Families looking for an alternative for school-based sports or a new outdoor activity their children have plenty of options in West Virginia, thanks to archery and other bow-shooting programs.
With the COVID-19 pandemic creating uncertainty over participation in traditional team sports this school year, now is a great time to start, according to officials at the West Virginia Division of Natural Resources who are promoting the sport.
Scott Warner, assistant chief for the division's Wildlife Diversity Section, says there are many outdoor ranges suited for archeries at facilities across the Mountain State.
"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," Warner said.
"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 that kids of any skill level can enjoy. It's perfect for adults, too, he says.
"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," Warner said.
"One of the best ways we can do that is by 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 completed the program, which is now available in more than 300 public and private schools around the state.
Though not all children have the chance to join a school-based archery program, Warner says all a child needs to start is a bow and arrow, a supportive parent, and a safe place to shoot.
Archery: A sport to be enjoyed almost anywhere
Drive up any hollow in West Virginia, and you'll likely see more yards with shooting targets than yards without them, says Warner.
Grant Knapp, a 12-year-old Hurricane Middle School student, told division officials who interviewed him about the sport that he hopes he's not the last generation in his family to practice target shooting.
“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."
Warner says that while hunting is a revered tradition in the Mountain State, there are still children 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 state officials want to make the outdoors, archery included, even more accessible, he says.
"People are always asking me how to get started and the good thing is that archery shooting can be done almost anywhere, provided you set up a backstop and practice safety measures," he says.
But you don't just want to put a bow and arrow in your kids' hands, he says.
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 be 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, Warner offered.
Ashton Warner, another 12-year-old student at Hurricane Middle School student, says he understands the importance of maintaining what could become necessary skills.
"I've learned a lot about how to maintain a routine and practicing so I can do my best," the younger Warner said.
"You can use these skills in your everyday 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.
Knapp advises that his peers and adults who decide to indulge in the sport exercise patience when starting out.
"You can't get frustrated if you don't hit the bullseye on your first shot," Knapp.
"You have to accept that you might not be good at first, but with enough practice, you can be in the future."
To learn more about introducing kids to archery and other shooting sports, click here.
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