By Dana Gochenour -- Daily Correspondent
The Shenandoah County Archery Club is planning its two-day annual shoot this weekend and has its sights set on new members.
The sport might seem intimidating to newcomers, but club member Andy Stiltner said there's more to archery than hunting.
"Once people get here they fall in love with it," he said. The club holds target practice on a privately owned outdoor range in the mountains west of Strasburg and draws interest from hunters and hobbyists.
"If you are a hunter there is no better practice than doing this," Stiltner said. "[But] you don't have to hunt to enjoy archery."
For those who are looking for an inexpensive excursion for the day, the price alone is enticement enough. Just ask club member Ed Wymer.
"What can you do for $10 anymore?" he said. "I can come up here, shoot all day if I want to, and enjoy myself." It's fun for all ages, and the club maintains no minimum age requirement. Wymer brings along his son, daughter, son-in-law and grandson, who also are avid archers.
Open March to September, the range, at 400 Jesse Lane in Strasburg, lets club members shoot both 3-D animal and paper targets any time. Twice a month, on open shooting days, the public can join members on the 3-D range.
The fees are $10 for adults, $5 for youth ages 11 to 17, and free for those 10 and younger. The club suggests young participants have adult supervision.
Members often travel to shoots hosted by other archery clubs, which return the favor by attending Shenandoah County Archery Club events.
Four-year member Tony Wilfong said, "Everyone is really nice here and this is one of the best courses I've been on."
Four events on the range are designated "club shoots" and offer competition and prizes in both 3-D and field archery. There are categories for youth and ladies as well as "hunter" and "open," determined by the type of bow and other equipment the shooter should use.
Stiltner, captain of the 3-D range, said, "In this area there are lots of bow hunters and backyard shooters but not a lot of people get into target archery."
Field archery and the 3-D competition differ greatly, from the number of targets allowed to the types of bows used.
Many club members confess to owning at least three or four bows and as with any other hobby, archers easily can sink a large chunk of money into their equipment. High-end competition bow set-ups run well over $2,000, but Stiltner insists spending a fortune is not a requirement for having a good time on the range. He recommends checking it out first, then adding in accessories over time.
"If you buy a cheap bow, the best upgrade is a good set of strings and cables, which can cost around $100," he said.
Club membership fees are $40 for the head of household and vary in price as each family member is added, with a family maximum of $52.
The club spends around $1,000 a year replacing the foam 3-D targets, which wear out from the high volume of use and attacks by bears and squirrels. Club members also perform all of the work associated with maintaining the range, such as clearing trails and hanging new paper targets.
Frequently rearranging targets keeps shooters guessing, and members agree the course's rocky trails provide a realistic scenario for sharpening skills. Stiltner said shoots also allow sportsmen and women to adjust new equipment to their own preferences.
The range tends to attract shooters looking to warm up for hunting season, but club Vice President Terry Ballowe said he's discovered much more.
He was once one of those people; now he primarily competes in field archery events. He's also the club's director to the Virginia Bowhunters Association, which he called a member's "direct connection to the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries."
Forming such a connection to the archery club came as a surprise to him.
"I wasn't looking to get in it like I did," he said, "I got hooked on the competition."
The Shenandoah County Archery Club Annual will take place at the range on May 4 and 5. Fees to participate are $10 per person. Registration is from 8 a.m. to noon each day. For more information, call 540-984-8208 or go online to the club's Facebook page or the Virginia Bowhunters Association website www.vbarchers.com.