By Joshua R. Quong
My introduction to archery, excluding the flimsy toy ones that came in clear plastic packaging vacuum-molded to cardboard scenes of wild Indians on horseback shooting at pioneers, was a homemade bow fashioned from the limb of a chinaberry tree that grew up and through one of the old pole barn sheds on the farm.
Somewhere around ten years of age, I found a singular wooden arrow in my father’s shop. It was stuck Excalibur-like in the bottom half of an old mannequin that was pushed to a back corner along with other remnants from my grandparents’ store. This was no suction cup tipped plaything. The ashen shaft with blue and black fletchings was most real and kindled excitement.
After watching me fail at several attempts to construct a bow with lengths of PVC pipe and before my frustration became destructive, my father agreed to make a bow on the condition that I was not to shoot people, dogs, buildings, nor vehicles.
He cut a limb, stretched a twist of nylon string to each end, and tapped a sixpenny finishing nail into the green wood for an arrow rest. I was then turned loose, barefoot and bare chested, in a pair of white little league baseball pants like some sort of Chinese-Choctaw hybrid drawing back on empty Red Baron pizza boxes propped against dirt mounds while the humid summer breeze blew through my mini-mullet.
My lone arrow was down to one blue fletching when the chinaberry bow broke along with my spirits and subsequently my interest with archery. It was not until my early twenties when the mystique of the bow and arrow allured me once again.
Too much time watching wild-eyed bow hunters on Monster Bucks videos orgasmically panting and whispering “He’s down! He’s down!” after sending a three bladed Muzzy through a Pope and Young whitetail sparked as much exhilaration in me as that wooden arrow jabbed in a mannequin’s ass did when I was ten.
So I bought a recurve, a quiver of arrows, and a target.
The neighborhood I lived in during those first years of teaching high school was fairly tolerant of my evening shoots in the side yard of the rental house. By the time daylight broke on opening day, I was back in my home woods fifteen feet up a tree next to a small grove of wild persimmons.
After a hot and sweaty all-day sit, a doe popped out underneath my stand. I drew back and released an arrow hitting the deer. She ran through the woods, and I shook and panted just like those famous Monster Bucks hunters.
But as I sat waiting for the doe to die somewhere in the forest, my eyes began to burn. At first, I thought sweat had dripped into them or that my contact lenses had shifted. Through blurred vision, I climbed down from the tree and found the broken half of my arrow. My plan was to return to the house and look for the deer in the morning once my sight was better. Instead, I ended up at the optometrist the next day where I learned that I had somehow gotten scent-blocker behind both contacts and had to religiously administer steroid drops into each eye several times daily for a month.
I never did find the doe; I have never since worn contact lenses; and I vowed to never… ever… have a damn thing to do with archery for as long as I lived.
It is a vow that remained unbroken… until recently.
My children became interested in archery through friends of theirs who were involved in 4-H Shooting Sports. But no homemade bows for my future Apollo and Artemis would do. Oh no. After a visit to the outdoor store for prescribed equipment, the boy and girl were ready to sling arrows of outrageous fortune with brand new blue and red bows, respectively.
The 4-H archery was fairly laid back. There was practice once a week for a few weeks which culminated in a district meet held early on a Saturday morning where hundreds of kids competed and hundreds of parents watched. After my kiddos shot fifteen arrows over three ends, we grabbed lunch and went home. The bows and arrows were put back in their cases and then stored in closets where they would not see the light of day until the next shooting season.
When that day came, my son signed-up to shoot with the 4-H bunch again but my daughter tried out and made her school archery team. After physicals, paperwork, after school practices, and uniforms it was time for competitions. Friends of mine whose kids shot for their school teams all summarized their experience in a single statement:
“It’s the most boring damn thing you’ll ever watch.”
I soon learned that generally this was less opinion and more fact after attending a match.
It was held in a school gymnasium and upon entering the atmosphere was much like that of a basketball game. Folks stood in line to purchase tickets and then stood in line again at a concession stand.
Targets stood in a long phalanx in front of tarps strung up to block a set of bleachers from stray arrows. In the opposite set of bleachers is where parents and spectators sat to watch the match. Before the shooting commenced, a coach stood in front of the crowd and announced that the pork nachos wouldn’t be ready for another 15-20 minutes which elicited a low grumble from a number of old men in the crowd. The coach then asked the pastor, whose grandson was competing, to say an invocation to which we all stood and bowed our heads. To conclude the opening ceremonies, one of the young ladies from the opposing teams sang “The Star-Spangled Banner” acapella. What she lacked in tone and pitch was made up for in volume and confidence.
The competition consisted of two flights, of which, my daughter shot in the second. So for what seemed like an eternity, I sat in the stands, with my wife and son, and watched other people’s children whom I did not know shoot their bows at ten and then fifteen meters. And it was boring as hell.
There was, however, a short break in the monotony when a poor woman either tripped or slipped on an empty pork nacho tray and tumbled down a short flight of bleachers. After a few sips of ice water and a fanning, she was able to stand upright and walk to the exit as the crowd awkwardly applauded.
When the time came for my daughter to shoot, I was overcome with delusions of grandeur. My child would bullseye every shot; she would split at least four arrows; and when all in that gym witnessed her greatness, they would scold their own children as utter failures. The delusion died when her first three shots scored 2, 5, and 2.
And though she skipped a couple of arrows off the gym floor and knocked the clipboard holding her scoring sheet from atop her target, there were some highlights. She was able to shoot a couple of tight groups, and once she hit bullseye which elicited applause from us that embarrassed her.
Over the course of the match, between good arrows and bad, something unexpected happened. My vision blurred. Not with the sting of scent-blocker at the base of a persimmon tree but with the haze of past shots at an empty frozen pizza box. When my daughter’s left hand pushed the bow away from her, my right hand pulled the string back to me; both of us aiming an arrow at the yellow center of a school target and the first “P” in “pepperoni”. Her eyes, as blue as her mother’s, searching for her family in the stands after each round were my eyes, as brown as my father’s, searching for him standing in the threshold of his shop door.
After the match, we went out for chicken strips. The kids were happy, especially my daughter who was excited about seeing her teammates and friends the next day.