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Why Recreational Archery Matters

Balloon Animal Field Archery
Recreational archery is the backbone of all archery endeavours.

Sport? The person had to get into recreational archery first.

Hunting? Our ancestors who first learned to hunt with a bow also first needed to practice with the bow to get good with it, and guaranteed they enjoyed doing it. It was no doubt a recreational activity before it was used for hunting. The same goes with modern bowhunters - they have to learn to shoot first, and practicing archery is quite enjoyable.

Based upon my own anecdotal experience, I would say less than 1% of archers compete in any archery sports. And less than 10% hunt. I cannot say what the exact numbers are, but this is my best guess based upon the people I have met over the past many years.

That means at least 89% of archers, probably more, do recreational archery. Just for the fun of it. It is primarily a recreational sport.

Now why does this matter?

It matters because archery as a sport and bowhunting would find it difficult to exist without recreational archery bringing in new archers constantly. If it wasn't enjoyable, people wouldn't bother to think "Hey, I could use to hunt or compete." If they got frustrated and gave up, then that is the death of the person's archery career. Probably never touch a bow again and when asked they might say something like "Archery is too hard. I suck at it."

But the beauty of recreational archery is that allows a person to practice, practice, practice while having fun (until it no longer feels hard and the person no longer sucks at it). Making archery fun is the surefire way to get people to keep practicing until they see improvement and realize they are getting better at this.

For me, as an archery instructor, making archery fun is also about a reward system for the student's brain.

It really comes down to the dopamine.
"dopamine functions as a neurotransmitter—a chemical released by neurons (nerve cells) to send signals to other nerve cells. The brain includes several distinct dopamine pathways, one of which plays a major role in the motivational component of reward-motivated behavior."
When an archery student is having fun and hits a target, the brain produces dopamine which spreads throughout their brain and body, acting as a drug reward for both the brain and muscles. You will often experience a flood of dopamine when watching an enjoyable film, while doing fun sports, during sex, when eating ice cream or chocolate, etc.

That flood of dopamine tells your body that you are doing something good, and that you should keep doing it because it is enjoyable for your brain and the rest of your body.

This reward drug then causes the archery student to pay more attention to their archery form in hopes of repeating a good shot. The more good shots the archer gets, the higher the dopamine output and the cycle continues.

In contrast, if someone feels frustrated their body starts making negative hormones that makes you want to quit what you are doing. But if you are doing a fun activity, this is less likely to happen as you are more likely to enjoy the process even if you are not achieving your goals as quickly as you would like.

Frustration therefore is the leading cause of new archers quitting archery, possibly because they have set their goals too high and they aren't doing an activity that is actually fun.


Example #1. The Frustrated Compound Shooter

Years ago I witnessed a compound shooter who clearly was a beginner. They arrived at the archery range and set up at the 95 yard targets (back when they were at 95 yards, before they were moved to 75). They got their compound bow set up, but it quickly became clear that didn't have a clue what they were doing.

He apparently assumed that because he had a cheap compound bow that he didn't need to shoot at the shorter distances. Or maybe he was just anti-social as the 20 and 30 yard targets are the most popular.

Every time the compound shooter shot, his arrows would go about halfway out into the field and hit the grass about 50 yards out. They weren't even making it near the 95 yard targets.

They would then spend several frustrated minutes searching for their lost arrow(s) in the grass, come back, adjust the sights on their bow HIGHER and repeat the process.

You will notice how I capitalized the word HIGHER. This is because when your arrow is going too low the answer is not to adjust the sight higher, but instead move the sight lower. But a beginner would not know that.

So every round the guy was moving his sight higher, his arrows would go lower, and he was no closer to hitting the 95 yard targets.

So eventually the guy was extremely frustrated, left, and I have never seen him again at the archery range. I am guessing he gave up on archery entirely.

Here is what he should have done:

  1. Go to the 20 yard targets first, because he is after all a beginner and thus he should start at an easier distance.
  2. Shoot his the top pin on his sight.
  3. Adjust the top pin on his sight so that it follows where his arrows are going.
  4. Socialize with the other archers so that you learn things from them.
  5. Find ways to make his practice more fun, so that he is enjoying the process more. Doing something difficult like shooting 95 yards on the first day is going to be extremely frustrating.

