Oklahoma and North Dakota’s wildlife agencies introduced over 500 students to advanced archery equipment in 2019 through the Varsity Archery program. This new program uses Archers USA’s Individual Shooting Code System to teach participants how to use sights, stabilizers, release aids, and other modern equipment.
Those efforts also help bridge school archery programs to bowhunting, bowfishing, 3D shooting, and Olympic-style competition. As students learn these next-step activities, they usually buy archery gear, and hunting or fishing licenses. Their spending boosts business while funding conservation projects through the Federal Aid in Wildlife Restoration Act of 1937, aka the Pittman-Robertson Act.
Varsity Archery’s coaches and participants praise the program, and encourage other state wildlife agencies to offer it. They also urge archery clubs and retailers to use the ISC System for their ranges and rental programs to get new archers shooting bull’s-eyes.
Wildlife agency staff, industry members, and education coordinators realize after-school programs introduce students to archery, but note that basic gear used in those settings won’t suit every archer.
To help beginners get off to faster starts, Dale Morrell, owner of Morrell Targets, founded Archers USA, an ATA partner. He also created the Individual Shooting Code System and ISC custom equipment to teach finger-shooting instinctive archers to use sights, release aids, and other advanced gear.
Timmy Thomas, national director for Archers USA, is a former National Archery in the Schools Program coordinator in Alaska and Nevada. Thomas said the ISC System builds students’ archery confidence, preparing them to buy their own equipment as their skills advance.
“If you’ve never used a sight, stabilizer or arrow rest, and you walk into a dealer and see bows with that equipment, it’s intimidating,” Thomas said. “If we want students to be hunters and target archers, we need to give them the knowledge and equipment they need to become hunters and target archers.”
Jeff Long, education and NASP coordinator for the North Dakota Game and Fish Department, noticed students who participated in NASP through elementary and middle school often left the program in high school. He sought a new program to maintain their interest while steering them from bare bows to more advanced setups.
“We wanted to give students another program – something more advanced, challenging and exciting – to participate in,” Long said.
Thomas worked with Long to merge the ISC System and equipment into North Dakota’s archery programs, which created the Varsity Archery program. Varsity Archery is an after-school program for high school students with NASP experience.
The program is separate from NASP, but runs simultaneously at tournaments and practice sessions. Long said it provides incentives for students to stay involved in archery. They can essentially “graduate” NASP and advance their skills through Varsity Archery.
Ten North Dakota schools received the Archers USA Ultimate Starter Kit in Fall 2018. The kit provides 10 Genesis Pro bows, which include a release, D-loop, stabilizer and peep sight; as well as an arrow rest and ISC sight. In addition, the kit contains a hand gauge, poundage gauge kit, training tools and 250 membership cards. The cards let coaches record each student’s bow measurements so they can easily be fitted during practice.
About 70 students participated in the program, with 47 competing at the State Varsity Archery Tournament in March 2019 at Minot’s North Dakota State Fairgrounds.
After the NDFGD created and piloted the program, Archers USA spread the word. Morrell encouraged the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation to get the equipment and launch Varsity Archery. Kelly Boyer, the OKDWC’s education coordinator and information/education specialist, said the program helps the agency recruit and retain hunters and potential license buyers.
“Varsity Archery helps kids get comfortable using equipment to become 3D archers and bowhunters,” Boyer said. “Once they’re hooked, we’ll retain them as sportsmen. They can go buy a bow with features they learned about through Varsity Archery, which helps stimulate the economy and pro shops.”
The OKDWC bought 34 of the 10-bow starter kits through grants, and distributed them to schools with NASP programs in Fall 2019. Boyer said nearly 500 students participated in the program, and competed in the Grand State Varsity Archery shoot Feb. 20-21 at the Tulsa State Fairgrounds.
North Dakota scheduled its second State Varsity Archery Tournament for March 20-21.
The program is succeeding in Oklahoma and Norther Dakota. “We had few complaints and problems with the equipment,” Long said. “The coaches adopt the training fairly quickly, and many of them said younger kids can’t wait to get into Varsity Archery. There were lots of questions regarding how it would work, and it was absolutely flawless.”
Boyer agreed. “The equipment is rudimentary, but it’s meant to be,” he said. “It’s cost-effective, yet practical enough so we can introduce kids to peep sights, arrow rests, fixed-pin sights, and other advanced equipment. It was easy to use. Most students absolutely love it.”
Both state agencies hope to grow the program and, based on school and student interest, agency officials are excited about its future. Long wants to add the program to more North Dakota schools. He also hopes schools now in the program will run local and regional Varsity Archery tournaments.
Boyer said Oklahoma is hashing out logistics to offer the program in more schools. The agency will require participants to pass the state’s hunter-education course in 2020 so it can track how many students buy hunting licenses.
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Thomas said the ISC System isn’t just for after-school programs. It can teach archery anywhere, including archery clubs and pro shops.
“Retailers use our equipment on their ranges or in their rental programs because they can measure a person, and get them set up and shooting bull’s-eyes in 10 minutes,” he said.
Thomas said Junior Olympic Archery Development clubs and S3DA coaches should consider providing ISC bow setups for participants who bring friends to try archery.
The ISC System is available through the Archers USA website or its partner, USA Archery, for those who want to buy kits or components. Thomas said dealers should call (479) 430-7390 to request dealer-only prices.
Questions? Contact Samantha Seaton, ATA’s outreach and education program manager, at (866) 266-2776, ext. 133, or email@example.com.