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Heading Outdoors: Getting kids behind the bow in youth archery program

Program partnership between Brown Co. Parks & 4-H
Posted at 11:25 PM, Apr 04, 2017
and last updated 2017-04-05 00:32:50-04

A love for the outdoors has to start somewhere, even if that somewhere is inside a classroom. 

But in this classroom, students are trading in a pen and pencil for a bow and arrow.

Across Wisconsin, kids and teens are taking aim at a new skill, with guidance from state certified shooting instructors.

"It's a fun time," says state 4-H shooting sports coordinator Doug Thompson. "It's a skill-building time." 

Thompson's history with 4-H shooting sports dates back to the 70s.

"As you get a little older, you learn that.. you really need to give back to kids," says Thompson, standing inside a classroom-turned-indoor archery range, "and be supportive of the kids.. in your community."

It's made possible locally through a partnership with the Brown County Parks Department, and Wisconsin 4-H shooting sports program.

“Brown County 4-H offers 300 different projects for our young people to choose from," says Brown Co. 4-H youth development educator Melinda Pollen, "[and] archery is just one of them.”

Starting this week at the Brown County Agriculture and Extension Center, 16 students--ages 8 to 18--will meet inside this makeshift indoor range.

"We've been.. going out to Barkhausen [wildlife preserve] during the summer doing it," says Thompson, "and during the winter months, we're in here." 

The goal: keeping kids safe, while putting them behind the bow. 

"They are made for virtually anyone to shoot," says Thompson, explaining how everyone from children, to seniors with back and shoulder problems, are fast learners on the bows provided for students at each class.

"It gives young people inside the 4-H program, and throughout the community, the opportunity to really learn this skill," adds Pollen, as arrows release behind her, "and the life skills that go with it."

In its two years, the program has already seen 200 students, and this month's sessions are full.

"You know, we've got a lot of kids on the list," says Thompson. "We've got parents that are interested." 

And it seems the hard work of the partnership is paying off.

Classes, like this, are seeing an increase in demand, and with that spark in interest, there's the hope that more kids will take their newfound passion outside.

"To get them exposed to the outdoors, and archery," explains Brown Co. parks assistant director Matt Kriese, "and there may be a byproduct of that of learning about the wildlife while they're out there, as well."

There's also hope for expansion.

"We're always looking for facilities in the community where we can set up.. an archery range," adds Thompson.

This program is youth-focused, but 4-H leaders say they're seeing an unbelievable number of grandparents getting involved, as both volunteers and mentors in 4-H shooting sports. 

For more information on the Wisconsin 4-H youth archery program, UW Extension, or Brown County Parks Department, follow these links.