Taking aim indoors

By Dick Mason, The Observer December 21, 2012 12:18 pm

Jerry Gibson of the Grande Ronde Bowmen focuses on a target at the indoor range in the basement of the Eagles Lodge in La Grande.  CHRIS BAXTER/The Observer
Jerry Gibson of the Grande Ronde Bowmen focuses on a target at the indoor range in the basement of the Eagles Lodge in La Grande. CHRIS BAXTER/The Observer

Range in basement of La Grande Eagles Lodge a hit for archers who seek to improve, maintain their skills in dead of winter 

Old Man Winter is not kind to archers.

Bowmen who practice outside in cold weather have a greater chance of injuring themselves and run the risk of developing bad habits that can wreak havoc with their technique.

La Grande-area archers who do not want to face the perils of practicing outdoors this winter but desire to keep their skills as sharp as a broadhead again have a top-notch early evening option. 

The archery range in the basement of the Eagles Lodge has reopened for winter practices. Archers of all ability levels can shoot there from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m. on Mondays and Thursdays, firing at targets from up to 20 yards away under the supervision of members of the Grande Ronde Bowmen, who also provide instructional tips.

Bowmen members helping at the indoor range are continuing a tradition. Their club has operated the indoor range at the Eagles Lodge for at least 15 years. Previously, the Grande Ronde Bowmen ran the indoor winter range in the annex gym at La Grande Middle School, in the old La Grande armory and in other locations. The present site is the top one, according to Norm Paullus of the Grande Ronde Bowmen.

One reason is lighting, one of the range’s best features. The course’s illumination is enhanced by a low ceiling. Paullus noted that some indoor ranges have high ceilings. That produces shadows, making it harder to see targets. Shadows, however, are not an issue in the basement of the Eagles Lodge. 

The ceiling in the basement of the Eagles Lodge may be low but the skill level of many of those who supervise and provide instruction is high. Archers who regularly help supervise include Paullus, Ron Babcock, Scott Wilson and Jerry Gibson. All are members of the Grande Ronde Bowmen and have noteworthy placings to their credit at major tournaments.

These bowmen can cite a quiver full of reasons for why practicing in the indoor range is superior to shooting outdoors in winter. The risk of injury is one. When the temperature drops, archers are more susceptible to a muscle pull, especially if they do not warm up properly, said Babcock, a physical therapist and the co-owner of Alpine Archery with is wife, Michelle. 

The additional clothing people have to wear to stay warm is another drawback to practicing outdoors. 

“It gets in the way when you are shooting,’’ Babcock said.

This causes archers to alter their form.

Babcock also noted that bows and arrows respond differently in cold weather, causing archers to make further adjustments in their technique. 

Doing anything that alters form is a cardinal sin in archery, since a universal goal is to develop a solid shooting motion that can be repeated over and over. 

Such a shooting motion is something indoor practice in the winter will go a long way toward developing.

“People say you pay your dues by practicing on indoor ranges in the winter,’’ Babcock said.

 Gene Erwin of La Grande, also a member of the Grande Ronde Bowmen, has a similar belief. Erwin noted that when he began practicing indoors during the winter, his scores at outdoor archery shoots the following spring and summer jumped significantly.

“The highest score I had the year before became my average score,’’ Erwin said.

He explained the reason: shooting indoors builds the muscle memory needed to repeat the same shooting motion.

Erwin also said that shooting indoors develops strength and endurance. Archers generally get less arm and shoulder rest between shots because they can fire more arrows in less time than when outdoors on a forest course with longer distances. Erwin noted that conditioning is important at tournaments. If one is used to shooting four arrows at one round and then must shoot five or six instead at a tournament, the archer will feel fatigued when firing those fifth and sixth arrows.

Archers never tire of the price of using the range in the basement of the Eagles Lodge. The fee is $2 for adults and $1 for children. Participants need to be at least 5 years old, and everyone age 12 and younger should be accompanied by an adult.