Being anti-social isn't going to help someone's shooting practice. A person who is social, and having fun doing a social activity, is going to be less frustrated than a person who wants to be a loner and avoid other people.

Archery is a very social sport and people should embrace the social aspect of the sport as a way of deriving more pleasure (and dopamine) from the activity, which ultimately helps their accuracy, their confidence, and their sense of self-worth.

Being anti-social is simply going to have the opposite effect, causing a person to get frustrated more easily, and they will feel like inadequate loser.


Example #2. The Prepared Parents

I have seen many parents bring their kids to the archery range over the years, but I would say only about one third of them are actually prepared to make the activity more fun for their child.

eg. The parents who are prepared typically brought balloons, make balloon animals, brought a paper zombie target, etc and/or they also thought up a game that their kids can do while shooting.

The unprepared parents in contrast bring their kid(s), bring the bow(s) and arrows, but they think nothing about what activities / games their kids should be playing while they practice archery, and they certainly didn't think to make the targets more fun for their kids to shoot at.

So what happens instead is that the kid ends up shooting at 20 (or sometimes 33 yard) targets, missing regularly, and ultimately spend more time looking for arrows than actually shooting arrows.

What they should be doing instead:
  1. Bring homemade DIY portable targets (or balloon animals works too) which they can put at a distance of 10 or 15 yards instead of the full 20 yards or further.
  2. Stuffed animals also make for fun archery targets. Cheap ones from the Dollar Store work nicely.
  3. If shooting at objects on the ground, using blunt arrowheads and wingnuts would be a wise move. It reduces damage to the DIY targets, but the wingnuts also act like anchors and dig into the grass - making it really easy to find the arrows.
  4. Come up with games the kids can play while they are shooting, so it is even more fun.
  5. Bring food that you would associate with a picnic. Watermelon, sandwiches, lots to drink. Parents often leave early because the kids get hungry, but if you bring lots of food for a picnic this is not a problem.
Seriously, just get some wingnuts from Canadian Tire, some Dollar Store stuffed animals, and the kids will have way more fun than trying to shoot at a target that is 60 feet (20 yards) away. Beginner adults have enough trouble shooting at that distance, for beginner kids it is logically way harder.

Teddy Bear Archery Target


Example #3. Gary Shooting at Zee Romans

I don't know how old Gary is, but I am guessing he is close to my dad's age. Possibly a bit younger. The beard makes him look older than he actually is.

What I do know is that Gary likes to draw Roman soldiers on cardboard and then shoot at them. He loves killing some cardboard Romans. He must have figured out a long time ago that archery is so much more fun when you actually set out to make it more fun.

Sometimes he doesn't always bother to draw Romans on there, like in this photo on the right. But he does like to pose for photos sometimes, which is also fun.

One of these days I will get some photos of Gary shooting at some Romans.

Gary also runs an archery shop at 940 Queen Street East (2nd floor), and is available by appointment only. Check out his website at http://www.basicallybowsarchery.com


Concluding Thoughts

In my opinion anyone who competes or bowhunts should also be actively doing recreational archery so that they are mentally and emotionally encouraged to practice more often. More dopamine = more practicing.

For parents with kids, recreational archery can be a great sport to do again and again, and is worth the investment. The trick is to make it more fun so that the kids keep asking to do it again. And again. And again. Are we there yet? Are we there yet?

Making it more fun (and social) has numerous benefits for a person's mental health too. It keeps your mind active and forces the mind to be calculating things like distance and where to aim. The physical benefits are likewise there, as archery is possibly best described as an exercise combining resistance training with lots of walking to fetch arrows.

Have fun! Keep shooting!


To sign up archery lessons in Toronto for 2019, just email cardiotrek@gmail.com to ask about available days and time slots.


Older Posts about Recreational Archery

Recreational Archery: 5 Ways to have Fun Shooting
Balloon Animal Field Archery
Whistling and Howling Arrowheads (for Fun and Amusement)
Recreational Archery as a Sport

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