Since ancient times, archery has been widely used by humans. Up until the 1800s, the bow was many a man’s constant companion. In fact, it was the bow that allowed our prehistoric ancestors to become the most efficient hunters on earth, providing them with safety, as well as food and other raw materials.
No longer a necessity for daily living, archery has evolved into a favored sport of athletes and hunters alike, especially here in Blaine County. In answer to that call, Wayne Clayton, owner of High Desert Sports in Hailey, has created a unique indoor playground and 3-D archery range where locals can learn, practice, and refine their skills.
Standing 20 yards away from a floor-to-ceiling screen, archers are presented with a series of video segments that create the illusion of standing in the woods, face to face with a variety of wildlife. The setup is one of only three such systems in the state, and part of the Dart Target System—a 3-D video-reality computer training program.
The technology incorporates what some behavioral psychologists refer to as “social inoculation”—a method of practicing behavioral responses in lifelike situations, so that when people are faced with similar situations in the real world, they know what to do and don’t buckle under fear or pressure.
“When a bull elk is screaming at you for the first time from 20 yards away, if you’re able to even get off a shot, you’re doing good,” laughs Clayton. “Typically, out of 100 bow hunters, only six will be successful,” he adds. “The sport really is 90-percent luck and 10-percent skill. But you can improve your luck, by improving your skill.”
Using the Dart Target System technology, archers can build their skills and confidence, and in a sense, become “inoculated” to a potentially tense situation. Then, Clayton says, “They might say to themselves, ‘I’ve made this shot before. I know how it will play out.’”
One way Clayton is helping archers be more successful is by offering the Archery League, a winter series of three archery competitions designed to develop the interest and skills of men and women of all abilities. Last year, 120 people—from local farmers to architects to retired grandparents—took part in the evening clinics, which meet once a week for approximately 45 minutes.
On those nights, the small Hailey parking lot reflects the gathering inside. There are old pick-up trucks sitting next to shiny new BMWs, anddoctors next to masons, old archers next to young. Any assumptions about north and south county then disappear since the only difference is whether or not the bulls-eye is hit.
Points are scored collaboratively between team members, and are earned only for ethical, well-placed shots. Archers use their own equipment, along with specially designed tips that bounce off the screen and send a digital pulse to the computer that registers points for a shot placed within a specific range.
“This method is similar to what is used to train archers for the Olympics,” says Clayton. “They are told only to look at the center of the X. If they miss the X, they miss the shot. That is the only place that counts.”
According to former league participant Eric Thomas, president of the local Bigwood Bowhunters Club, archers have another opportunity to practice their skills on outdoor 3-D targets at the club’s annual fundraiser to benefit local children’s charities. Either way, he says, the 3-D technology “is a stimulating educational tool, and a great resource.”
The ultimate purpose for the archery leagues and the 3-D archery range, Clayton agrees, is to teach people how to use their equipment—and use it well. “Improvement,” he says. “That’s what it really is all about.”