By David Wearne

Once upon a time I set out on a journey. I was not alone, a friend rode with me. I don't want trouble with libel or anything, so I won't reveal his real name. For the purpose of this story, I'll just call him Tom. Rain was in the area as we set out early on that Monday in July, riding towards Mechanicsburg, PA, and the 2015 NFAA National Field Championships, but we managed to leave town before getting more than a sprinkle. There was some disagreement over whether we should use road maps from an atlas or put our trust in Sam (Samantha), the voice of the GPS. We used a mix of both and found our way to Columbus, Ohio before stopping for the night. Tuesday we rose early and hit the trail again, reaching the Mechanicsburg range early in the afternoon.

We wandered around until we found what appeared to be an unmarked registration table, where we checked in and got a bag full of stuff. Our hands trembled with excitement as we sorted through the contents. There was a pin and a pen, a Lancaster Archery catalog, a brochure filled with exciting advertisements for area activities, and about a dozen pages of info about the tournament, including a map of the grounds, showing the layout of the five ranges, each containing 28 targets. To work off our high state of excitement, we went to the practice range and shot a few ends before allowing Sam to guide us to our motel, about 8 miles away.

Wednesday morning we returned to the range, where there were a number of men in yellow hats pointing the way to our parking spot. This was quite convenient, as there were many other vehicles arriving at about the same time and it would have been pure chaos for everyone to find a place to park on their own. We found our way to a shelter marked "Lunch Area", and found some people handing out scorecards. After some disagreement with the card holders about how to spell my name, I was awarded a card with my name and "Group 5" and "Target 17". Tom had been put in the pro division, so he was in a different group. Now we were trying to figure out which range we would be shooting on, and finally found out group 5 was shooting the white range the first day, while Tom was shooting the yellow range. We met up with some other recurve shooters, one of which I have shot with before. Of course, Tom is a bit of a celebrity at these things and lots of people were stopping him to talk about nothing in particular. After a while, they made some announcements we couldn't hear because we were standing too far from the speakers, then played the National Anthem, and sent us out to our targets for the 8:30 start time. The white range was very nice, a little up and down, but nothing extreme, we were in groups of four and at almost every target we could all shoot at the same time. We were shooting a field round, four arrows per target, 28 targets, distances ranging from 20 feet to 80 yards. We moved quickly, finishing just after 1:00 pm. By that evening, they had the first day's results posted online, along with target assignments for the next day.

Thursday was similar to Wednesday, except that Tom had been moved out of the Pro division and was in group 5 with the other recurve shooters, we were shooting on the blue range, and we were shooting the hunter round, which has black faces with a white spot. I was with the same group every day and got to know them fairly well. One was from Wisconsin, one from Minnesota (or Minnesnowta as he pronounced it), and the third was from Ohio. The blue range was a bit more rugged than the white range, but we could still shoot most of the targets 4 at a time. On one target a fawn came out of the woods, saw us, then turned around and went back into the forest. Unfortunately there was a group in front of us that refused to shoot 4 across, so they held everyone up. We talked to one of the range captains in the yellow hat, and he asked them to speed things up, but they got upset. He called for backup, but then they started behaving (as long as there was a yellow hat in the area), so they were allowed to finish. It took us an extra hour and a half to finish that day.

Friday again was similar, but there were more shooters, as we had the option of shooting either 5 days or 3 days and all the 3 day people came to join us. We were shooting another field round, and we were assigned to the red range. As I was walking to my assigned target, a fawn jumped up from beside the trail. I stopped, and it did too. We stood looking at each other for a while, then more shooters came up the trail and it ran off. Things went more smoothly than on Thursday, and we again finished around 1:00 pm, but I was feeling that I hadn't been practicing enough because I was pretty tired after 3 days of shooting 116 arrows before lunch -- and it wasn't over yet!

Saturday we got up early again for another hunter round, this time on the black range. The black range was almost all up-and-back, but it went pretty quickly and we got to visit with other groups of archers as we progressed through the course. I wasn't keeping score, but as we scored the 27th target, I heard the scorekeepers say "482", and I knew I should have had my ears covered. I've been trying for a couple years more than forever to get a 500 on a field or hunter round with my recurve, and now I knew I needed an 18 or better on the last target to reach my goal. There was no way I could get that out of my head, so I just had to work through it. The last target was a tough one, the 32 yard fan, the longest distance for that size target, and I shot a 16 for a 498. I couldn't be too unhappy, as it was a personal best, but I sure would have liked a few Mulligans that day. Tom's scores were also improving, we both were learning how to do better on the field and hunter rounds. That night they had a pulled-pork dinner with homemade ice cream.

Sunday was our last day, it seemed to go so fast! We shot an animal round and were done before noon. On one of the last targets a five foot snake came by. We didn't know what kind he was, but he was black and sinister looking, so we just let him slither away. One of the guys in my group, Mike McCarty, tied the tournament record for the animal round in the SSMFSLR (Senile Senior FreeStyle Limited Recurve) division.

Overall, it was a great shoot. The ranges were all awesome, the weather was ideal, and there were 490 shooters having great time. It was the first time I've been to Pennsylvania, and I didn't recognize most of the trees, just a few hackberrys and one walnut, the others were of a species I didn't know. Many of them had surprisingly large leaves. The area was mountainous, with spectacular views, but different than the rockies of Colorado. It took Tom and I the rest of Sunday and most of Monday to get home. We both felt that our tournament shooting had improved from shooting competition five days in a row. I'm not sure how Tom's dog felt, but my dog was really happy to see me.

For those wondering how we did, I finished first in the SSMFSLR (Senile Senior FreeStyle Limited Recurve), and set new tournament records for both the Field and Hunter rounds in that division. The guy I've been calling Tom finished fourth in his division. Photo credits for this story go to Tom.