On target: Wyoming schools shoot in virtual archery tournament

Before Gaby Wall released the arrow, she closed her mind to thoughts about school, or family or chores. Instead she thought only of where the last arrow landed. She moved her arm, just slightly, a little up or maybe a little to one side, an adjustment so small it was hardly discernible.

Kelsey Dayton

It was quiet in Pavillion’s recreation center on an evening after school. At the sound of two shrill whistles, students, including Wall, 10, picked up brightly colored bows. One more shrill blast and they grabbed arrows.  With faces scrunched in focus they drew back the strings and let arrows fly. Some landed with a satisfying muffled thud in the target across the room. Others clattered on the floor, or even dinged the wall behind, followed by the occasional giggle.

Students from Wind River Elementary are participating in the state’s National Archery in Schools Program, a virtual tournament where kids shoot in their hometowns and record scores online.

This year is Wall’s second in participating in the state contest. She likes the focus shooting with a bow and arrow requires. She likes that the tiniest adjustments can change a shot from too wide to dead-on.

Last year more than 300 archers from 12 schools participated in the statewide contest, said Tasha Sorensen, hunter and angler recruitment coordinator for Wyoming Game and Fish.

Gaby Wall, 10, tallies her score. Students at Wind River Elementary School are particpating a statewide virtual archery tournament. (Kelsey Dayton/WyoFile — click to enlarge)

Students shoot and record scores earned between Feb. 18 and March 1.

Wyoming joined the national program in 2002. While the contest is focused on introductory international target–style shooting, Game and Fish runs the contest hoping students might like shooting and eventually cross over to bow hunting, Sorensen said. The contest is a way for students, who might not otherwise have a chance, to pick up a bow and learn to use it in a safe environment, she said.

The program requires standardized rules and equipment. In Wyoming, Game and Fish certifies instructors and also uses grants to help schools purchase equipment.

Chad Lemley, a fifth grade teacher at Wind River Elementary, has been an archery instructor for eight years. He became a certified instructor while teaching in St. Stephen’s and continued with the program when he arrived at Wind River Elementary School.

“A chance to shoot a bow grabs any kid’s attention,” Lemley said.

It’s a great place for students who might not like, or excel, at traditional sports to try something different that is still active. And there is instant success in hitting the target, and making small adjustments gets kids higher scores. The bows are adjustable so can be sized to allow even young or small kids to comfortably and successfully shoot, Lemley said.

It also emphasizes listening skills. Students learn universal whistle commands. Two whistles mean kids can grab the bows. One means they can shoot. Three mean they can go pick up arrows and multiple rapid blasts mean an emergency stop of shooting.

It teaches the kids control and also begins dialogues about safety, hunting and the natural world, Lemley said.

Skye Sanderson, 10, takes aim at a target. Students at Wind River Elementary are competing in the state’s virtual archery tournament. (Kelsey Dayton/WyoFile — click to enlarge)
Skye Sanderson, 10, takes aim at a target. Students at Wind River Elementary are competing in the state’s virtual archery tournament. (Kelsey Dayton/WyoFile — click to enlarge)

Lemley runs the shooting contest as part of the district’s after school Light’s On program. He hopes to have about 60 students shoot and record scores for the state tournament. Each kid shoots three rounds of five arrows at 10 meters and at 15 meters.

Qualifying students and schools can go on to the national contest in Kentucky. Last year several schools in Wyoming sent competitors, including Sky Sanderson, 10, a fifth grader at Wind River Elementary. It was intimidating with more than 4,000 people shooting, but she’s glad she’s glad she went, she said.

Sanderson grew up shooting a bow— her dad bow hunts. But the contest was different because she was used to using one with a sight at home, which the contest bows don’t have.

While the bows might be different, shooting in the after school contest has helped improve her concentration, hand-eye coordination and strength, she said. This year, even if she qualifies, she doubts she’ll make the trip back to Kentucky. She has an even bigger goal in mind. She wants to get strong enough to start bow hunting with her family.

— “Peaks to Plains” is a blog focusing on Wyoming’s outdoors and communities. Kelsey Dayton is a freelance writer based in Lander. She has been a journalist in Wyoming for seven years, reporting for the Jackson Hole News & Guide, Casper Star-Tribune and the Gillette News-Record. Contact Kelsey at kelsey.dayton@gmail.com.

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Kelsey Dayton

Kelsey Dayton is a freelancer and the editor of Outdoors Unlimited, the magazine of the Outdoor Writers Association of America. She has worked as a reporter for the Gillette News-Record, Jackson Hole News&Guide...

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  1. Once again – if you stick around long enough, you’ll see everything at least twice.
    This is much like the Postal Matches that we shot on the Cheyenne High School (there was only one high school) rifle team in the 1950s. As I recall, we mailed in our targets, which,of course, isn’t practical with archery targets.
    Looks like a good program – nice to see interest reviving in shooting sports.