I knelt awkwardly on the rocky hillside, gripped the arrow stuck firmly in the tree and pulled. Nothing. Needless to say, the walnut tree was not the intended target and, once again, an arrow had sailed beyond the rubber beast placed in the distance by Total Archery Challenge and lodged firmly in the hardwood. Between Joe and I, we got four hands on the arrow and, with a mighty heave, loosed it from the tree. In so doing, I managed to skewer the left side of my abdomen with the plastic nock. You might think only the pointy end of the arrow can do damage, but I have news for you.
Given that opening paragraph, one might get the idea that TAC Day 2 went the same as Day 1 with miserable failure after miserable failure but that would be incorrect. While Andy, Joe, and Jim retreated to camp after we finished shooting the first day, I went immediately to the practice range. It was much quieter later in the afternoon and much easier to spend quality time practicing and adjusting sights. In so doing, I quickly learned that my longer pins (30, 40, 50, 60) were not nearly as accurately sighted in as I had thought. That combined with just not enough practice and a touch of target panic had led to day one disaster.
Okay, time for more boring archery techno-mumbo-jumbo for those so inclined. If not inclined, my feelings won’t be hurt if you skip ahead.
First, when I mention “sight pins” for different yardages, this is a reference to the aiming apparatus used mostly by bowhunters. Target archers tend to use an adjustable single pin sight or some similar sight with an aiming point on a lens. When only doing target archery one has the luxury to take their time and adjust a sight specifically to the exact range they are shooting. This can be done using marks on the sight housing from previously sighting in or, these days, there’s an app for that.
When hunting, things like deer don’t usually wait around while the archer verifies the range, checks a phone app, calculates the proper sight setting makes the sight adjustment, and posts a selfie on Instagram. While many archers these days do indeed use single pin, adjustable sights for hunting, most still use a multi-pin setup with pins set for common distances (e.g. 20, 30, 40, 50 yards, etc.) In this way, they can quickly aim without fooling with the sight too much. In-between distances are shot using the gap between the pins.
I’ve also referenced “Target Panic” multiple times. What is that you might ask? Or you’ve long since stopped caring and are off watching cat videos on YouTube. As one long afflicted, I can tell you target panic is not a good time. I had target panic 40 years ago before I even knew what it was.
When starting out in compound archery, it seems pretty easy. Drawing the bow is easier than a recurve. You pull it back and part way the levers of the cams reduce the pulled and holding wait by as much as 90%. Once at full draw, the archer simply puts his or her aiming pin on the spot they want to hit and let the arrow go. It’s very simple! Except the human brain has a fun little trick up its sleeve. I don’t know the psychological explanation, but at some point, the brain starts to get a bit premature. “The pin is almost on the target . . SHOOT!” It reaches a point where the reflex of shooting is triggered by the brain before the archer can move the pin fully on to the target. It is totally maddening. It is an unforced action for the body to trigger the release before the eyes say it’s time. To put it in terms most can understand, imagine trying to click a button on your computer screen but each time the cursor gets close (not on) the button, something in your brain makes you click the mouse and you are never able to actually get the cursor on the button. Archers try to compensate by jerking the bow wildly, quickly punching the release and other bad habits that lead to errant arrows. It is truly a frustrating condition that eventually afflicts nearly all archers and has forced many to quit. There are several very good ways to defeat target panic but it takes time and effort.
When I used to shoot competitively, I beat target panic with coaching and a different style of release that doesn’t lend itself so well to hunting. The last few years, I’ve gone back to basics and been able to control that condition well enough to hunt effectively. As I worked my way through the TAC weekend, it definitely began to rear it’s ugly head again.
Well, now that I’ve taken you down that bit of an archery rabbit hole, back to the Total Archery Challenge. As I mentioned in Day 1, we were signed up to shoot Friday and Sunday. This left Saturday to spend more time on the practice range, shop the vendors, and loll about camp. Joe and I both spent significant time on the practice range and hoped to shoot a bit better on the Yeti course on Sunday. Meanwhile, Andy went fly fishing. I don’t know if he caught any flies.
