SOUTH CHARLESTON, W.VA. — Families looking for an alternative to school-based sports or an outdoor activity their kids can enjoy have plenty of options in West Virginia thanks to archery and other bow-shooting programs. And with the COVID-19 pandemic creating uncertainty over participation in traditional team sports this school year, now is a great time to start, say West Virginia Division of Natural Resources officials.
“Archery is one of the safest sports your kids can get involved in and one of the good things about it is that you don’t have to be part of a team or go to a gym to enjoy it,” said Scott Warner, assistant chief for the DNR’s Wildlife Diversity Section. “We’re fortunate in West Virginia to have so many outdoor ranges at state parks, wildlife management areas and shooting clubs. It’s a great time to take up archery.”
Warner says archery is also an inclusive and approachable outdoor sport kids of any skill level can enjoy. It’s perfect for adults, too.
“Participation in hunting is decreasing across the country, so the DNR wants to get kids and their families interested in the outdoors and maybe one day decide to take up hunting,” said Warner. “One of the best ways we can do that is introducing them to a bow and arrow through programs like Archery in the Schools.”
West Virginia started its Archery in the Schools program in 2004 with 18 schools. Since then, more than 200,000 kids have gone through the program, which is now available in more than 300 public and private schools around the state.
But not all kids have the chance to join a school-based archery program. Warner says that’s OK because all a kid needs to get started is a bow and arrow, a supportive parent and a safe place to start shooting.
A sport you can enjoy almost anywhere
Drive through the nearest town or up any hollow in West Virginia and you’ll likely see more yards with a shooting target than yards without one.
“My whole family has been shooting bows and guns for years,” said Grant Knapp, a 12-year-old Hurricane Middle School student. “It’s just one of the things my family has always done and it’s something I want to pass down to my kids one day.”
While hunting is a revered tradition in the Mountain State, there are still kids and adults who’ve never hunted. And when participation in hunting declines, fewer hunting licenses are sold and the state’s wildlife and conservation programs lose funding. That’s why DNR officials want to make the outdoors, archery included, even more accessible.
“People are always asking me how to get started and the good thing is that archery shooting can be done almost anywhere, provided you setup a backstop and practice safety measures,” Warner said.
But you don’t just want to put a bow and arrow in your kids hands, says Warner. Parents should first find out if their kids want to get into recreational or competitive shooting or hunting. Then they need to go to a local archery shop so their kid can get properly measured for a bow they’ll be comfortable using.
“When your kid knows what they want to do and has the right tools, they’re going to have a good time,” Warner said.
Archery teaches kids a valuable lifelong skill
Shooting bows and arrows isn’t all fun and games. When used as an educational tool, archery can impart life lessons on a kid.
“I’ve learned a lot about how to maintain a routine and practicing so I can do my best,” said Ashton Warner, a 12-year-old Hurricane Middle School student. “You can use these skills in your every day life and then you can go hunting if you want to be able to shoot and get your own food.”
Learning life skills is one of the reasons why kids should consider getting into archery and why parents should help them pursue the sport. But like any other sport, kids need to be patient.
“You can’t get frustrated if you don’t hit the bullseye on your first shot,” said Knapp. “You have to accept that you might not be good at first, but with enough practice you can be in the future.”