Aiming to Build Community: Tournament Brings Archers Together
(Crystal A. Proxmire, Feb. 21, 2021)
Oakland Township, MI – During an afternoon of hiking through a 45 acre plot of woods shooting arrow at various targets, there’s a lot of catching up, a little joking around, and of course seasoned archers on hand to offer up valuable advice.
“Don’t hunt for bear near a dump,” said Dave Ott of Montrose, MI.
Ott was one of over 100 people who journeyed to Oakland Township Sunday for the Royal Oak Archery Club’s annual Chili Shoot tournament.
The tournament pits three clubs against each other, with one leg of the event held at each place. The Lapeer and Gilbert Clubs also host, and after the three days of shooting are done the winning club gets to keep the coveted trophy which is made of a chili bowl and toilet paper.
It’s a tradition over a dozen years old, at a club that was first established in Southern Oakland County in 1952. The group headed north when Royal Oak Kimball was built, settling in a picturesque location on a ridge overlooking Paint Creek but keeping their original name.
“I wish I could show you the trophy,” said Club Treasurer Tom Milan who actually does live in Royal Oak. “But we haven’t had it in years,” he said with a hearty chuckle only slightly muffled by his face mask.
Guests come from as far away as the Upper Peninsula to compete in the quirky competition where targets include the typical artificial deer and elk as well as a panther, a fish, and a giant mosquito. Ott only had to come “one hour and one minute” to participate, walking away with a score of 212.
Some archers come to the club with the most state of the art bows and arrows, donning compound bows which assist in bearing the weight of the pull, making it easier to shoot. Others prefer traditional bows like longbows and recurves.
Ott is self-bow kind of guy, boasting a beautiful weapon that was hand-carved by buddy Dan Breezemeister from a single piece of wood.
In addition to checking out courses like Royal Oak’s, Ott uses his archery skills for hunting, and even has a blood tracking business where he and his dogs find deer that hunters had shot but then lost as they ran away.
He’s personally bagged over 150 deer, and a well as three black bears.
“How they taste depends on what they eat,” he said. “Where I was, bears eat a lot of blueberries so the meat actually has a blueberry taste.
“Don’t hunt for bear near a dump,” he added. “That meat is not good.”
Treasurer Milan didn’t hit the trail Sunday as his task was signing people in and helping oversee the chili cook off part of the day. Crockpots lined the lodge and the smell of spicy meat, beans, and tomato sauce filled the room and greeted guests as they walked up through the parking lot. Participant arrival times were staggered this year to account for corona virus precautions, and the volunteer servers wore masks and gloves for safety. Yet even with the social distancing, people were excited to come together.
Milan said the tournament was created so the three clubs could have a reason to come together in the wintertime. Each leg of the tournament takes place a month apart, with the final round taking place at the Gilbert club in March.
For Milan, the discovery of archery didn’t happen until his son was a teenager. “I never had an interest in archery,” Milan said. “When my son John was in school he wanted to do it, and I said nah, but he was persistent.
“You know that story about how if you want to cook a frog without it jumping out of the pot you have to put it in cooler water first, and raise the temperature slowly? That’s what John did with me. First I drove him to get his bow, and to lessons, and he’d say dad try this. And before you know it, it was something we could do together. Now I’m treasurer of the club. So I guess I’m like the frog.”
His son is 25 and continues to grow as a sportsman. “He got a big buck this year, I’m really proud of him,” his dad said.
For many archers it works the other way around, with parents teaching their kids and building a lifelong tradition.
William Bissell of Frasier and Kyle Zanke of Washington Township both grew up in outdoorsy families. “I’ve been coming here since I was seven,” Bissell said. “Everybody here is like second family.”
Doug Waite of Oxford had served as President of the club for thirteen years. He enjoyed meeting new people at Sunday’s tournament and wonders what more can be done to draw people in.
“There’s a lot of us older guys here,” he said. “I think the younger generation has just lost interest.”
When asked why, he said times are just different. “I don’t think parents push their kids as much as they used to. And they just don’t have as much time. These days you’ve got both parents working, people working two jobs just to get by. It’s just not the same.
“It’s a shame too. Archery gives kids goals to work on, a goal. It teaches them responsibility, and patience, and respect.”
Waite said in years past their junior archers program was full of families. With the pandemic the interest has fallen even more.
Yet there are spots of hope. A man in his 20s named Ravi who lives nearby stopped in for information and is thinking of taking up the sport. And a young couple from Waterford – Jenni and Nathan Kitchen – came out with friend Tamara of Davisburg.
“I’ve been shooting for four about four years,” Tamara said. “I always wanted a bow and arrow when I was little kid and my mom said no, that’s dangerous. So of course now I can do what I want.
“And,” she added “I even got my mom to come out shooting now.”
While she hadn’t yet tallied her score, she already felt like a winner. “I didn’t lose any arrows today so that’s good,” she said.
For Nathan archery is a great way to get outside and to be around people who are always friendly to each other, “like a big family.”
“We’ve shot every shoot we could get, so yeah, it’s addicting,” he said.
Royal Oak Archers is located at 2762 Orion Road in Oakland Township. Membership is available and there are opportunities for the public as well. Check them out online at www.RoyalOakArchers.com