Katniss Everdeen makes archery look easy in The Hunger Games, the best-selling young-adult trilogy by Suzanne Collins that spawned last year's hit movie. (The second film installment, Catching Fire, opens in theaters this month.)
But there's more to the sport than simply shooting an arrow through the woods — as 10-year-old Katherine Hankes of South Burlington found out.
Earlier this fall, she and her dad, Matt, joined South Burlington Recreation and Parks Department's Family Archery program. In weekly sessions at Farrell Park, instructor Mason Rachampbell led a regimented drill on the fundamentals of this ancient art.
"Archers, you may approach the safety line," Rachampbell commanded one Monday evening, prompting a cluster of kids and parents to step forward. Then, "Archers, you may now approach the firing line."
Thanks to exposure from The Hunger Games — and its preexisting status as an Olympic sport — archery truly is catching fire. According to the national Archery Trade Association, nearly 20 million Americans are now taking a shot at it, including an increasing number of women and children.
"Archery is a good family activity because a variety of ages and physical abilities have a chance to do it," Rachampbell explained after class. "It's very much a small-group activity — families can come and learn, and don't have to put together a whole soccer team."
It also helps that modern archery is about bagging target points, not animals. In this Family Archery session, Rachampbell aimed to educate families on the scoring system. A bull's-eye, for example, earns an archer 10 points; hitting the outer white ring garners just one.
The arrows used are a far cry from the "crazy blades" used in bow hunting, Rachampbell added. But they're not danger-free. "They definitely could leave a mark," he said. "They're as sharp as they need to be to puncture the target."
For that reason, and to set standards for the sport, safety is paramount. "Archery is a very safe pastime — the big thing is to keep it that way," said Rachampbell. "It has the potential of being dangerous, so we keep it structured; we keep the commands going."
Once the safety lessons had been covered, Rachampbell gave the group the awaited command: "Archers, you may shoot your first arrow." Some arrows missed the target and flopped in the grass. Others hit the mark with a satisfying pop.
"Everyone has their good days and bad days," explained Rachampbell. The learning curve of target archery is "such that people feel success pretty quickly," he said. Even if you don't hit the center of the target, a cluster of arrows indicates consistency and the simple need to adjust your aim.
Rachampbell's No. 1 tip for successful target archery? "Body positioning and posture," he said. "How you hold your arm, back and bow — all those little things have influences on where the arrow ends up."
There's an important lesson in that. After reading The Hunger Games, in which the protagonist's weapon of choice is a bow, Hankes was inspired to try the sport for herself. "It's not as easy as I thought," she confessed. "In the book, she just does it."
Whether or not she becomes an ace archer, Hankes sees bow-and-arrow time as a good opportunity to bond with her dad. "We don't get to do too much together," she said. "So archery's our thing."