Featured image: Caden Owens, a junior at Mustang High School, shoots in the varsity archery competition Wednesday during the Western Tier 2 state shoot at OKC State Fair Park. [SARAH PHIPPS/THE OKLAHOMAN]
Outdoors: Learning Archery skills in the classroom by Ed Godfrey
Published: Sun, February 16, 2020, 5:00 AM
This post was originally posted to The Oklahoman.
National Archery in the Schools and other outdoor education programs in Oklahoma schools continue to grow, but will they be successful in creating a future generation of hunters and anglers?
No doubt Archery in the Schools is a success story. It began in less than a dozen Oklahoma schools in 2005. There are now 642 public and private schools in the state teaching archery through the national program administered by the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation. There is a waiting list every year of more schools wanting to join.
On Thursday, the top 25 archery teams in the state based on qualifying scores during the season will compete in the Grand State Shoot in Tulsa. Last Wednesday and Thursday in Oklahoma City, the Tier 2 schools (archery teams not among the top 25) held their own championship shoot for the central and western regions of the state.
This year the Wildlife Department in conjunction with Archers USA added a new program, Varsity Archery, just for high schools. The top 34 schools based on last year’s results were invited to shoot more modern bows in Varsity Archery than those used in the Archery in the Schools program.
Each school accepted, said Colin Berg, information and education supervisor for the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation. In Varsity Archery, the students shoot a Genesis-bow that can allow up to 40 pounds of draw weight for more velocity on the shots, he said.
“It’s the next step,” Berg said. “We need to get the kids transitioned over to a hunting-style bow or a style-bow they would use to shoot in competitive archery beyond high school.”
Since Archery in the Schools began, the Wildlife Department has added an entire outdoor-related curriculum in public and private schools. In addition to archery, there are courses on bowhunting, bow fishing, fishing, hunter education, and sporting clays competitions as part of the Scholastic Shooting Sports Program.
The Wildlife Department trains teachers and provides equipment kits for the classroom. Most of the outdoor-related education classes are taught by the school’s physical education teachers or vocational-agriculture instructors, Berg said.
“We have a few science and math and English teachers teaching the program,” he said.
Kids love the archery program. Teachers rave about how it boosts the self-confidence of students. How it improves school attendance. How it motivates students in the classroom so they can keep shooting the bows. How it gets kids involved in a sport who otherwise would not be.
Of course, providing a way for schools to teach outdoor skills is not a completely altruistic act by the Wildlife Department. State wildlife officials are motivated to recruit a new generation of hunters and anglers because a crisis of funding is coming, if not already here. Recently, The Washington Post published a story about how hunting is slowly dying off across the country.
Hunting license sales have fallen from a peak of about 17 million in the early ’80s to 15 million last year, according to U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service data.
The decline in hunting is causing budgets to shrink, because wildlife conservation is largely funded by the sale of hunting and fishing licenses, permits and taxes on firearms, bows and other hunting and fishing gear.
For example, in Wisconsin, a $4 million to $6 million annual deficit forced the state’s Department of Natural Resources to reduce game warden patrols and invasive species control, according to The Washington Post. Michigan’s legislature had to dig into general-tax coffers to save some of the state’s wildlife projects, The Washington Post reported.
Oklahoma has not had to cut services, but that day could be coming, Berg said.
“We are like every other state in that the baby boomer era was our No. 1 user group,” Berg said. “Still is today, and the baby boomers are aging out. (Ages) 45 and below are not participating and have not participated (in hunting and fishing) anywhere close to the rate of the baby boomers. We may be good right now. We are more of a rural state than others, but eventually, everything that happens in the more urban states trickles into Oklahoma.”