With bows hung neatly on a rack at the Knob Hill Sportsmans Club in Wadena, a covey of kids from preschool through middle school chatter and bustle about, waiting for a chance to step forward during youth archery night.
The leader of this group, Kevin Kyar makes sure the range is clear before letting out a shout above the noise, “You want to try again?”
A resounding “yes!” is heard and the group plucks bows and arrows from their resting places to let them launch once again. As they step up to a shooting line, pull back the strings of their colorful bows and steady their breathing, a dramatic calm is witnessed in the room.
“Patience,” Brad Lehmann said of what he has observed the youth learning. “Not to count everything in one shot.”
Lehmann said teaching the skills of archery hopefully gets more youth interested in bow hunting, a pastime that he said has allowed him to see things in nature he never would have experienced otherwise. Sitting completely still and waiting for just the right moment takes an abundance of patience.
Once bouncy kids could be seen focusing all their energies on a cardboard target with hand drawn circles. On that Wednesday night of youth archery, the kids were divided into two teams and were shooting to see who could hit all the circles first. The competitive spirit was high as the steady sound of practice arrow tips smacked into the targets.
Parents stood in the background watching their kids hold on their target for 3, 5, even 10 seconds at a time -- longer than many could look at their dinner plate. The action takes patience and strength as the weight of the bow’s string pulls steadily while the muscle tires.
Rekker Oyster said he’s learned about patience in his time at the range. When he started out he was, “not that good,” he said. But like the rest, the practice has been showing.
“It’s that repetition,” his dad, Joeb Oyster said. He and Brittani Oyster, are parents of the three Oyster boys that take their turn at the shooting line each week. With a little more experience, Rekker plans to hunt deer and turkey one day.
Kaylee Lehmann, 11, said she’s been hitting the center more often, too. She was eager to talk about her technique for hitting the target, which includes an alignment of her feet and her nose pointed at the target. Her dad said she decided to give up dancing for archery when they both landed on the same night.
When the youth archery program began three years ago there were nine youth shooting in the old Mit-Ti-Quab location in the basement of Spectrum Printing in Wadena. Now the program has moved to the new Knob Hill Sportsmans Club shooting range and boasts 42 youth. It was enough that the group now meets two nights a week, Tuesday and Wednesday night for 10 weeks.
Lehmann commented that the former Mit-Ti-Quab space only had half the room. He added that having the Kyars leading the group has made it a success.
At the start of the program in January, the group goes over some basic shooting skills to land an arrow near the target. By February, the group was full of confident shooters, from those barely bigger than a bow to middle school-aged students. The group welcomes new youth at any time.
“We do go through a stretch exercise and then we go through about 8-10 ends," Kyar said. "An end would be five arrows. So we shoot 30-40 arrows for score and get the kids to focus on the target and then we like to find a focus activity.”
On Wednesday night they built their own targets and had one shot at making the score. Of course, one game is never enough for these eager shooters.
“If you make a good shot, everyone cheers you on,” Kyar said. “If you make a not such a good shot everyone cheers you on.”
Kyar and his wife Gail came to the Wadena area about four years ago from South Dakota, where they were archery coaches. They continue to coach on a limited basis in South Dakota. While there they were coaching about 60 kids in two groups.
“It’s a lot of fun and you see some great kids and you watch them achieve goals,” Kevin said. "You don’t have to be athletic to shoot archery and you don’t have to be the greatest academic, you can just come here and be part of a team but still do it on your own.”
Kevin said he’s even seen children with attention or socialization issues improve through archery.
“We’ve seen some kids really come out of their shells and do some really good things,” Kevin said.
Those that excel at archery have the potential to move on to a national tournament in Yankton, South Dakota. Some will even have the chance to advance to Olympic shooting through a planned advanced course.
Kevin said they recently received approval to start a Junior Olympic Archery Development program in Wadena. As Kevin and Gail are certified instructors, they can run this advanced course to prepare students for Olympic-grade archery.
The growth of the program goes beyond the kids in the programs. While there are over 40 kids, the Kyars have seen entire families show up to shoot together as parents pull old bows out of the closets to start shooting again. Organizers say this is a life-long sport. Once children are strong enough to pull back the string they can keep at it until they can pull no more.
To find out how you or your kids could get involved in the archery program, contact Kyar at 218-537-1447.