Late Sunday morning found us hanging out in the shade at Seven Springs Mountain resort, waiting for our turn to set out on the Yeti course. While waiting for our 11:00a.m. nock time, we chatted with Steve Hurley and his wife Caitlyn. Steve was also registered for an 11:00a.m. nock time and was shooting by himself with Caitlyn as cheerleader and arrow carrier. It turns out, Steve had promised a lovely weekend away at a resort. Apparently, he may not have mentioned the whole archery event happening at the resort and the ensuing 5 mile walk through the wood. To make matters worse for poor Caitlyn, since Steve was otherwise shooting alone, we decided to join up and shoot as a group of four with Caitlyn and Jim along for the walk and color commentary. I’m not sure Steve and Caitlyn knew they were signing up for 3 hours of nearly non-stop banter but hopefully they had fun.
The Yeti course at Total Archery Challenge obviously gets its name from a major sponsor like the rest of the five courses. Or does it? The first target was, in fact, a Yeti. Or Sasquatch. Or Bigfoot. Or whatever your favorite name for a large, mythological woodland bipedal creature. The tales of Bigfoot place him at seven feet tall and several hundred pounds. One might think a target replica of such a beast would make for a pretty easy shot and I suppose, in the right circumstances, that would be a good assumption. In the case of target #1 of the Yeti course, Bigfoot looked a bit like a small squirrel uphill, behind a tree, across a windy ski slope some 70 yards away.
Aside from another dissertation about some bit of archery history or technical mumbo jumbo, nothing could possibly be more boring than me relating a tale of each of the 25 targets arrow by arrow. (Although I could dive into a lecture about tiller and walk-back bow tuning if you are really dealing with some incurable insomnia.) Thankfully, I have no plans to do that which is especially good because it has been almost two months and I can barely remember what I had for breakfast yesterday let alone what each target was and how I shot it. Fortunately, I can say I shot much better on Sunday. Andy continued to shoot well, despite needing to learn to keep his finger away from the release trigger while drawing his bow. Joe felt a bit humbled by the course again but that probably has as much to do with his constant life on the road with little to no practice time then anything.Steve was a good archer and shot very well too. It was truly a pleasure to shoot, walk, and talk with he and Caitlyn.
There were some memorable targets though, particularly the fruit bat hanging upside down at 55 yards. Steve and Gold Tip were the only winners on that target. There was a small bear or bear-like creature downhill at 50+ yards. The bottom of the target was guarded by a log and some brush and any arrows missing high would disappear into the valley beyond. I scored a 10 on that one and was very pleased. There was also a tiny crow target at some ridiculous range that I know I hit and I think we all shot well on.
I will say there are about four targets I’d really like to have had over that I felt like I just executed poorly on including number that last target. It was a large buck, downhill at 45 yards and all four of us shot it very poorly. That was a relatively easy shot and we should have had four good arrows on it.
I’ve shot a lot of archery tournaments in my life. Usually, there is an air of seriousness and nervousness as archers try to post a good score. Sometimes the only thing on the line is pride and other times there are outcomes like money or qualification for a larger event. Regardless, that seriousness sometimes takes the fun and festive edge off the tournament with archers nearly always less than satisfied with their score. Total Archery Challenge, as the name suggests, is totally different archery. The shots are all very difficult. I didn’t see a single easy shot on any course and no ethical hunter would take any of those shots in the field. (Of course, I have never drawn a Yeti tag nor have I hunted fruit bats.) But the fun and challenge is the archery itself and not just focusing on a deer-hunting-like shot. The fact is, for most of us, if you heard your arrow hit foam it was a pretty good shot. The end result of such an event is that archers leave feeling more accomplished, and much better about the relatively easy shots most of us are going to take as hunters. The product of low-expectations and no grand prizes is that the whole event had a fun, festive air to it. There was a lot of camaraderie on the course as groups passed or caught up to one another. There was also a lot of laughter and discussion about different targets and lost arrows. It made for a very pleasant weekend.
Of course, not everyone at TAC is a hunter. Many are target archers who will never aim an arrow at a living creature but enjoy a challenge. And the challenge was there as evidenced by miscellaneous trees and the lost/broken arrow bucket.
I’m looking forward to doing this event again. In fact, they hold events all over the country and some of the ones out west are supposed to be far better than that held in Seven Springs. I can see me making the trek to Big Sky, MT or Snowbird, UT. I do know I’ll be back in Seven Springs next year but plan to be better prepared with a better choice of equipment for Total Archery Challenge. I’d love to try some of the longer courses too. One or two of them stretch shots out to well over 100 yards.
Heck, maybe I’ll even take on the “Truck Challenge” and try to hit the 12 ring on the 120 yard caribou to qualify to win a truck. How hard could it be?