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PROFILE: A sport for all of us

LAKE VESUVIUS — Only 13, Earl “Buddy” Fry headed into the woods near Arabia in Wayne National Forest, with his Bear Archery recurve bow humbly strapped to his back. His weapon wasn’t much — just a $5 novice bow bought used from a schoolmate.

His brother wielded a far-superior fiberglass bow, purchased by selling packs of garden seed.

Still, for a boy growing up in the 1960s, he was Robin Hood, teaming up with his dad and brother for his makeshift-Sherwood Forest hunt. There weren’t many deer in Lawrence County back then, but, Fry fondly recalls the time he saw one.

“I shot at a doe. I remember seeing the deer duck and let the arrow fly over its back,” he harked. “The most interesting part of that hunt is when we saw this feral goat living in the old strip mines. For several years, during deer season, we spotted the goat, but I don’t know what ever happened to it.”

Nowadays, at 59, the Willow Wood father and grandpa often goes to the basement to look at his dad’s old metal bow hanging on the wall — a special keepsake from his glory days, recollections of woodlands and family.

Maybe that’s why the president of the South Hills Chapter of the National Wild Turkey Federation was a pacesetter in opening the 1/3-mile Longbow Range near the boat dock. It’s a spot for young and old to make memories, hand-in-hand.

With a grant from the NWTF for $34,500 in cooperation with Wayne National Forest, volunteers got to work, putting in hundreds of hours constructing the archery focal point at Lake Vesuvius, currently celebrating its first phase. The 18-target range sets the standard, with 3-D targets to spark interest in hunting and shooting sports for beginners, while also honing skills of advanced, competitive marksmen.

With optimism, plans are underway for phase 2 of the development, slated to open in summertime. A nearly flat, handicapped-accessible, 12-target range will be constructed close to the gravel parking lot, allowing an easy trek for wheelchairs bound for the course, said the member of the NWTF Ohio board of directors and past state chapter president.

He’s thrilled to offer a tour…

“You park and pick up your bows, arrows, bug repellent, and a bottle of water before crossing a small stream via a steel bridge on your way to the first target. You climb the hill to the target on your left, where a porcupine target awaits. The shooting position is about 18 yards, a slight uphill shot,” he went on. “You shoot one arrow, retrieve it and head for the wolf. That’s target two.

“As you work your way through, you not only encounter the wide variety of dense Styrofoam animal targets, you’re likely to see other archers ahead or behind you. Men and women shoot at the range. I’ve met boyfriend and girlfriend and husband and wife teams, with both carrying their bows,” elaborated Fry, with a smile. “Strollers aren’t all that uncommon. One couple pushed their toddler son around the range, stopping at each of the shooting positions, waiting on dad to demonstrate his skills.”

Annually, September is booming, as the Ohio deer bow hunting season typically kicks off the last Saturday in September or the first Saturday in October.

“People now have a place to shoot at no cost. Most people couldn’t afford to duplicate the range on their own property,” Fry pointed out. “In fact, most shooters don’t own enough property to duplicate the range.”

It’s costly to keep an initiative like this alive, so Fry’s NWTF chapter sustains an archery range maintenance account, while 16 business and individual donors each pledged $100 annually for five years to purchase targets. The chapter also received a $10,000 grant from the Easton Foundation, and raised another $1,700 with a raffle.

The Ohio Division of Wildlife committed $10,000 and the National Forest Service budgeted dollars for the handicapped-accessible range as well.

Most importantly, the range is introducing the younger set to the sport. Fry’s NWTF chapter conducted an archery instruction course at the range and plans to conduct three more in the next year, geared for kids and teens.

“Archery, whether or not one bow hunts, is an honorable sport — one that requires a certain degree of strength, concentration, mental preparedness, and self-discipline. As a group sport, it provides a healthy activity for youths, an alternative to less desirable activity,” Fry pointed out. “Most hunters I know are ethical people who develop a great deal of respect and appreciation for life. We hope this proper influence will help children develop such traits.

So, they are reaching out, trying to make a difference for troubled kids — with archery.

“It’s exciting, knowing what you’re doing could make a difference. We hope our archery program for at-risk youth will offer good, healthy lifestyle options to those kids who could go down another, more detrimental road in life.”

Archery is catching on with the National Archery in the Schools Program, started in Kentucky.

The physical education curriculum dubbed, “Archery: On Target for Life” was co-created by the Kentucky Departments of Education and Fish & Wildlife Resources and implemented in 100 middle schools in 2002.

Designed to teach Olympic-style target archery in grades 4-12, participants in the 2-week program gained core content knowledge and learned archery history; safety technique and equipment operation, and focused on mental concentration and self-improvement. Teachers were groomed in a 2-hour National Archery Association Level I archery-training program before participating.

Fun and educational, students shoot at bullseye targets placed before an arrow resistant net in gymnasiums, using state-of-the-art equipment designed to fit every student’s needs. With archery grant funding, the $4,800 equipment kits are purchased by schools for a discounted $2,600.

Each year, more than 270,000 students are expected to learn archery through the course, Fry tallied.

On the local front, there’s a small investment to get your kid geared up, as no archery rental is available just yet.

A child’s basic equipment costs an average of $200. More sophisticated bow features cost a bit more — from $500 to $600, with an additional $300 in sights; quiver; stabilizer; string silencers, and arrows.

“Just as with anything else, you get what you pay for,” Fry admitted.

And, once the little ones improve, there are always adults to look up to.

Like Fry’s friend, Chuck Nease. The Salt Rock, W.Va. man is a competitive shooter and bow manufacturer who won hundreds of trophies competing in national shoots. It takes 1 to 2 hours of daily practice to get that good.

“It offers a challenge. Archery provides an alternative, more challenging way to hunt,” Fry said.

Seeing the range to fruition is a joy for Fry and he’s grateful. There are too many people to thank.

Many went above and beyond. Folks like Mike and Bryan Dickess of wholesale distributor Mike’s Archery in Ironton, who offered up special prices, assistance and instruction at the range.

Mike’s brother, Ron donated the use of his heavy equipment and even volunteered to run it, Fry said.

Today, Fry hopes to enhance the range, put the last touches on the wheelchair-accessible area, and witness an ever-increasing amount of kids become acquainted with the sport he was raised on. It’s only the beginning.

“That’s the number 1 goal,” he concluded.