A lesson on instinctive archery

Goes with outdoor story &quotTradarchery" Aislinn Sarnacki stands in front of a target at Old Town Archery Center & Pro-Shop in Old Town. The target records her final shots in a one-on-one archery lesson at the shop on Wednesday.  (Photo courtesy of Old Town Archery Center & Pro-Shop )
Goes with outdoor story "Tradarchery" Aislinn Sarnacki stands in front of a target at Old Town Archery Center & Pro-Shop in Old Town. The target records her final shots in a one-on-one archery lesson at the shop on Wednesday. (Photo courtesy of Old Town Archery Center & Pro-Shop )
Posted July 30, 2010, at 7:29 p.m.

The arrow sailed a short distance, nicked the left side of the small red balloon and sank into the target. The evil face drawn on the balloon sneered at me with jagged teeth.

“Concentrate on the devil’s bottom row of teeth. Keep a consistent grip,” said the instructor. We were alone in Old Town Archery Center & Pro-shop before its doors were opened for the day. Bows hung from the ceiling behind me, a row of targets ahead.

Without moving my eyes from the target, I lifted the blue recurve bow and drew the string back. The arrow’s feather brushed my cheek. I released. The arrow nicked the right side of the balloon and sank into the target.

I knew what I’d done wrong. He had taught me. My hand slightly plucked the string away from my face at the last moment, so that arrow went right.

I notched another arrow onto the string, zeroed in on the teeth, raised the bow and shot in one motion. It hit just under the balloon.

“Shoot the bottom teeth,” he said, reminding me to maintain concentration. Then, just as I was drawing back the string, he said, “Look at the arrow.”

I glanced down for a second. That was all it took. The arrow sailed high and struck the top of the target, far from my group of arrows. If you try to aim down the shaft of the arrow, it always shoots high.

He chuckled.

I shook my head and notched my last arrow.

Shoot the arrow like you would throw a baseball, he had told me. You don’t hold the baseball in front of you and try to line it up with your target. You judge the distance with your mind. You aim without looking at your arm or the ball. You use instinct.

“Now, keep your eye on the target.”

Easier said than done.

I tried to see only the balloon. Expert archers would see the red rubber and nothing else, he said.

I lifted the bow in front of me, keeping my left hand relaxed but firm on the grip. My right hand pulled the string straight back to my cheekbone, elbow held high. Still staring at the target, I uncurled the three fingers holding the string under the arrow shaft. The string snapped forward. My hand remained by my cheek.

The devil burst. Feathers replaced his smile.

My instructor gave me a high-five.

“Go, girl,” he said.

I was nearing the end of my first one-on-one archery lesson. The target wasn’t 10 yards from me, but my instructor said, “The farthest distance an arrow travels is right between the ears. It’s all in the mind.”

He wanted me to be consistent and learn the technique of instinctive shooting.

My recurve bow didn’t have a sight. At the ends, the bow curved away from me — a shape that stores more energy than a straight-limbed bow. The traditional recurve bow has a long history, whittled by ancient Asians and Native Americans.

“Archery is about the eyes and the mind working together,” said my instructor, the president of the Abenaki Archers Club who wants to remain unnamed.

The Abenaki Archers Club was founded in 1972 and keeps a record of the talented members who’ve competed with the bow.

“I’m a volunteer here at the shop and I have fun giving lessons,” he said. “It’s all about fun.”

Doctors visit the shooting ranges before and after surgery to calm their nerves, he said. Archery is mental and physical therapy for many people who use the shop’s four shooting ranges, that include a kids range and an outdoor range.

Old Town Archery schedules nighttime outdoor shooting, ladies night and other events. They will host the 3D State Championship, a daylong competition starting at 8 a.m. Sunday.

“The best archers in the world come from Maine,” he said. “It’s in the water or something.”

Old Town Archery Center & Pro-shop is located at 300 Main St., Old Town. For information about the store or the Abenaki Archers Club, call 827-9489 or e-mail info@oldtownarcheryshop.com.

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