by Rob Olson
I learned to shoot a bow at Heights Archery, a long time ago. This archery facility, located in the basement of the Silver Heights Shopping Centre (2281 Portage Ave.) is an archery icon in Manitoba that is more vibrant today than ever before. And for good reason — archery is just plain awesome!
Jason Sweet is a co-owner of Heights Outdoors, which now runs the longstanding archery range and also operates a full store specializing in hunting products and archery equipment.
Sweet’s true passion is showing new folks how to shoot a bow. He believes there are a bunch of reasons why archery is so popular. “I just think that archery is so inclusive, it’s for everybody, all ages of people, boys and girls, young and old and for folks of any physical ability,” he said, ” we can hook every person up with a bow of the right strength and everyone can not only do it, they can have immediate success in hitting a target.”
Archery is also something you can do all year around. I take my son to Heights Archery in the dead of winter. Sweet says I’m not alone in bringing my son with me. “It is something the whole family can do together, each with a bow that is appropriate for them,” he said. “Everyone is so busy these days, if the family can’t do it together, they likely won’t do it at all.” He’s sure got that right.
Easy and inexpensive
The great thing about Heights Archery is it has a wide array of classes available to people of all ages. I’m especially excited about its new five-week beginner class open to anyone six years old and older. If you’ve never touched a bow, this is for you.
Expert instructors start with range safety and then get into technique and archery skills development. They provide all the equipment and the cost is only $65 for the five sessions. The classes are one hour long and run every Tuesday evening starting at 6 p.m. This class starts in September, but registration opens July 26. Do not be late if you are keen — it fills up very fast. This class is so new, it’s not on the website yet, so call for information or to register at 204-832-4421.
After going through this beginner course, the archery world is your oyster. There is so much out there for you to do in archery in Manitoba. Heights Outdoors (www.heightsoutdoors.ca) is partnered with ABAM, the Archers and Bowhunters Association of Manitoba (www.abam.ca) in delivering archery classes and training at a variety of levels (beyond the beginner course) that progressively teach you more skills and proficiency.
You can take this as far as you want, including competitive levels like shooting for the provincial team, depending on your commitment level, competitive drive and talent. Or you may be like me and just want to get your kids away from the TV in January to do something fun — like popping balloons at the range.
Bowhunting rewarding, interactive
I love bowhunting. But it takes a lot of time to do correctly, and by correctly, I mean you have to practise regularly to ensure you can make a good, lethal shot on an animal such as a deer. You also have to spend a great deal of time learning the animal’s travel habits and pinpointing your ambush spot, because they need to be close for a good shot.
The extra effort is what makes it great to people like Jason Sweet, “I find bowhunting so rewarding because when a deer is 100 yards away, the hunt ends for a rifle hunter, but for a bowhunter like me, the hunt is just beginning.”
I personally feel because bowhunting is hard, it isn’t so much about getting a deer, necessarily; it’s more about just being out there. To get a deer within my personal comfort range of about 20 metres, I need to spend a lot of time waiting which is typically spent in personal meditation while watching wildlife. Definitely quality time.
You just get to experience so much more in the forest when bowhunting. Sweet agrees. “I find it therapeutic. You see so much more because you are sitting there in the woods quietly for so long,” he said. He also finds bowhunting more interactive. “When I’m bowhunting, I love to call deer and other big game in close and there is nothing like being that close to a big deer or rutting and bugling elk. That’s an amazing experience.”
Archery hunting offers increased hunting opportunities for keeners too, in the form of special seasons and areas where only archery gear is allowed. For details, check out the Manitoba Hunting Guide (www.gov.mb.ca/conservation/wildlife/hunting). Plus, landowners around Winnipeg and other towns are more likely to give you permission to hunt deer when you are hunting with a bow and arrow.
My favorite archery hunt is for rutting elk. To hunt the September elk rut in Manitoba, you need to apply for an archery tag. Elk are gorgeous, unique animals and to me, elk meat is the best wild game there is. Hearing an elk bugle at close range will leave you breathless. There is just nothing else like it in hunting.
My first archery hunting experience was for elk in the Duck Mountains of western Manitoba. I was young and camping out alone in the backcountry where the elk were living. My second evening, I called in a huge, screaming, bugling bull to within five metres. He was in full rut and was raking a small sapling in front of me with his antlers, and I looked right into his huge, angry eyes. Truth is, I was so overcome by the moment and adrenaline that I couldn’t pull back my bow string, I was just shaking too hard. It feels like yesterday.
Yes, bowhunting may not be for everyone, but some who try it will never go back to any other form of hunting.
Quick Shots: If you live on the east side of the city, Heartland Archery (www.heartlandarchery.ca), located at 10-K Keenlyside St., may be for you. Heartland also provides tremendous archery services including equipment and training and a dedicated staff of great people.