NEW ULM - This time of year hunters get that itch.
With days and weeks of snow and cold, they are longing for the next season to come around so they can once again feel the thrill of the hunt.
Several area bow hunters have found an outlet for their winter frustrations and they are honing their skills and having fun at the same time.
Photos by Steve Muscatello
Andrew Howk takes aim during the 3D shoot Wednesday evening at Twin Rivers Archery in New Ulm. This league simulates a hunting environment by making people shoot at targets while avoiding trees and other obstacles.
Gabe Soehren of New Ulm takes aim during indoor archery league action at Twin Rivers Outfitters Tuesday evening.
Brent Hesse shoots for the bonus, a small hole cut out of a metal deer, during the 3D shoot Wednesday
The 3D course as it was set up Wednesday evening with fake trees and deer targets.
For years, Mitch Lewis at Twin Rivers Archery has had an indoor archery range in the back of his store that is open 24 hours for members so archers can practice. Every member gets their own unique pass code that is punched in on the side entrance of the building.
And with that range he has had a 300 league - which meets on Monday and Tuesday night for 10 weeks starting the first week of January - so the archers can keep their keen shooting touch.
The 300 league consists of teams of four that shoot two at a time. Shooters stand in a line 20 yards from the paper targets, aim and shoot five arrows. When that group is done, the next group steps forward and shoots its five arrows. You get points based on where the arrow hits. There are two different targets, a traditional looking target with a small circle in the center with larger rings coming out, and the other is a five spot, which is five of the traditional targets on a single sheet. The league is divided into three separate classes, money shoot, trophy shoot and fun shoot.
What: Indoor archery leagues
Where: Twin Rivers Archery in New Ulm
When: The 300 league is Monday and Tuesday. The league is $70 for 10 weeks. The 3D league is Wednesday. Cost is $10 and competition is that night only.
Archery range membership: Membership for a year is $100 for an individual. A family [two people] is $150 and anyone over two is an additional $25. If someone comes in during store hours, it is just $5 an hour.
"If you think you are good and want to compete with the big boys, you go in the money shoot," Lewis said. "If you think you are kind of good, you go in the trophy shoot, and if you are just here to have fun you go in the fun shoot."
Points are accumulated over the course of the 10 weeks. At the end, there is a wild game pot luck with an award ceremony with trophies and prizes.
That is fine for some hunters, but others were wanting a new challenge, a more realistic practice session to wait out the long winter months.
So this year, Lewis started a 3D league every Wednesday night where archers shoot against other archers at life-sized animal targets.
"It's not so much as a league but an every Wednesday night competition," Lewis said. "It is a come as you want and it is open to everybody."
But what has drawn bow hunters to this new league is the realistic situations along with fun and camaraderie. The league is open to any bow hunters interested. They just need to pay a $10 fee for the night and unlike the 300 league, the points are totaled at the end of the night.
Lewis has scoured area thrift stores for old Christmas trees to use, which gives a more realistic feel.
There are deer hiding behind trees, elk lying on the ground and bears behind fences. Lewis and the other hunters plot out a new course each week to make it more challenging.
On a recent Wednesday, 10 hunters showed up and the course was broken down into three distances at approximately 20, 30 and 40 yards.
The archers attained points based on where they hit each target. There are kill shots drawn on the deer, and in one instance the deer was hollowed out and you had to shoot through it to hit a target.
There was also a challenge to hit one of three CDs through the center hole at about 30 yards. They set up a ground blind to shoot out of and a tree stand to shoot from, but maybe one of the most popular shots was also the most difficult and was the final shot of the night.
After everyone is done shooting, the archers have the option of a 24-point bonus shot where, from the tree stand at about 40 yards, the archers attempt to shoot the heart of a deer cut out of sheet metal.
What makes it challenging is some shooters are reluctant to lose an arrow that cost around $15 a piece.
But on this night, nearly everyone tried it and four succeed including the night's champion Andrew Howk.
"It's pretty hard," Howk said about trying to avoid the sheet metal on the deer. "The first time I tried it I shot the actual deer and I didn't make it and I wrecked my arrow. This time I actually made it and I was pretty happy about it."
Howk is glad Lewis decided to start up this kind of league this year.
"It's a lot of fun," he said. "There aren't too many leagues around where you can have fun with a bunch of guys and just go out and shoot the animals. It gets you ready for hunting and stuff like that.
"It's pretty much the closest thing you can come to with out shooting a live animal. If you are sitting in a tree stand, a ground blind or out in the open, an animal is going to come from 20 to 100 yards."
Although Howk enjoys the 3D league, he prefers the skill of the 300 league because he does a lot of competitive shooting.
"For me, I am really big in the 300 league," Howk said. "But archery became my passion. I've been shooting since '07. I got out of the military, my dad and brother started bow hunting and they kind of talked me into it. It's been all uphill since then."
But he does like the laid-back feel of the 3D league.
"Since I do a lot of competition shooting [the 3D league] takes stress out of shooting and makes it fun again," Howk said. "So you aren't constantly trying to shoot a perfect round each time you shoot.
"It's great. It gets you out of the cold, you aren't just sitting on the couch watching TV. You can go out and throw a couple of arrows down the range and have a good time. It's one of a kind around here, no one else has it."
Those are the sentiments of father and son competitors Chad and Trey Strei too.
Chad, the father, took home third place on this night and says the competition is strong between the two.
"There is a lot of competition," Chad said. "And normally he beats me. So I have to hear about it all week."
The two also participate in the 300 league on Mondays.
"Both are good and both are nice to shoot," he said. "This gives you a chance to go through real hunting situations where the target is just competition. You work on accuracy on Mondays and then on Wednesday you work on your hunting skills and accuracy while you are in the woods."
Chad said the 3D league is a good representation of what a real hunt could be like.
"You don't have the wind or the weather conditions," he said, "but other than that there are situations as a hunter. 'Do I have the right shot?' As silly as some of these situations seem it is what you are training for. You say, 'OK, I have a deer stand behind a fence or behind a tree. Do I see the vitals? Can I get a shot?' If it's not clean or ethical then don't take it. In here you are going to take it. It gives you more of an understanding to gauge distance."
But what Chad enjoys most is spending the time with his son.
"I couldn't ask for anything better," he said. "How hard is it now to interact with your teenage son? Hunting is what is in our lives. Hunting has brought us together. Our whole family, my wife, my kids, we all hunt. That's what hunting is really about."