Vassar Archery is worth a shot

Courtesy of Janet Song

The shrill sound of a whistle rang out above three brightly colored targets on Kenyon Field. “Clear to shoot!” Vassar Archery president Cole Crile ’22 shouted. I, along with several other students, strung our arrows to our bowstrings and pulled our arms back. As my fingers carefully unhooked from the string I heard the twang of other bows releasing arrows in an irregular rhythm completed by the satisfying punch of my arrow hitting the target. Students next to me were comparing themselves to Katniss Everdeen. “Does she win the games?” I heard someone ask. They then admitted, “I haven’t finished the movie.”

Prior to arriving at Kenyon Field, I’d never heard of Vassar Archery, but Crile and Vice President Chaz Harrison ’23 explained that what I witnessed was a typical Saturday afternoon for the club. No experience is required to attend, so the participants ranged from beginners, like myself, to experts like Crile and Harrison, who lead each practice session. For each archer, the club provides a variety of equipment, from colorful arrows and gloves to a sea of giant bows resting on the racks spread out across the grass. 

As Harrison walked over to assist some beginners selecting bows, Crile told me that Vassar Archery has actually been around for 20 years. “We were originally a full collegiate certified archery team [and] competed with other schools,” Crile said. “Our history is a little murky from there. Things [went] in and out. And it [rose] in and out of popularity over the years.”

Both Crile and Harrison have participated in Vassar Archery since their first year on campus. “I did archery at summer camp as a kid [when I was maybe] 12, 13, 14 years old,” Harrison explained. “And once I did it just at a summer camp, I was really into it. And then I was kind of like, ‘Oh, where can I shoot?’ And there weren’t really any archery ranges where I live. But then when I came to Vassar and I saw that there was an archery club, I was like, ‘Oh, I have to come here.’ So I just came to every practice and shot for pretty much the whole time.” 

Meanwhile, Crile developed his love for archery during his upbringing in rural Kansas, a place he endearingly describes as the “middle of nowhere.” He said, “I knew a lot of people, I had friends that bow hunted. And so I feel like it kind of grew out from there. I’ve done a little bit of bow hunting myself. So I [taught myself] before I came to Vassar. And I got here and [Vassar Archery] was a nice way to continue learning and teaching others.”

The club typically meets Saturdays from 1 to 3 p.m. when the weather is willing. While there are different types of archery, the club focuses on the target variety, which entails what the name suggests—aiming and shooting at targets set up on the grass. Shooting sessions are modeled in a similar fashion to Olympic archery, except that the targets are much closer. But what is unique about Vassar Archery is the type of bow available. Crile informed me that the bows used in the club are recurve bows, which lean towards the traditional style of archery compared to compound bows, which are considered to be more modern.

This year, Crile and Harrison hope to integrate a few tournaments and shooting games into their usual regimen. In the past, they have gotten creative, sometimes attaching balloons and even a piñata onto their targets. Smiling and looking up at Crile, Harrison recalled, “We got that piñata for my birthday. And then it rained. We set up that piñata and we were excited to shoot it. And then it just started thundering and pouring down.” A photograph of the piñata can be found on Vassar Archery’s Instagram, @vassararchery, where club members are seen pulling arrows out of a pink paper mache animal riddled with holes.

As for his fondest memories, Crile stated, “When I started in the club, we didn’t have a lot of equipment, we didn’t have enough arrows for everyone. The bows weren’t all in the best shape. So [the most exciting thing for me was] being able to bring the club more to life and get more equipment.” He added. “It was especially great during the pandemic, because—[I] mean, it still is—because we were one of the few clubs that could function fully in-person throughout.” 

For both archers, an important aspect of the club is the sense of accomplishment it brings. “It’s very rewarding,” said Harrison, “especially when you actually start getting the hang of it, and you can shoot the target consistently. It just makes you feel cool. It makes me feel cool.” Crile agreed, adding, “One of my favorite things about archery is [that you can do] however much you want to do. You always can because it’s you shooting for you. There’s no team, you don’t have partners, anything like that. So it can be nice. It can be as relaxing or as intensive as you want it to be.”

After our interview ended, Crile and Harrison went back to assisting their fellow club members, rushing towards a student dangerously trying to stretch their bowstring without an arrow. As I walked back to my dorm, I could hear the thwip-thwip-thwip of arrows flying out into the air. I thought back to how the bow felt in my hand when I took my own shot. I heard the hum of the string as my finger released it, thought of my arrow hitting the grass and how I still caught myself grinning even when I missed the target.

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