The history of archery is bloodier than the “Game of Thrones” TV show, and the characters just as vibrant. English historian E.G. Heath writes about one of the earliest known archers, Naram-Sin, an Akkadian emperor and “King of the Universe” who sent his charioteer archers into battle as a mobile strike force, defeating the Mesopotamians and Sumerians along the way. While we don’t have Naram-Sin’s words, we have his image: proud, bow in hand, trampling his enemies underfoot.
Tyrants aside, it’s history is peopled with anonymous artisans and soldiers whose innovations and sacrifices changed the course of empire. With the invention of the composite bow, in which different woods or materials were used to give the bow varying elastic properties, a model of early engineering was developed, precise and powerful enough to penetrate armor.
My own path to archery was not so dramatic. I needed to get outside more. I began by emailing Jon Lyna, chair of the Lowell Sportsmen’s Club’s archery committee. Lyna wrote back and explained that the LSC, which is located in North Chelmsford, offers a free introduction to archery every Thursday evening at 6:30, open to the public. They even supply the equipment and bug spray.
While Lyna’s fellow LSC instructor James Baustert advises most people to start with a compound bow, I figured traditional archery was more my style. Compound bows use a pulley system and are more powerful and accurate than the sort of bows even an archer king would have carried into battle.
I caught the archery bug at my first visit, joined the LSC and bought a Fred Bear longbow, the same brand my grandfather once used to hunt in the woods of Vermont.
For those looking to take their skills to next level, Big Al’s Archer’s Paradise, a shop in Salisbury, has its own Junior Olympic Archery Development (JOAD) team for people learning Olympic-style target archery. With six instructors, Big Al’s also offers advanced training for students of all ages. Owner Dan Zecker is a lifelong archery enthusiast and competes worldwide.
I asked Zecker what he considered the most common misconception about archery. “That bows are hard to pull,” he says. “With modern technology, anyone can do it. Anyone can shoot a bow.” Most people, when they try archery for the first time, know right away if it’s for them. Zecker speaks of “the magical flight of the arrow,” that almost mystical feeling people experience when they fire one. It isn’t something that can be explained in words. He’s known people so captivated that they entered competitions mere weeks after drawing a bow for the first time.
Once you’ve learned how to shoot, there are lots of opportunities for archery practice and competition in the Merrimack Valley. The Lone Pine Hunter’s Club in Hollis, N.H., billed as the state’s oldest sportsman’s club, offers a Tuesday night 3D archery experience for $5. It winds down in September, so you might have to wait until 2019 if you want to try it. In 3D archery, participants walk along a woodland range and shoot at various animal-shaped targets in a way that mimics hunting conditions, assuming that you are gaming for such critters as skunks, goats and stegosauruses. It’s a bit like golf, but with bows and arrows. When the course is completed, participants fill out a scorecard to mark their progress. Granite State Bowhunters sponsors shooting events throughout New Hampshire, pausing for deer season before resuming in the spring. While you may not be the next Naram-Sin, Robin Hood or Katniss Everdeen, you can still experience the magical flight of the arrow and learn a skill that connects you to the natural world and an ancient tradition.
Lowell Sportsmen’s Club
North Chelmsford, Mass.
Lone Pine Hunter’s Club
Big Al’s Archer’s Paradise