It looked like something out of “Robin Hood,” only no one was wearing tights.
That was the sight above Kitchen and Bath Plus here last Wednesday as three archers—Brian Mueller, Jeff Johnston and Wade Karchuk—simultaneously drew back on their bows and aimed for the centre of the coloured rings 20 yards away.
With its roots dating back to prehistoric times, interest in archery has been on the rise in Rainy River District in recent years.
That interest, along with loss of the indoor range below the former Fort Frances police station, prompted Ben Wiersema to convert the upstairs of his business to an indoor range last year.
Once they caught wind of that, Wiersema noted suppliers started contacting him.
“So now I’m in the archery business,” he said.
And for the first time this year, eight Fort Frances Sportsmen’s Club archery club members are participating in a 16-week shoot competition based out of Thunder Bay. Each must shoot a score (a total of 30 arrows) once a week, then send in their results.
The category depends on what kind of bow—a compound or traditional (a recurve, long or self bow)—the archer uses, along with what equipment is tacked onto it.
The bow choice usually depends on the archer’s experience.
“There’s a natural progression,” explained Johnston, who’s participating in the competition, noting people usually starting on the compound bow then move to a traditional one.
“[Traditional bows] take a lot more practise to get good at,” agreed Wiersema, adding about 75 percent of archers opt for the compound bow.
Mueller said compound bows are faster and more accurate, with archers able to attach sights and scopes, as well as other equipment. But they also require more maintenance.
With traditional bows, there are no sights and there is no release like the compound bow, but Johnston noted there was minimal maintenance.
“[And] it’s very natural. Like throwing a baseball,” he said.
< B>< *c>Thrill of the hunt
While taking aim at an indoor target improves skill and accuracy, the real thrill is taking the bow out to hunt. With that, bow hunters can take advantage of an extended season.
That’s how Mueller first got started with bow hunting about 10 years ago.
“I couldn’t get a moose tag on the regular draw so we applied in the archery,” he said, noting they sent away for their equipment through mail-order catalogues, not really knowing exactly what they were looking for.
“We were shooting accurately within two weeks of getting the bows, surprisingly,” he admitted, but recommended those interested in taking on the sport talk to a knowledgeable dealer first so they know exactly what they’re buying.
But Mueller didn’t regret the switch. That first year, his hunting party saw 26 moose during the rut.
“So that kind of got us hooked," he admitted, saying that was a big change from what they’d experienced during the regular hunting season. "We usually see that many hunters and no moose.”
Now he exclusively bow hunts for moose and deer. “The honest truth is I like the lack of hunters,” he said.
The Ministry of Natural Resources noted there is a greater chance of bow hunters getting tags. In 1996, there were 43 applicants for the 15 bull validation tags in area 9A, with another 14 applying for the five cow tags in that area.
In 9B, 21 hunters applied for the 15 bull tags, with only six applying for the five cow tags.
But conservation officer Doug Gibb, enforcement supervisor with the MNR here, said he’s bow hunted in the past and stressed it was much different—and harder—to hunt with.
The hunters spend a lot of extra time in the bush, scouting and calling, then have to get close enough—usually within 15-20 yard—to get a shot. And much depends on the conditions.
But that’s what draws hunters to the sport.
“I guess I like the challenge,” noted Karchuk, 15, who has been shooting since he was six but didn’t get serious until three years ago.
The difference is the connection between the hunter and the animal.
“You’re more one-on-one with the game. [And] the game definitely has the advantage,” Wiersema noted.
“You call a lot of moose before you get one that does what you want it to do," echoed Johnston. "Most of the time, they don’t do what you want them to do.”
Mueller also noted it was having the nerve to get close enough to the animal for a shot.
Because they hunt in thick brush, Johnston said he usually ends up hearing a lot more moose than he sees. But that is part of the thrill—calling to the moose and having them answer.
“The guys who do it put in a lot of time,” Gibb said.
Of utmost importance is ensuring a sure shot and a clean hit. That requires making the broad head arrow—used for big game—razor sharp.
“You have to be able to shave the hair off the skin,” Karchuk said.
With bow hunting on the rise, the Ontario Federation of Anglers and Hunters is looking at whether there should be a bow hunting safety course similar to the hunters’ safety course.
Wiersema, who sits on the OFAH bow-hunting advisory committee, hoped that would be in place soon.
“There is an international program in place right now,” he noted, with Quebec the only province making it mandatory for bow hunters to pass a course before they can hunt.
For now, Gibb said bow hunting was part of the regular hunters’ safety course and questions were included on that exam.
“There hasn’t been a lot of hunting accidents with the bows," he said, noting hunters had to be more careful they didn’t fall on an arrow. "It’s fairly safe.”