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Chicagoans target relaxation at archery range

World sport
Chicago archery

♦ 1419 W. Blackhawk

♦ Tuesdays, Thursdays, Saturdays (times vary)

♦ Ages 8 to adult

♦ Fees $20 (single class) to $128 (eight classes)


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Updated: February 4, 2013 6:05AM

If you’ve ever watched an archery-rife film like “Braveheart” and thought those longbow-wielding minions who fired flaming arrows into enemy ranks had it easy compared to their sword-wielding brethren, consider this: medieval-era bows were so difficult to master that repetitive use wreaked havoc on archers’ anatomy by way of abnormally enlarged musculature and bone spurs on arms and fingers.

Modern-day archery isn’t nearly so physically taxing. Or deadly. Unless, of course, you’re bagging beasties on rocker Ted Nugent’s Michigan farm.

“In 2009, I killed numerous bears, moose, hogs, kudu, impala, warthog, nyala, sable, eland, waterbuck, wildebeest, Lechwe, Oryx, Aoudad, axis deer, fallow deer, sika deer, Nilgai antelope, blackbuck antelope, mule deer, javelina, whitetails galore, blacktails, and a bunch of turkeys,” he reported in a recent column on

But we digress. What archery still requires, if you want to be any good at it, are countless hours of training. But weekend (or weekday) warriors are welcome, too.

Students at Chicago’s new Pulaski Park archery range run the skill-level gamut. Through an organization called World Sport Chicago, eight of them showed up on a recent Thursday to hone their skills in a warm and dreary basement area where, coincidentally, archery classes were held years ago.

Chicago’s archery enthusiasts are part of more than 7 million across the country. Surprisingly, though, while popular books and films such as “The Hunger Games” have fueled an archery upsurge across the country, only one person of several who spoke for this story mentioned pop culture or literature as sources of inspiration.

“I take a lot of pride in learning new things, so I just really want to be able to say, ‘Oh, yeah. I did archery,’ ” said Tiffany Armitage, 25. The Roosevelt University clerk’s employer pays for “personal growth” activities, so she chose archery after trolling Google for Chicago locations.

“And I kind of want to keep going at it because I’ve found that I really enjoy it,” she said. “It’s definitely a stress reliever. When you hit that target, there’s something about hearing it thunk right into it and seeing where it goes that’s really exciting.”

Armitage straddled a yellow line alongside her peers and — with the help of coded whistle blasts that told students when to start, stop and retrieve — fired arrow after arrow into a bull’s-eye-adorned target from a bit over eight meters using a laminate-wood-and-fiberglass bow. Eight meters is standard distance for beginners and helps to stave of early discouragement. Targets for the more experienced participants were positioned farther away.

Schooled by instructors Tammy Besser (a social worker by day) and full-time staffer Kim Hannah, students fitted their “nocks” (arrow notches) onto bowstrings with “cock feathers” pointed toward them, set arrows atop small plastic “rests,” wrapped their dominant hands around “riser” grips, extended their non-dominant arms fully and drew back on bowstrings with three fingers until index digits touched the corners of their mouths.

Then they released and, in most cases, watched arrows hit their marks — some more accurately than others. At one point, inflated balloons were tacked to bull’s-eyes, making a satisfying pop when struck.

“It feels very powerful,” said 26-year-old Renee French, a graduate student at Northwestern University, after her first shot of the night.

Accompanied by her friend Jon Albarado, also 26, French said she’d signed up because targeting “something using your own strength with something as basic as a bow and arrow” held great appeal. “It goes back, I guess, to early humans.”

An archery teacher for four years, Hannah said she was studying for her master’s in psychology when the sport piqued her interest. After training with World Sport Chicago’s former archery pro, Steve Ruis, at the cavernous and now shuttered Chicago Archery Center in Bucktown (the group lost its lease due to zoning laws, Hannah said), she began doing program development for the organization and this year assumed archery duties. Her guidance was always upbeat and encouraging, with an emphasis on safety.

Statistically, according to a recent report from the National Safety Council, archers are far less likely to be injured than anyone in any other sport, including billiards and fishing. Babe Winkelman wannabes, you’ve been warned.

Off in a dimly lit corner, where the ceiling was higher to accommodate his height and that of his bow, newish archery enthusiast John Lickfett, 31, fired at a target positioned at 18 meters — the farthest distance possible in this constrained space. Since getting the archery bug this past summer, Lickfett “quickly got addicted” and spent hundreds of dollars on equipment.

His stash included a typical “recurve” bow with a metal “riser” in the center and two collapsible “limbs.” It was outfitted with a thin screw-on “stabilizer” pole that absorbed vibration and helped arrows to fly straighter. Lickfett also wore a wrist guard on his left forearm, a padded “finger tab” on his right hand and a low-slung quiver of arrows with multi-colored “fins.”

“I come here after work and just spend a couple hours shooting, and I guess it’s equivalent to meditation,” said the security industry researcher, who conveniently lives “100 feet away” from the range.

Like Lickfett, writer Conor Dempsey, 28, of Lincoln Park cites the meditative aspect as a prime allure. His photographer pal Joe Reyes, of Bucktown, likens the experience to smacking golf balls at a driving range.

For Dempsey, however, archery offers much more than mere relaxation.

“It’s also good training for the zombie apocalypse.”

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