By JAMES BURNS
When he was a kid, Art Smith used to stalk the vineyards south of Sequoia Elementary School, land now covered by concrete, commuter traffic and homes.
With a Bear Recurve bow and a quiver full of arrows, Smith and his friends moved quietly through Manteca’s rural edge, searching out small game and other targets.
“That’s where we practiced and played,” said Smith, who now coordinates three-dimensional archery shoots at the Manteca Sportsmen. “We’d hunt the canals and ditches. If a jackrabbit popped up, we’d fling one at ’em. Back in those days, there wasn’t an archery club. There were archers in town, but most went to other places.”
Just as the city’s landscape has changed dramatically in the last 50-plus years, so too have Smith’s archery options.
He and others no longer have to sneak around the countryside. They’ve got a bona fide practice facility.
The evolution of the Manteca Sportsmen Club has given Central Valley hunters and recreational shooters – of bullets and arrows alike – a safe and friendly haven to hone their craft.
The 3-D archery shoots are held every Thursday evening from 4 to 7. The shoots began in May and will end on Aug. 8. Archers are allowed two shots per pass at 14 animal targets, including foxes, raccoons, beavers, coyotes, bears, wild boar, deer, antelope and wild turkey.
It’s not the real thing, but 3-D shooting puts the Sportsmen’s archers in a hunting scenario.
Archers find their place next to cones at varied unmarked distances, and then must calculate distance and adjust their sight before firing on the inanimate target.
“If you are a hunter there is a certain place to aim at on an animal. There is a certain part on the 3-D animal you want to hit,” said Diane McKenzie, a regular at the Thursday evening shoots.
“If you hit the back of the leg, you won’t kill them. Going for a (paper) target, you want a bull’s-eye … but you’re also proud if you just hit the target.”
Smith is joined by a small group of volunteers, who set up the targets and provide instruction and tutelage to shooters. Safety and technique are important tenets in the Sportsmen experience, and Smith appraises each guest before a single arrow is flown.
Smith, you might say, is a full-service instructor. He greets shooters at or near their vehicles, inquiring about their experience.
Once they’re ready to shoot, Smith will watch their first few shots, paying close attention to their form and marksmanship.
“We walk them through it. If there are technical things going on, we give them pointers,” said Smith, a veteran and avid archer since the 1960s.
“We’re not going to let you drive up, pay your fee and then say, ‘OK, there are 14 targets. Have fun.’ There are a lot of people out there who don’t have a clue of what they’re doing. They might torque the bow to the left and right, or whatever. We’re here to give technical advice.”
The Trammells, a father-and-son combo from Tracy, appreciate the support.
Rob Trammell has been shooting consistently for the last two years after a long hiatus. His son, Robbie, is just getting started and has been to two 3-D shoots.
Robbie Trammell is 10, still two years away from obtaining his hunting license. He shoots a bow with a 22-pound pull – well below the requirements for a license – and still has a hard time gauging distance.
He misses often, even at close range, yet never loses a smile.
His confidence is lifted by the teachers around him – Smith, his father and Rob’s girlfriend, Diane McKenzie.
“We went out there a couple of days ago and pulled out some 3-D targets on my day off,” Rob Trammell said. “I taught him how to stack his sights. When he’d miss, I’d tell him, ‘Oh, man, don’t worry you’ve got four more arrows.’ It’s just a lot of fun for us.
“He tells me he wants to hunt. … But when he turns 12 and decides that he doesn’t want to, that’s OK too.”
For Smith, the sport has come full circle.
Like the younger Trammell, Smith once needed practice and guidance – and a country backdrop to mimic the hunt.
“We’ll walk him up and get him close, within 10 to 20 yards and let him shoot,” Smith said. “He’s started hitting the targets and he’s having a great time. He’s got that smile, and that’s what it’s all about.”
To contact James Burns, e-mail email@example.com.