GRAY – “With archery, anybody can shoot,” says Ron Fournier, director of the University of Maine’s 4H Camp at Bryant Pond and a 4H-certified shooting sports safety instructor for the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife. “It doesn’t matter if you’re the shortest, the tallest, the fastest or the slowest, whether you’re blind or in a wheelchair – we can get anybody shooting.”
On Saturday, July 6, the Maine Wildlife Park in Gray hosted an educational session with Fournier and his wife Dee. The couple gave archery lessons to a steady stream of youngsters, showing them how to safely use a compound bow. Children learned which end is up; why not to dry fire the bow; how to draw the string back, aim, and fire; and more.
“My oldest son is a scout; he’s done it before, but his younger brother never has,” says Arnie Maestas of Cumberland. Zach, his elder boy, is “nine and three quarters” years old and a Webelos – a Cub Scout nearly ready to make the transition to Boy Scouts.
“I go to camp and I do archery,” Zach said, “and Dad bought me an archery kit, so I thought this would be kind of fun. Just to come down and shoot some arrows.”
“This is new,” Zach said, gesturing to the finger grip the Fourniers have taught him to use. “It’s also cool to see other ways of people doing it.”
“We set this up about six months ago,” Ron Fournier said, elaborating on how closely the university, 4H and the Wildlife Park work together. “We do two dates; we did one in the spring [that was] school programs – we had 75 kids, and today is just open for anybody who wants to shoot.”
The Fourniers, avid bowhunters who track and kill all the meat they and their four children consume, also operate a guide service out of Mason Township, where they live, called Orion Outfitters.
The multipurpose, outdoor, public venue allows the university, the 4H Camp and the Fourniers to meet more kids and families than they otherwise might, including some who’ve never tried or even thought to try archery before. “Some people come through, they’ll go through, see all the animals, learn some neat nature and wildlife activities and then be able to shoot archery,” Fournier said.
The University and Camp don’t just do sessions like Saturday’s to spread the word and generate new interest, and their purview isn’t confined strictly to archery. “We’re in schools, we’re doing after-school programs, we’re at summer camp and we have the 4H shooting sports now in almost every county in the state,” Fournier said. The other shooting sports are rifle, shotgun and hunter apprenticeship, which teaches kids safe hunting practices.
Gunner, one of the Fournier’s four kids, is 14. For Gunner, the target training his parents are teaching on Saturday is enjoyable, but primarily a training exercise for hunting, his central passion. “Probably most of my year is just target practicing so I can be ready for anything that comes at me in the actual hunting part,” he said.
Gunner has been hunting with firearms since he was 10, and has recently taken up bowhunting as well. Bowhunting, he says, is enjoyable.
“It’s challenging,” he said. “It’s hard than hunting with a rifle; you have to be more silent when you’re getting ready to shoot. You have to stand up, more movement. You’ve got to really be careful what you do.”
Learners at Saturday’s session aren’t necessarily expecting to start hunting with either a bow or a gun, of course. They’re aiming at targets, traditional bull’s-eyes. Some may ultimately take up hunting, others may take up competitive shooting and still others may simply shoot for fun. In any case, Fournier adds, “It keeps kids away from TV screens, connects them to the outdoors.”
Inland Fisheries and Wildlife defers a significant portion of the operating costs for opportunities like Saturday’s. Fournier points out that the 4H trailer he and and his wife brought with them was purchased with a grant provided by Inland Fisheries and Wildlife and the Maine Outdoor Heritage Fund.
“It’s a mobile teaching facility – we have 48 bows, we have all kinds of stuff in there to do everything from map and compass lessons to archery,” Fournier said. “We have a riflery unit that we take on the road, and [the] hunter apprentice program as well.”
Ashley Keaveney, of Exeter, N.H., was in attendance Saturday with her father, Kevin, cousin Caitlin Brannelly, of Massachusetts, and other family members. Keaveney’s 13th birthday is next week, and she thinks she may want a bow for her gift. “I’ve never tried archery before,” she said, so she wants to handle a bow and get a feel for the sport before deciding whether to invest in it as a hobby.
Allison Baker, of Naples, was also learning to shoot Saturday, while her mother Meagan looked on. Baker has done archery at summer camp as well, and likes that “you have to watch, and see; you have to make sure you’re aiming right where you want it to be – you have to focus.”
“We see the smiles, and the kids having success,” Fournier said. “It’s just great, wholesome recreation.”