When I first started flinging sticks a decade ago, I was taken aback by the density of clubs, not just locally but all over this fine island. It seems archery is Ireland’s best kept secret. Furthermore, the scales had fallen from my eyes as I was introduced to field archery. Until then, my awareness of archery was what the Olympics would show. Prior to taking part in Lough Cuan Bowmen’s beginners’ course, London had hosted the Olympic Games and my father had made a habit of watching the archery. I wasn’t long back from university and looking for fencing clubs to keep up my desire for swordplay, however after dad read Azincourt by Bernard Cornwall, he was determined to take up archery and took me with him.

But back to the point. Suddenly archery was vast and ever expanding, stretching beyond the limitations of what I saw on the television presented by the Olympics. Field archery and 3D archery enthralled me, along with the problem-solving techniques of barebow and the artistry in traditional shooting types such as longbow.

And if those competition types and shooting styles were not enough, the most beautiful parts of this island were open to me in a new way. Not just with the access to private estates, but archery had me enveloped by nature, every plant standing out like a bejewelled sculpture, birds I had never seen, or were uncommon to me before were suddenly plentiful and I was running around forests stepping alongside deer tracks.

On top of all that, the challenges of archery worked in tandem with the levels of enjoyment, especially regarding 3D, where a good club will put on a show, with big cats or giant spiders clinging to trees, dinosaurs lurking among ferns and picturesque setups with fallow deer or bears.

This last point is something I decided to capitalise on as I began to gain greater experience in archery. Many clubs are fortunate to have outdoor venues for their members, however some are constrained to indoor environments for their club nights or even for any club events. In Lough Cuan Bowmen we are reasonably lucky, with three field courses, an outdoor venue for spring and summer and a great leisure centre for autumn and winter club nights. But between the field rounds and the spring/summer evening, how can we keep everything fresh and enjoyable for the members?

At its core archery can be compulsive or therapeutic or a confidence builder. Everyone has their own reasons for doing this fine sport and/or hobby. The social structure is never lacking either and that too draws people into club nights and events. These were all prime reasons I brought together when looking to add something novel and interesting to our club nights.

For some time, I have been running mini games within the club, starting some time ago with a basic zombie hunt, pushing the 2D zombie targets back further each week and awarding medals at the end of it. Off the bat all of us were unified by the unexpected pitfalls of these quirky competitions. With the first week of the zombie hunt set al 5m, me and the others were surprised that, for some reason, none of us could shoot worth a damn. Come the day the dead rise, through virus leak or something supernatural, we would have been nothing more than a starter. But the important thing was, this was hilarious to us – that for reasons unknown, we veteran archers could hardly hit anything. Even in the final week, a boss plastered with zombie targets at 18m, no one was daunted by the distance or small targets because it was just good fun.

Prior to Covid I hosted the Last Arrow Standing round, where every week archers would shoot at a 2D animal target set at the maximum distance available to us in the leisure centre. Every archer began with three arrows and would lose any arrows that missed the target. Shooting ends continued until there was only one archer left. The winner would then pull from a cup, a piece of paper with an animal name on it, randomly selecting the following week’s target – which could be anything from a rhino to a red squirrel. There were even unique awards – aside from the 1st, 2nd and 3rd – for winning on a specific target type, such something small like the rat.

Both these examples are simple; minimum resources, uncomplicated rules, and inclusive to all shooting types – not to mention how little is required in terms of setup and logistics with unique awards too, that work to enlist competitors as they shoot for something that cannot be won elsewhere. The enjoyment and enthusiasm that comes from the archers is huge. It brings members together, keeps their skills sharp, challenges them – archers take risks and gambles, enhancing their confidence. I’m a believer that archery must be fun, first and foremost. And who doesn’t want to bow hunt the undead?