Retired law enforcement officer Les Conner moved from California to Payson years ago armed with a love for archery.
He had taken up the sport in about 1997 and in Payson he missed the camaraderie and competition of a California archery club of which he once was a member.
So, in the summer of 2008, he talked members of the Tonto Rim Sports Club into hosting a first-ever 3-D archery shoot with plans for it to become at least a twice-a-year event.
The first shoot was a success attracting about 45 competitors from around Gila County. With the success, Conner opted to host a second shoot about four months later. It, however, was held in cold and windy conditions which meant only the hardiest of archers showed up to participate.
Nonetheless, 35 archers braved the conditions to battle for prizes, awards and bragging rights.
Those first two competitions, served as a solid foundation for the shoots and the 3-D archery tournaments are now growing in leaps and bounds.
The dramatic spurt is due in part to the addition, as a sponsor, of the Town of Payson Parks, Recreation and Tourism Department. Also, the Mogollon Sporting Association pitched in over a year ago to purchase 14 new targets.
In July 2010, just after the MSA purchased the targets, “Shoot for the Rim,” the first shoot to be co-sponsored by the town drew a record 70-plus archers.
The new 3-D targets enabled sponsors to offer, for the first time, two different, 14-target courses for the one-day event.
Immediately after the shoot, Mary McMullen, then the town’s trails and outdoor recreation coordinator, called the tournament, a “new and exciting outdoor recreation program” and emphasized the new sponsors were “eager to put this and future archery tournaments on in our community to offer more opportunities for youth in Payson to shoot their bows.”
Conner contends that attracting the younger set to the sport is key to the future of archery.
“We need those young shooters — it’s vital,” he said.
Conner’s commitment to children learning the sport prompted him to take the training qualifying him as a schools archery instructor.
In past tournaments, Jared Noah in the cubs division and Dylan Justice among youth boys are two who shined.
With interest in archery continuing to grow, Conner and the town are set to sponsor the second “Shoot for the Rim” tournament, which will be held Sept. 24 at the TRSC Jim Jones Shooting Range south of Payson.
Registration opens at 7 a.m. and scores must be turned in by 2 p.m. Registration fees range from $10 to $25 if completed by Sept. 10. After the deadline they increase to $15 to $30.
Children under 14 shoot for free.
Once again, two different, 14-target courses, or 28 3-D targets, will be in use.
In addition to the 3-D shooting, there will be a “Clout Shoot” which is a long distance contest at a circular “Bull’s-Eye” target.
In 2009, teenager Chance Randall amazed onlookers scoring a perfect center hit from 95 yards away.
At the upcoming tournament, another Clout Shoot will be held as will several other games including tic, tack, toe, poker and a William Tell shoot in which entrants will try to shoot an apple off the head of a dummy.
Conner also promises the event will include “awards, novelties, door prizes and tons of outdoor family fun.”
He also emphasizes that the tournament is a family affair and the focus will be on having fun.
“There are enough really competitive shoots, this one is for fun, but we will have awards,’ he said.
Newcomers will find the archery tournament unique in that archers, instead of shooting stationary at bull’s-eye targets, walk an outdoor course firing arrows at McKenzie life-sized 3-D foam targets of bear, deer and mountain lions.
3-D archery is a spin-off of field archery that is popular among hunters because it re-creates a hunting environment with competitors shooting from unmarked distances.
Although one of the goals is hunting practice, hunting broad heads are not used because they would tear up the foam targets. Normal target or field tips are commonly used.
For the upcoming tournament, participants will compete in one of four age groups and in four separate classes based on bow types and sight.
The age groups are: Adult (18-years-plus), Youth (14-17 years), Cub (9-13 years) and Pee Wee (8 and under).
The classes include:
• Open — Archers may use any bow, sight or stabilizer.
• Release — Entrants can use any bow but with fixed pins, no scopes, a 12-inch maximum stabilizers and any release.
• Fingers — Requirements include any bows, fixed pins, no scopes, 12-inch maximum stabilizers and shooting with fingers.
• Traditional — Any recurve or longbow with no sights.
For more information about the tournament, call Conner at (928) 472-7443. Registration forms are available at: www.paysonparks.com.