Teenager Amy Taylor draws her bow like a seasoned archer.
The 13-year-old’s arrow rockets down the range and buries in a circular target, while other shooters let rip on either side.
Watching with eagle eyes are Ian Harding, Dianne Stark, Chris Gorman and Iain Hamilton, who run the Wairarapa Archers club.
With real arrows used, this club is hot on health and safety but it’s also clear they want everyone who drops into Friday night archery sessions on the small bore rifle range of the Senior Citizens Club in Masterton, to have fun and be themselves.
“We welcome everybody for archery,” Stark said. “We’ve had someone with Huntington’s disease shoot and one person who was legally blind.”
The line-up of Friday archers includes experienced adults with their own gear, parents and children shooting together and siblings watched by their grandparents.
There is a 70-year age gap between the oldest and youngest shooters, with about 27 members shooting regularly.
It’s a walk-in arrangement with a $5 range fee. Beginners are guided by senior club members and offered club bows and arrows to get started.
“We’re right beside them for their first half dozen quivers of shots,” Harding said. “We really enforce safety.”
A quiver or ‘round’ of arrows is six, with archers shooting 15 rounds during a session. Harding, whose quiver strapped to his hips is studded with archery badges, calls out advice to the younger shooters: “Don’t forget to roll that wrist. Put more porridge behind it. Take your time.”
“Archery is something you can do as a family,” he said. “Unless you want to, you don’t have to compete with anybody other than yourself.”
Stark is usually on duty as ‘range officer’, blowing a whistle to signal that people can step forward. A long blast means everyone must lower their arrows and gently release the bow.
“That could be because a little one could get over-excited and perhaps race forward to retrieve an arrow that’s come off the bow – you’re not allowed to do that,” Stark said. “We’ve had no injuries.”
The club was set up by Stark, along with Pru and Neil McLaren, about 20 years ago after they took their children to a local ‘Have A Go’ session for people with disabilities.
“We were hooked, so we got people over from the Hutt to advise us how to set up here.” Committee members have been intent on including all members of the community.
“We’ve had quite a few with autism,” Stark said.
Harding added: “We’ve had kids from the Supported Learning Centre at Wairarapa College and we treat everybody as an individual – you’ve got no idea what’s going to happen. They had a great time.”
Juniors new to the sport can shoot at three different distances, with electronic devices set aside or left at home while the children learn the patience and techniques of archery. with both hands busy.
“One of the good things about junior archery, is they must learn to score,” Harding said.
Most Fridays, Neville Clark – a regional judge and Wellington coaching representative – comes over the hill to coach youngsters and repair equipment.
Clark has seen the popularity of archery wax and wane, usually with the release of movies featuring archers, such as The Hunger Games and Lord of the Rings.
“Time for another archery movie, please,” Clark said, and Harding agreed: “Last time The Hunger Games was on, we needed to have three different sessions each night – there were queues out the door.”
Clark and the senior Wairarapa archers are in favour of the recent affiliation of clubs around New Zealand to Archery New Zealand, one of the last sports in the country to affiliate to a national body.
Successful Wairarapa archers include Holly Monks of Masterton, who won the national under-14 recurve championship earlier this year.
The ancient sport of archery now offers a choice of different bows – longbow/barebow [no sights built in], recurve [with sights and stabilisers] and compound [with magnification, pulleys and cables].
“Most of [archery] is about technique,” Harding said. Arm strength doesn’t matter but getting feet, arm and hand positions right does.
People work out their dominant eye and from there, decide if they will shoot left or right-handed.
“What they have in the centre of the target is something that they call an ‘X’, and at an international level it can get down to how many ‘X’ targets you score, not how many arrows in the red, or the yellow [circles].”
Once the archery bug is caught, shooters can advance from the indoor range in Masterton, which has a maximum distance of 18 meters, to outdoor archery sessions at Clareville, north of Carterton, with distances of 20m to 70m.
Chris Gorman, an archer of more than 40 years, runs the Wairarapa schools programme with a ‘mobile archery’ van carrying bows, arrows and four targets.
“The kids can say they’re doing a sport, if they don’t like throwing or running,” he said.
Indoor archery is on Fridays from 5.30pm, Senior Citizens Hall in Cole St, Masterton. Outdoors at Clareville Showgrounds is weather dependent on Sundays from 9am. Email: [email protected], phone Ian 0274 549 311 or check Wairarapa Archers Facebook page for updates.