Originally written 6/1/15.
All photos from Flickr used in accordance with the Creative Commons license: https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/legalcode
Full Rut Archery–http://www.fullrutarchery.com/
For her birthday, my sister decided that she’d like to try an archery class. She invited me along, and of course I said yes, since I’d never shot a bow and arrow before.
She found a place online that offered a special birthday package: an hour of range use, equipment rental, and a dedicated instructor for $12 per person. Such a deal! Even better, the range had a café inside that served exotic meats like kangaroo and frog’s legs (as well as more mundane things like burgers), and we could preorder our meals and have them ready for us when we got there.
That sounded perfect. My sister got together a small party of friends and signed us up for a Sunday at 12:30.
On that Sunday, my sister and I decided to carpool to the archery range, which was (according to Google) about half an hour away, on the plains to the east of the Denver Metro area. Armed with the GPS on her phone, we set out from the eastern suburbs and were soon in rolling grasslands. The houses got farther apart, and many were surrounded by big, white-fenced acres of horse pasture. It had been an unusually wet and rainy May in Denver, but the sun was mostly out that day in a dramatic sky of gray and white clouds. A good day for an adventure.
As we drove, we talked about various things, and I looked at the GPS from time to time to give my sister directions. We went from a big, two-lanes-each-way, 45 mph Denver street to a one-lane-each way paved county road, to a smaller side county road where houses were few and far between, to a dirt road with no street signs.
It was here, in the middle of nowhere, that the GPS finally told us we had arrived.
We pulled over in a cloud of dust and looked around. There was nothing as far as the eye could see but grass, the occasional house surrounded by pasture, and a wide variety of rusty vehicle carcasses. The address we were looking for didn’t seem to exist.
My sister looked at the nearest house, which had a pickup truck hitched to a horse trailer sitting in its driveway. “Do you think that could be it?” she asked doubtfully.
“No,” I said, imagining going up to this person’s house and asking if they were an archery range. An introvert’s nightmare. “Let’s check the website.”
Luckily, the cell phone signal was low but present, so we looked up the address on the archery range’s website. Hmm. The address listed on their home page was certainly the one we had entered in the GPS, and here we were. Only, no archery range.
I scrolled a little farther down. At the bottom of the home page, the address was posted again—except, while the street number was the same, the road listed was completely different.
I gave my sister the bad news. She took the phone from me and entered the new address, and we were off, following the GPS back down the dirt road to a different dirt road. While she drove, I texted her friends to let them know that we were going to be late, and I hoped that this wasn’t going to ruin my sister’s birthday party.
A few minutes later, I suddenly got a bad feeling. I’d like to say that I had a premonition, but really I think it was paranoia after getting lost the first time. I looked more closely at the GPS, and I saw that it had somehow changed the address my sister had entered into a totally different address.
I tried correcting the address, but the GPS seemed possessed. Every time I re-entered the correct address, it would change it again. The new address, the one it REALLY wanted us to go to, had absolutely zero resemblance to the one I kept trying to enter.
This is what I imagine the GPS-possessing demon looking like
In the end, I went to Google, entered the name of the archery range, and clicked on the map. THAT finally gave us the correct destination, which was good. Unfortunately, it also let us know that it was going to be another 20 minutes before we got there, because of course the possessed GPS had been leading us in exactly the wrong direction.
Well, nothing we could do about it now. We followed the new directions back onto a paved road we had been on half an hour before, and I texted everybody that we were going to be really late. That was OK, it turned out, because one of the others had gotten lost as well, and one had gotten stuck downtown in traffic after running the Colfax Half Marathon and wasn’t going to make it at all.
Eventually, after a series of paved county roads, we ended up on a different dirt road in a different middle of nowhere, and this turned out to be the right place. Hooray! There were signs pointing to the range as we got close, and eventually we saw a twenty-foot-tall model of a giant arrow planted in the middle of a field.
This had to be the place.
The range was inside of a big, newish-looking building like a barn surrounded by a gravel parking lot. Across the parking lot was an outdoor archery area in a field, with a woman in shorts and a t-shirt shooting at paper targets on chunky stands.
Inside, there were several different areas: the café off to the left, the front desk off to the right, and a store straight ahead, with the main part of the range beyond it. The walls were covered with wood paneling, with big log beams here and there, and the décor was largely made up of the mounted heads of various animals, like deer, elk, and boar. The carpet on the floor was camouflage. I wondered where you get camo carpet, and how much of a demand there is for it.
