Archery club braves elements in pursuit of shared passion

It’s 10 in the morning on Saturday, the air is cold, snow is everywhere and the streets of Urbana are dead. Four individuals emerge into the outdoors with arrows slung over their backs and bows in their arms. It’s the Illinois Archery Club, a registered student organization that knows no boundaries when it comes to weather.

“I promised some members that I would be hard core and go out in the snow this winter,” club president Drake Gashkoff said. “So here I am, ready to go.”

Numbers were down because of the weather, but his three companions were right behind him.

“I’m just really worried about losing some of my arrows in the snow,” freshman club member Hendrik DeWald said. “I hate losing anything I spend money on, especially arrows.”

Gashkoff, who is also the club’s founder, thinks that the snow scared away most of the members who usually show up. There are about 30 members on the e-mail list, and he said the number of attendees fluctuates.

Gashkoff, a junior, has been shooting for around four years, since his dad got him into it. He was surprised the University did not have a club, so he started one on his own last year.

“I really like archery because it is relaxing and recreational,” Gashkoff said. “I really like the outdoors, and I founded this club to meet new people.”

It turns out that there was a club a few years ago that would shoot at an old archery range in IMPE, but the club was disbanded after a range was not built in the new ARC.

Nowadays, the club members travel about 10 minutes to Judge Webber Park, a part of the Urbana Park District, to get to a shooting range.

“I think that’s a reason that we don’t have a lot of members,” DeWald said. “It would be so much better if there was a range in the ARC and then we could go a lot more often.”

However, Gashkoff said that shooting at the park district does offer some benefits.

“We were here one day and a man from the East Central Illinois Archers Association started talking to us,” Gashkoff said. “Once he found out who we were he gave us a bunch of free bows and arrows for new members to use. They are not very high quality, but they are good for people to see what it’s like.”

Gashkoff and DeWald have their own bows, but most members do not. Bows typically cost around 100 dollars, Gashkoff said, adding that the better bow you have, the better aim you are likely to have. Still, it comes down to practice and talent.

“Yes, it is skill that makes someone good at archery,” Gashkoff said. “You need to be very focused and hold your arm very straight, but it’s not worth anything if you don’t have a good bow.”

However, he said that the beginner bows are great to ease in the new members, such as junior Ashley Voigt, who did archery for the first time Saturday.

“It was pretty easy to catch onto, but I don’t think I’ll ever be perfect,” Voigt said. “It would probably be a lot easier in the spring when you aren’t shivering or anything.”

Unlike Voigt, DeWald has participated in archery all his life.

“When I was young, I was really into all that stone-age stuff,” DeWald said. “I would throw rocks and build spears and try to make my own bow and arrow. I always liked that type of recreation, so I got my own bow as soon as I could.”

He enjoys being able to practice at the park district.

The shooting range there has burlap sacks to shoot into, and the Illini bring their own targets. Deeper in the course, there are 3-D animal hangings that people can shoot. These hangings, however, are reserved for the special 3-D shoot that happens in the fall.

Gashkoff said that this semester, the club is instituting a more rigorous schedule, with consistent practices every Saturday morning. He is aiming for members to be able to compete in the 3-D hunt come fall.