Maybe you’ve always been a fan of The Hunger Games or perhaps have a soft spot for Pixar’s Brave. Whichever category you fit in, you’re probably somewhat obsessed with either heroism or archery. Although I can’t help you much with your own prolific journey, I can direct you to the best places in Champaign-Urbana to find your passion for the bow and arrow.
I first began my archery journey at the age of fourteen. In desperate need of something new to fixate my focus and energy on, my parents bought me a compound bow. This led to me joining the local Junior Olympic Archery Development club in my hometown of Albuquerque, New Mexico. With the combination of encountering some excellent coaches as well as my own enthusiasm for the sport, I soon found myself setting a state record in my division and competing at a national level. Archery had become a part of my daily life, so when I moved to college earlier this fall, I knew I had to scope out the best places to continue my hobby. I was lucky enough to find some nifty venues around Champaign-Urbana, and I hope my can guide you with your interest in the sport!
If the last time you ever shot a bow was at camp in middle school, fear not with the highly educated staff and bow technicians you can find at Hunter’s Haven, an archery range and specialty retail store in Champaign. Whether you’re looking to rent a simple bow for the day or you’re considering buying your own equipment, Hunter’s Haven has the resources and facilities to meet your archery needs. Complete with a 20 yard indoor range and a selection of three-dimensional, realistic animal targets, you can be sure to get a dynamic and challenging experience.
If you already have your hands on your own equipment and you prefer to spend your time outdoors, consider checking out the East Central Illinois Archery Club (ECIA) located just off of Perkins Road in Urbana. This quaint range has the vibes of being secluded in the forest, in addition to the yardage to attempt long-range shots. Here, you can choose between a 30-target 3D course, a 50 yard field point range and a broadhead range.
Interested in competing? Investing in a membership with the ECIA will give you inside access to instructed classes, as well as participating in a series of scoring leagues that occur year-round. Indoor tournaments typically follow a 30 or 60 arrow format, whereas outdoor tournaments have a lot more variance — some are shot on paper targets at set distances and others are scored on foam animals. The club hosts monthly outdoor 3D shoots that span from February through September. This range is also excellent for those preparing to go on a hunt, providing adequate distances to sight-in your bow. For students at the University of Illinois who would like to take a break from campus and participate in some target therapy, the UIUC Archery Club meets every Saturday at the ECIA; no prior experience is needed and equipment is available.
There are many disciplines within archery, between styles of bow and formats of competition. Many archers prefer the sport in a more traditional sense — yielding a bow without any modern accoutrements such as a sight or release aid. If shooting traditional style bows like those used by the Mongols in the time of Genghis Khan isn’t really your style, consider taking up the compound bow. A compound bow uses a pulley system with cams, which reduces the amount of weight the archer holds at full-draw. The physics behind this set-up allow for the arrow to travel at greater speeds, while making it easier on the archer to draw more weight. Beginners often find this style to be more comfortable, which inevitably helps build more confidence in the archer as they advance in the sport. Whichever bow you choose, there is a plethora of directions in which you can take your new hobby.
Once you realize you aren’t a hazard to everyone else on the range, you may want to consider showing off those new skills in a winter indoor league hosted by the ECIA Club at Hunter’s Haven. These leagues begin mid-late January and run on a weekly basis. The practice of scoring in a league is great for learning to build mental fortitude, as well as challenging yourself to beat your former records. (Don’t worry, the math involved in scoring isn’t hard). If your winters are too busy or the polar vortex strikes again, there are a couple of tournaments held in March and April, as well as an additional league that runs throughout the summer.
Get the kids involved too! Yes, in theory, handing your child a weapon may sound frightening, but archery is excellent for developing discipline and focus, as well as refining motor skills. The ECIA Youth Archery Program (also hosted at Hunter’s Haven) will start-up in late January and provide up to 25 kids aged 8-14 a chance to learn archery in a fun and safe way. All equipment is provided. Any further questions can be asked via Facebook Messenger on the ECIA Club page. Jefferson Middle School, as well as both Centennial and Central High Schools have pretty successful archery teams, so it's not too early to get started.
Champaign-Urbana is much more than a basic college town amidst the cornfields. Adventures and new hobbies are likely within a twenty-minute drive away. And let’s face it, perhaps you were never fond of running. This is your chance to pursue your Olympian dream without having to relive eighth grade P.E. nightmares. And if competition isn’t for you, the range is still a great place to escape from work or classes and mingle with new people. Get out there and check out the local ranges and clubs available to you! Who knows, maybe even Cupid will find you there.
Photo provided by Sydney Wright