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Pondering the Puzzlement

Hold it. Focus. Calm. Center. Think- yellow, yellow, yellow. SNAP! THUNK!

Jack Deatherage, Jr.

(3/1) That one's gone. It never was. Next arrow pulled from the quiver and carefully set on the bow string. Deep breaths, shoulders shrugging, rotate the head so the neck cracks. Thumb the release aid's string around the bow cord just below the arrow's nock. Begin exhaling as the bow comes up and the string is drawn back. Feel the bow in hand. Settle it where it belongs. Anchor the draw hand index finger knuckle in the hollow below the ear. Check the grip again, eye to the peep sight in the bow string. Settle the sight on the target and relax. Inhale deeply letting the breath raise the sight until the target is centered. Feel everything! Is the grip right? The anchor? Did the string touch the nose tip, the eye line up with the peep? Does anything feelů off? Exhale half a breath. Hold it. Focus.

When I first picked up a bow in high school I never thought I'd be teaching myself discipline by way of archery thirty-eight years later. I wasn't very coordinated as a child and am less so now in middle-age. I've often wondered about the bow and arrow, why I'm so fascinated with them? In a nutshell archery is the shooter and the target, and that's all it's ever been for close to the 20,000 years historians believe people have been slinging arrows. That's it. Sure, there are coaches, perhaps team companions cheering you on, there is the huge archery industry testing and perfecting the equipment, but all that recedes when the shooter steps onto the line and sets an arrow to the string

There is no one backing you up, no one to steal a base, throw a wild pitch, snag a rebound. No one to pass to. No one to save you if you fail. You are alone with the target - a dime, maybe a quarter- sized "X" in a circle of yellow 60 feet away. Ten thousand things you need to do race through your head, most of them never coming together as words - more sensations, a feeling that something is right or almost imperceptibly wrong. Does the anchor feel off? Do you let down after expending the effort to make the draw? Are you breathing correctly? Will what you ate before setting up to shoot sustain you or fail you? Did you work out enough, or too much? Are you in the zone, or has some stray thought sent your mind staggering far from the focus? Yellow, yellow, yellow. SNAP! It's gone, beyond your control. THUNK! Whatever has just happened starts the entire process over again while adding more questions!

Is the arrow in the yellow, or the red? Please, God, not blue. Can you repeat the exact actions if it's yellow? What must you do if it's outside the yellow? No one can really advise you because no one can see what you see, feel exactly what you felt. The first arrow is gone. It no longer matters. The second arrow is now the first, the only arrow that matters. Little wonder after 45 arrows, all of them shot as if they were the first, I'm often exhausted.

I've had non-shooters ask me why I waste so much time on archery when I don't compete or hunt. I used to ask them if learning something about themselves was a waste. From the puzzled looks I got I suppose it is. Rather than argue with people not interested in archery I've taken to introducing the curious to the sport, hobby, art - depending on how one perceives it. How do I describe that second when all my advice and all their practice suddenly comes together for a perfect shot? Obviously skeptics never spent hours, days, years working with someone struggling to master a bow and arrow - nor been there to witness that instant when realization strikes - it isn't the bow and arrow but the self that needs mastering.

There is an introduction to Traditional Archery being offered at the Gettysburg Archery Club, mostly for children, but no interested adult would be turned away. It is free to the public and equipment is provided. Why? Because it's fun. And sometimes self-enlightenment occurs.

The Izaak Walton League of America's chapter in Frederick also offers archery as part of its extended Hunter Safety youth program. It, too, is free to children 18 and under though there is limited equipment and the focus is on honing all hunting skills. Non-hunters seeking knowledge about the safe use of firearms are also welcome. And I'd never turn any interested person away from the archery range.

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