Archery, and bowhunting in particular, are popular pastimes throughout much of North America and parts of Europe. Many people dedicated to this sport are highly skilled.

I’ve watched members of the Blackfoot River Bowmen using recurves or longbows consistently hit or just miss lifesavers (as in the candy) at a distance of 20 yards. I’ve watched other club members shooting compound bows consistently hit the bullseye of a target at distances of 50 yards or more.

How do these folks become so skilled? The simple answer is practice and more practice. Most archers I know will practice at home or on their local range several times a week, some daily. However, there is another form of practice that these skilled archers, almost without exception, take advantage of, the archery tournament.

From Pocatello to Rexburg, many towns throughout southeast Idaho have archery clubs. Bingham County has the Blackfoot River Bowmen with ranges located just north of Blackfoot. Pocatello has the Pocatello Field Archers, Idaho Falls supports the South Fork Archers, and Rexburg claims the Upper Snake River Bowmen. All of these clubs sponsor multiple tournaments starting in late winter and extending through summer. Almost all tournaments are open to everyone, both club members and non-members, novices to experts, and children are always welcome.

The Blackfoot River Bowmen normally kick things off with their Polar Bear shoot in late February, followed shortly by the Upper Snake River Bowmen’s Dirty Harry Shoot. Early shoots (late February-early March) are normally indoors or a combination of indoor/outdoor depending on weather. Most tournaments span a weekend and many archers will attend both days.

Tournament activity peaks with the mid-June Idaho State Bowhunters Region 6 Jamboree, normally held at the U.S. Forest Service Steel Creek Campground northwest of Kilgore and the mid-July Idaho State Bowhunters Jamboree held in the Stanley Basin. The Upper Snake and Blackfoot River Bowmen normally wind things up with the last tournaments of the season in early August, just a few weeks before the start of the bowhunting season. In total, local clubs will host 15-20 tournaments from February to August.

Archery tournaments often occur in very scenic areas that can include the mountains near Heise, Island Park, Beaver Dick Park along the Snake River, and the Sand Creek Wildlife Management Area north of St. Anthony. These tournaments are anything but boring and it’s common to hear archers whooping and hollering over a particularly good (or bad) shot. Most shoots will have two or three courses containing 15-20 targets each. Club members work hard to make the courses interesting. Almost all targets are 3-D; archers may find themselves shooting at an alligator lurking along the shore of a pond, staring down a grizzly, shooting at a giant mosquito, or stalking Bigfoot. Of course, there are also many deer and elk targets scattered over the courses.

In addition to course targets, there also may be novelty shoots, distance competitions, and a real favorite — the Laporte machine for throwing aerial targets. Most clubs offer a very reasonably priced lunch and opportunities to buy t-shirts, hats, and sweatshirts. If you lose an arrow or two — hey, it happens, especially when you’re trying to hit one of those darn alligators, don’t forget to check out the lost arrow bin that every club maintains.

Tournaments are normally advertised on social media, the club’s website, and in the local paper. These tournaments provide terrific opportunities for meeting others with similar interests, learning about archery, and examining and maybe shooting different types of equipment.

If you’re a veteran of tournaments, keep going, it’s hard to find better practice opportunities. If you have never been, give one a try. You’ll have a terrific time.

Jack Connelly has lived in Bingham County for the last 42 years. He is an avid outdoorsman and has hiked, camped, hunted, and fished over much of the U.S. as well as parts of Europe and Asia. Connelly worked as a biologist for the Idaho Department of Fish and Game for over 30 years. He now enjoys retirement with his wife Cheryl raising chickens and bird dogs at their home in Blackfoot.

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