I had been worried that we weren’t going to be able to shoot after all, since we were half an hour late, but the two employees at the front desk didn’t seem concerned about it. In fact, they didn’t even mention that we were late. One of the employees, a girl in her late teens or early twenties, led us off to the right, past the check-in desk, to an area she called “the Lone Range.” Ha ha ha! The name made me very happy, but the girl didn’t laugh at all when she said it. Maybe she was over the joke.
The Lone Range was a long, skinny room that was separated from the main part of the range by a wooden wall with plexiglass windows in it, possibly to prevent the amateurs from accidentally shooting the professionals next door. The room looked kind of like a bowling alley, with a wooden floor divided into lanes by stripes of different-colored wood. At the far end, against the back wall of the building, were four tall, square blocks of a material like super-dense Styrofoam, covered in white tarps and sporting little blue paper targets on them.
At the near end of the room was a rack that looked something like the parallel bars in men’s gymnastics, only it was covered in camouflage carpeting. Half a dozen bows rested on the rack, strings up, looking exactly like the bows in Robin Hood movies. Yay! I couldn’t wait to try them out.
“Go ahead and pick out your bow,” said the girl, gesturing unexcitedly toward the rack.
“What’s the difference between them?” I asked.
She looked at me. “Some of them are longer and some of them are shorter.”
Oh. Silly question.
“Which one should I use?” I asked.
She shrugged. “Whichever one you want.”
My sister’s two friends were already picking out their bows, so I went ahead and grabbed one at random, feeling like there was probably a more scientific way of doing this. Oh, well.
The girl then led us down the range until we were maybe fifteen feet away from the targets. There was a line there on the floor across the lanes, with a stand filled with arrows sitting on the line for each of us. The arrows, I was interested to see, had metal tips almost like bullets on the front ends, rather than the stereotypical arrowheads you think of from movies. At the back, where movie arrows have feathers, they had plastic instead (I found out later that the feathers or plastic pieces on the back are called fletching or vanes). One of the vanes on every arrow was a different color than the other two.
“Here’s what you do,” the girl said, taking my bow and one of my arrows and demonstrating. “See this at the back of the arrow? That’s called the nock.”
The nock was a small plastic piece that was forked so that you could stick it on the bowstring to help hold the arrow in place.
“Put the nock right above this bead in the middle of the string. The odd-colored vane should be toward you—that’s how you know that the nock is turned right. Rest the shaft of the arrow on this guide here on the hand grip. Now pull back the string with your first three fingers. Some people like to put their index finger above the arrow and the other two below, but I like to put all three below. It helps keep the arrow from shaking and getting off the target.”
She showed us how she liked to place her fingers.
No, not like this.
“Then pull the string back. Don’t be scared to pull it way back—your hand should touch your jaw.” She demonstrated. “Then let go.”
The arrow whizzed through the air and hit the target with a satisfying “thwack” sound.
“And that’s all there is to it,” she said, handing my bow back to me. “It’s easy. Give it a try.”
The four of us, feeling a little self-conscious, tried it out. I took an arrow out of the stand, put the forked nock above the little gold bead on the string, rested the front of the arrow on the black plastic guide near the place where my hand went, and pulled back the string. When I let go of the string, the arrow thumped into the foam block with the same satisfying “thwack” sound, although I was nowhere close to the blue paper target.
Hey! I’d shot my first arrow!
All of us had five arrows, and we shot them one at a time while the girl watched us silently from a safe distance behind the line. She didn’t say anything, even when I completely missed the giant foam block and sent my arrow into the back wall. Oops.
When we’d all shot our arrows, she told us to go get them out of the foam to shoot again. “Have fun,” she said. “I’ll be at the front desk if you need anything.”
Oh. I was kind of disappointed in our “range instructor,” since I’d been envisioning something more like the range instructor I had when I went to the firing range in Phoenix (http://nerdseye.com/2015/10/05/adventure-8-shooting-range/), where he was at my side the entire time, both teaching and encouraging me. But, as my husband pointed out later, the shooting range had been pretty expensive. What did I want for $12?
