The sound of archers releasing their arrows and hitting the targets fills the still evening air, until this round of shooting ends.
“OK, let’s get arrows,” 4-H leader Mike Burket calls out to the seven archers.
The children put down their bows, grab their quivers and walk out to the targets, eagerly chatting about the shots they’ve just made.
“I hit it right in the middle!” crows Cubby Connolly, a tow-headed 11-year-old wearing a baseball cap and shooting a compound bow.
“It’s not fair, I practice more and you hit the target better!” Karson Ross, an 11-year-old girl with ringlets in her hair shoots back at Cubby.
The children are part of the Rim Country Dead Shots, the first 4-H archery club Gila County has ever had. Four dedicated men: Brian Hall, Mike Burket, Drew Justice and Ken Crump run the group.
Crump is the quiet force behind the club. A soft-spoken man with gentle, brown eyes covered by glasses, he lingers in the background ready to answer any questions or support any child needing extra help. He has a long history with archery — his parents were award-winning archers.
“I grew up going to archery competitions. I love shooting any kind of stick with a pointy end. I even love throwing darts,” said Crump of his passion.
Besides the 4-H club, Crump has taught the Town of Payson’s archery class since arriving in Payson three years ago. The class is based on the National Archery in the Schools Program, (NASP), format designed to teach International style target archery. The content covers archery history, safety, technique, equipment, mental concentration, core strengthening physical fitness and self-improvement.
Similar to the NASP program, the 4-H organization requires special training for shooting sports, specific to each discipline. The other shooting sports 4-H supports are muzzelloading, shotgun, small bore, air gun and hunting.
It took the leaders of the Rim Country Dead Shots more than a year to coordinate the training required by 4-H, but Crump’s dedication knows no bounds. “The most important thing to me is that the kids get to enjoy archery,” he said.
Archery, an ancient pastime, often involves whole families. It doesn’t matter if you’re young, old, male or female, everyone can participate in archery and excel, if regularly practiced; a fact Crump often tells his students.
Justice, one of the four leaders, rediscovered his love of archery through Crump. “I shot a compound for years and actually hunted with one for three or four years when I first moved to Payson,” Justice said. “I shot with Ken a lot when I could, but truly got bored with my compound. It was just ‘put the sight on the target, pull the release and you hit it.’
“Ken was shooting traditional and encouraged me to try a traditional bow. I met a guy named Denny Harger here in town that builds traditional long bows and shot some of his and instantly had a new fascination with archery. He built me a bow, then Dylan (Justice’s son) a bow. So that is how we got going again with archery,” he said.
At the 4 –H practice, parents stand in the background with Crump, watching their children, “I started doing archery over 35 years ago in school,” said Tony Creasy father of 11-year-old Chance. “I signed up Chance for the Town of Payson’s class and he ended up loving it.”
Jodie Ross, mother of Karson, also signed up her daughter in the Parks and Recreation class Crump teaches where her daughter discovered a passion for the sport. “It’s just a fun pastime,” Ross said.
The 4-H club plans on participating in three tournaments this year. The first was at the Mountain High Games held June 4. The next tournament will be the state 4-H tournament beginning Oct. 10 at the Apache County Fairgrounds Hall. The group is still looking for a third tournament for this year, but next year, the Rim Country Dead Shots plan on being the 4-H team that represents Arizona in the National Invitational.
Sometimes, it just takes one special person to start a trend, but Crump is quite humble about his talent, “I love the romance of traditional archery. But, as I tell my fly fishing friends, just because I like it doesn’t mean that I’m good at it. I consider myself ‘competent’ as an archer,” he said.
Maybe he’s only “competent” as an archer, but as a trendsetter, he’s on target.