As Hollywood has hit a bull’s-eye with the success of the novel-turned-blockbuster, it seems the movie’s fans are eager to mirror their 16-year-old idol, sparking a newfound interest in the age-old sport.
“I’ve been getting about five or more calls a day asking about instructions,” said B&A Archery owner Bill Arrow. (He vows that’s his real last name.) “The word archery is becoming hot.”
Arrow’s archery range holds instructional classes and target practice for archery enthusiasts, bow hunters, and a handful of hard-core competitors. The indoor range has two floors of movable targets and 3-D archery, in which shooters aim at life-size animals, from rabbits to bears, in simulated wooded terrain.
Although Arrow pins the upswing on The Hunger Games, he credits previous movie hits The Lord of the Rings and Robin Hood for initially luring neophytes onto his archery range and spiking enthusiasm for the historic sport, often thought of as a leisure activity among the English gentry.
Plus, this summer’s slate of motion pictures will no doubt keep archery in the spotlight. In May, the arrow-slinging superhero Hawkeye will feature prominently in The Avengers as the master archer. And this summer, the main character in Pixar studios’ film Brave is Merida, an archery maven sporting serious shooting skills.
“Once you pick up a bow, shooting becomes addictive,” said Arrow, who has been an archer for decades and is enjoying the sport’s newfound appeal.
Archery manager Vincent Mancini at the Sportsmen’s Center in Bordentown said there has certainly been a fever amid fans inquiring about lessons, particularly females — which is great, because archery can still be regarded as a guy’s sport.
“We had a couple of girls call last week and ask if we sold recurve bows,” Mancini said of the simply made bow, similar to the one used by Katniss. “You can definitely feel the thrill building around the sport.”
After reading The Hunger Games book, Allana Herr was struck with the coolness factor of archery and started shooting. A Katniss look-alike, Herr got to channel her heroine while doing a modeling stint for the sporting goods company she works for.
“I just loved the book,” said Herr, 19. “And you don’t get to see many movies about strong girls, especially doing archery.”
Although Katniss uses her skills in a fight-to the-death competition, the bowman is taught to use archery for recreational target practice, or for hunting animals.
Take Laura Fontana, 21. She has been packing a quiver since age 12, when she was introduced to bow hunting by her father. Nowadays, she accompanies him on deer and turkey hunts twice a year. Being passionate about archery, Fontana picked up The Hunger Games book and pored over it last year. She also saw the movie.
“I really liked the fact that Katniss is a hunter,” she said. “And, bow hunting is shown very real and in a positive way in the movie.”
The charm of archery, said Rob Kaufhold, owner of Lancaster Archery Supply in Lancaster, is that just about anyone can excel.
“If you have enough patience, and you practice often, handling a bow becomes second nature,” he said.
Added physical education teacher Brian Leister, “We’ve had kids who aren’t that athletic become really good. We also had one student who shot with a mouth tab because he was missing part of his arm.”
Phoenixville Area Middle School, where Leister teaches, was a pilot school in 2005 for the National Archery in the Schools initiative, which now has more than 25,000 students from Grades 4 through 12 in 100 schools in Pennsylvania, with some taking part in national competitions. Before the mania of The Hunger Games, many archery advocates had cited the program for the influx of enthusiasm. In New Jersey, nearly 10,000 children at 50 schools participate in the program.
After the box office smash debuted, Samantha Pedder, outreach coordinator for the Pennsylvania Game Commission, said her office saw a boost in archery interest, most of it Hunger Games-related.
“The week after The Hunger Games was released, I got a call from a private school in Philadelphia that might put the program into their gym curriculum. After seeing the movie, the kids got excited about archery,” said Pedder, whose agency manages the program in Pennsylvania that focuses on target shooting.
In fact, in the last two years, youth competitors have been the largest participants at endorsed events, said Jay McAninch, president of the Archery Trade Association.
“We had a lot of buzz occurring even before the movie came out. But since the movie opened, more people are asking about where they can get archery instruction, and they are looking for summer camps with archery,” he said.
For statistics devotees: Visits to the Archery Trade Association’s website averaged 17,770 per month in 2011. For March, the number jumped to 30,585.
Sporting-goods trade associations have tracked equipment sales, and they were up 20 percent in the last year, McAninch said. (You can invest roughly $100 to get started in the sport, but it gets more expensive with advancement: Some graphite arrows cost $15 each.)
Archery will likely receive more attention as the 2012 Summer Olympics get under way in London, McAninch said. Currently, the United States has the No. 1 world-ranked athletes and teams in seven of 10 categories in archery.
Khatuna Lorig, a four-time Olympian who drilled Lawrence, is vying for a spot on the U.S. team. And the world’s No. 1 men’s archer, Brady Ellison, a young and hip favorite, is being touted to win a gold medal.
Added McAninch, “And we in the archery community can’t be any more excited.”