (young people) but has some heavy adult issues. There are a lot of great things (in the book) we can talk about, like standing up for your beliefs and that being different can be your strength.”

Although the books are geared toward middle school students, not all parents and teachers think they are appropriate for children that young, because of an intense theme that centers on kids killing one another in a competition set in the future. The films are rated PG-13 for violence and language.

Like reading the books or seeing the movies, allowing a child to take up archery isn’t something to be considered lightly. Archery teachers say that if a youngster wants to buy a bow and arrow because of the books or films, they should get instruction in proper techniques and safety.

Most arrows for target shooting aren’t very sharp, but they can cause injuries. At a recent lesson at Lakeside Archery in North Yarmouth, owner-instructor Steve Dunsmoor constantly reminded students to stay behind the shooting line until everyone had hung up their bow. Common archery injuries include little cuts from the feathers on the ends of the arrows, like paper cuts, he said.

“That last thing I or any teacher wants is to be part of someone being injured, so safety and proper technique is the most important thing, not getting that arrow in the middle all the time,” said Dunsmoor, who has run his business since 1990. “If somebody uses good technique every time, the shots will come.”

The students at Lakeside, who range in age from about 10 to 14, were part of a Junior Olympic Archery Development class, which is a national designation for classes following rules set up by USA Archery. A couple of the students compete in tournaments around New England, while others are just starting out.

Even children too young to read “The Hunger Games” seem inspired to try archery because of the series, at least indirectly.

Emerson Dolan, 9, saw family members shooting arrows at a family camp and got interested. Now that he’s been shooting arrows with his father for a few months in the backyard, he’d like to see “The Hunger Games: Catching Fire.” But his parents say that trip to the movies will have to wait a few years.

In the meantime, Emerson is content to practice his archery.

“I really liked ‘Brave,’ and I’d like to see ‘Hunger Games,’ maybe when I’m older,” said Emerson, a fourth-grader at Dyer Elementary School in South Portland. “I think what I like best about it is just hitting the target, seeing the results and getting better.”

Ray Routhier can be contacted at 791-6454 or at:

[email protected]


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