Sports: Follow the course and hunt
Stars and Stripes June 6, 2007
UK weekly edition, Wednesday, June 6, 2007
WANGFORD — In the woods just outside of RAF Lakenheath, hunters are often on the lookout for unusual quarry.
Bows in hand, arrows notched, they search for the humped back of a grazing grizzly, the twisted horns of a bighorn sheep or there, in the grass ahead, the bulging eye of an oversized carp.
It’s a bizarre group of animals to be shooting arrows at in a Suffolk woodland. But the menagerie of foam fauna owned by local shooting group the Liberty Archers is one of the largest of its kind in the country and the group’s prized asset.
Raccoons, turkeys, a full-sized bison, leopards, African deer and even a velociraptor are the three-dimensional targets that might be seen standing in the Archers’ 16-acre shooting and camp site across the street from the 48th Fighter Wing’s runway.
When found by members on a shoot, the targets are pelted with arrows from a mix of compound, recurve and traditional bows, shooting for the “kill zone” in the heart and lung area. The closer to the bull’s-eye, the more points an archer is awarded. The archer with the highest total at the end of the course wins, said Randy Borden, treasurer and longtime member of the Liberty Archers.
It’s a little bit golf and a little bit hunting, members said, and the two disciplines combine in one of the lesser-known community groups around Lakenheath. The group has an average of 40 members, half of them American and half British. The group, in existence since 1983, hosts club events once a month, Borden said.
During a typical shoot, groups of four archers each set out on a prescribed course to shooting stands at various distances from the targets — a standing deer, a bedded elk, a dazed-looking jackalope hiding in a thicket. Archers get three shots at the targets, which Borden said are often placed in positions obstructed by trees to make the shots more difficult.
It sounds slightly hokey, but the point of the shoots is the fun of it, members said. Dean Tiger, a member for the past three years, said he went to his first Archers event expecting it to be just a row of people standing in a field, shooting at round targets.
“It wasn’t anything like standing on a line … shooting at a bull’s-eye target,” Tiger said. “This is closer to the hunting [aspect].”
And though the group is open to archers of all abilities, some have considerable skill. Borden himself set an English national record in the early 1990s by shooting a perfect set of 28 targets at marked distances, a rare feat in the archery world.
These days, he shows up at the Archers range with a robotic-looking compound bow — fixed with sights, counterweights and metal wheels at each end — plus a custom, hand-made traditional one. The compound bow shoots near the legal maximum speed for bows in England — 300 feet per second — and Borden can hit a bottle cap with it from more than 25 yards.
But members like Tiger and Borden said the social element of the sport is its most compelling aspect, and they covet their corner of woodland leased from Elveden Estates — though the range has been a target itself in recent months.
Thieves have repeatedly burgled the place, breaking into garages and stealing equipment, a lawn mower and almost anything that can be used as scrap metal, Borden said.
But their major event for the summer is still scheduled to take place. On July 20-21, Liberty Archers will host a weekend event open to archers from around the country and abroad. Up to 200 are expected to camp on the range for the weekend, where a band and a brewer will entertain the archers after the shoot, Borden said.
He added that the group is open to new members — there are dues for those who join — and level of skill doesn’t matter. Just get a bow and some practice arrows and show up, he said.
“We’re always looking for more people to come play,” he said.