On a somewhat rainy Saturday in July, dozens of archers tramped through marshy wilderness, bows in hand, scoping their shots and letting arrows fly.
This may not sound like everyone's idea of fun, but for the Kenai Peninsula Archers Club it's right on target.
"People come out and the whole idea is to enjoy the sport of archery," said Len Malmquist, the president of the club.
That weekend archers from all across the state competed in the club's 3D shoot competition, aiming at life-sized foam wildlife targets, including the first full-size 3D moose in the state.
"We have an absolutely beautiful bow range here," said Joe Wackler, of Soldotna. "It's just good practice for hunting."
Wackler said archery for him is a discipline that takes constant concentration.
"Judging yardage is important, the anchor point is important, the mechanics of it are critical," he said. "It requires practice and to be good you have to do everything right every time."
The mind game aspect of archery is key, Malmquist said. It's a meditation, a challenge and a sport.
"Mentally if you're off a little bit you're not going to shoot exactly," he said. "The biggest tool they have in their toolbox is between their two ears."
The Kenai Peninsula Archers Club focuses on humane harvests of the animals. The competition is practice to ensure people that hunt with a bow have a high enough skill level for a clean kill, Malmquist said.
The scoring reflects these principals.
Malmquist explained the point system is based on ethical shooting, with more points given to a pinpoint right on the animal's heart. He said that shooting an animal from behind, or one that is directly facing you is unethical.
He said that shock oftentimes kills animals when they are shot with a rifle but with a bow, "they never knew they were hit."
"The big secret is to make sure you have sharp broad heads," he added.
And the closer to the game the better.
"It's the challenge of trying to get close enough," he said, adding that 50 yards or less is better hunting.
Wackler, who also hunts with a firearm for meat, said the particular hunt and possibility of a close stalk affect his weapon of choice. If the odds are less that Wackler will get in close he will use a rifle, he said.
Markus Doerry, of Eagle River, president of the Alaska State Archery Association, said that he got into bow hunting over gun hunting because of the access.
"There are archery hunts that aren't so far out," he said, explaining that he can take a quick bow hunting trip on the weekends close to his home.
"When I picked up a bow I loved it so much. It's fun, relaxing and gets you outdoors," he said. "Guns can be fun too but you're wearing earplugs."
Bows are a lot quieter and they "slow you down, help you focus," he said.
Doerry has an archery range set up in his backyard.
"You can't do that with a rifle," he said.
For other shooters, being out on the rage is more about recreation and the competition.
"It's friendly competition," said Chelsea Roehl, 15, of Fairbanks. "It's a sport itself and it's also good practice for hunting."
"It's kind of my pastime after work," said Tom Wortham, of Clam Gulch.
As the state's 2009 shooter of the year, Rick Helton, of Chugiak, said he enjoys competitive archery.
"Competition drives this tournament right here and brings the best shooters in the state down here," he said while assuming the shooting stance. "I love shooting. It's like bowling, tennis or anything else."
And with a thwack, he hit his target.
Brielle Schaeffer can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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