“Don’t hit my arrows,” Jim jokes, stepping aside, to Mike.”Daddy, hit Jim’s arrows,” beg two boys who’ve read Robin Hood and would love some flying splinters.It is the annual Colorado Traditional Archers Society meet, and two adults and three boys carrying longbows walk through spruce and aspen along a trail lined with targets: a buffalo, a turkey, various bears, an elk, a sheep. Colored flags show where each person must stand to shoot: the adults farthest away; then Teddy, who is 12 and in the Youth category; then Jim’s son, Devon, 11, and Teddy’s brother Roy, 9. “We’re Cubs,” they tell me with dignity. Years ago the boys were Peewees, shooting at huge dinosaurs drawn on sheets spread across hay bales. I remember Roy at just under 3 swaggering around with a new quiver on his back, below which a diaper top poked out.All in the group shoot, then step forward to reclaim – or search for – arrows, and to note scores from the concentric circles mapped on the targets.They reach a mountain lion near which the Cubs’ flag is exceptionally close. “Just throw the arrow like a spear, Roy,” Mike teases. Someone nearby shoots a standing bear in its most private place, and our group teems with muffled hilarity.Roy and Devon are keeping, with extensive discussion, their own scores after they wore Jim out asking, “What’s my score? Did you get it right? What’s my score now?”This is the group’s fifth course of the day, in blazing sun. I’d arrived to a peaceful scene here in the Flat Tops: groups of shooters walking together across blowy green meadows, their voices muted. I passed vender tents: Wildcat Canyon Traditional Archers, Bearpaw custom arrows, Wapiti Recurves and Longbows. I don’t shoot or hunt, though my family contains three generations of hunters; I hike the courses. The event attracts 300 shooters and their friends and families, from grandparents to toddlers. It is a huge volunteer effort, with a dozen courses, vast meeting and cook tents, and long registration tables. A sign-up board asks people how far they’ve traveled: someone from Texas posted 1,300 miles. Another clipboard invites any interested youth to sign up for a hunting weekend in the fall; an adjacent list asks for mentors.We let Ray, a friend and champion, play through, because our group is cumbersome, and he will be fun to watch. With him is a handsome blond child carrying a beautiful osage bow, handmade, it turns out, by Ray.”This is Andre,” Ray tells us. “He was adopted from Russia two weeks ago by a friend in Basalt. He doesn’t speak English.”Ray’s arrows fly and thunk solidly, and we murmur and cheer.Unexpectedly, Andre speaks. “Ray good,” he says proudly.”Hey, he speaks English, Ray!” Jim says.”Well,” Ray jokes, “I taught him to say that.”Saturday’s dinner includes a raffle and auction to benefit the youth hunt, which an organizer describes in detail, as part of the “outdoor legacy.” He adds, “Volunteers cook for you – breakfast, lunch and dinner. And it’s good! It isn’t just beans, like I’ve had before for five days.” Several who win raffle prizes donate them back for auction. When they have weapons, an incredible energy arises among boys. After dinner, a handful hurries off to re-shoot courses. Eventually seven boys converge on the dinosaur course, newly converted to 3-D.They shoot in unison, and their arrows hit a purple dinosaur in the head. Confused, I ask Mike, “Do you think they all meant to do that?”He says calmly, “I’m sure they did.”After dinner, the boys beg, “Can we do the ‘coon hunt?” The “raccoons” are cans in the trees, and headlamps and compasses are needed.No: It’s been a long day. When the hunt begins, though, the boys leave their tents and campers, and stand watching the lights move among the trees.Alison Osius lives in Carbondale and can be reached at email@example.com.
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