The girl did come back a few minutes later, bringing with her a pile of arm guards and finger guards, since she’d forgotten to give us those when we checked in. The arm guards were padded cloth patches that attached to your forearm with straps so that the pad was on the inside of your arm from your wrist to your elbow. They helped to protect your arm from the string, because if you held your left arm too straight, the string snapped against it every time you shot. As a matter of fact, by the time the girl remembered and brought us the guards, my sister’s two friends already had some lovely welts. I somehow escaped snapping myself with the string, probably because I kept holding my left elbow out to the side at a super awkward angle, like I was trying to perform ballet while shooting my bow.
I wasn’t really sure how I felt about my arm being labeled “Full Rut.” Hey, what are you trying to say?
The finger guards were hard leather sheaths that went over the right index, middle, and ring fingers to protect them from getting cut by the string. It was a good idea, but the guards she brought us were sort of one-size-fits-all, and I have tiny hands (they’re so small that the jeweler who made my wedding ring gave me a discount because he’d used so much less gold than he usually did). The sheaths were like humongous leather sausages on my little fingers. After sending three arrows careening out of control all over the range because I couldn’t make my right hand work properly, I took the finger guards off.
Even without the finger guards, I was definitely no Katniss Everdeen from Hunger Games. About half my arrows managed to hit the blue paper target, but none of them were even close to the white bullseye, and the other half ended up all over the foam block. Twice, I missed the foam block completely and had my arrows bounce off the back wall and come flying back to me, like some kind of arrow-boomerang crossover. Luckily for my self-esteem, those two both happened in the first ten minutes, and I got better—but still.
Yeah, these animals would have been totally safe from me. I think the boar might actually be laughing at my archery skills.
My sister, on the other hand, was channeling her inner Merida from Brave, even though she hadn’t ever shot a bow either. About 90% of her arrows hit the blue target even at the beginning, and she was hitting the white bullseye regularly while the other three of us were still trying to hit the paper at all. I was in awe.
Here is my sister being awesome.
One thing I hadn’t been prepared for was how physical archery was. Even standing so close to the target and shooting what I suspected was a kid-strength bow, I could really feel the muscles in my arms, shoulders, and back. Between rounds, I would stretch and massage my muscles, taking pictures to give me an excuse for dawdling on my way back to the line. I’m an Irish dancer—upper body strength is NOT my forte.
While I rested my aching arms, I looked through the plexiglass windows at the people shooting next door on the main range. Most of the lanes were in use, and there was an interesting mix of adults and kids, and of men and women. It was different than the shooting range in Phoenix, which had been more than three-quarters male and 100% adult. Here, families were enjoying a Sunday together, with parents teaching kids how to shoot and both boys and girls getting practice in with their bows.
And, as with rifle shooting, they even had products marketed to girls–pink, of course
A few people were using the same kind of plain bows we were using (recurve bows, they’re called), but others were using the kind of bows that Olympic archers use. Those are recurve bows, too, but they have fancy sights on them (like sniper rifles), as well as a thing like a cane sticking out of the front called a stabilizer.
A bunch of people were using compound bows, which I’d heard about but never seen. Compound bows have pulleys (called cams) at the top and bottom that make it easier to pull the string back, allowing the archer to use a stronger bow than they otherwise could. Multiple cables run between the pulleys, almost parallel to the bowstring, making it look like the bow has three or four different strings. The front of the bow, instead of curving outward, curves inward. All these features make the compound bow look like something from a post-apocalyptic science fiction movie.
Seriously, can’t you see Mad Max using something like this?
For safety, everyone on the main range was standing on the same line, about forty feet away from the targets on the back wall. However, some people were shooting at targets on wheels that they had placed much closer to the line—in fact, one or two were shooting at a target only five feet away. I wondered if that was practice for something specific, like hunting (more on that later).
Gradually, I got better at aiming and firing my bow. I stopped hitting the wall instead of the foam blocks, and usually four out of my five arrows would hit the target. My confidence improved, and I could watch as my arrow left the string and flew toward the block. It was interesting to see that arrows don’t really fly straight; they kind of wobble in the air like a fish tail swimming back and forth.
By the end, I even got a few arrows in the white inner ring. It was a lot of fun.
Woo-hoo! I hit the bullseye!
After an hour, I had a round where two of my arrows hit the inner ring and the other three all hit the blue. That seemed like a sign to stop while I was ahead. My shoulders were protesting and my guard-less fingers felt a little raw. Besides, weren’t we supposed to stop after an hour? I looked around, but the girl didn’t appear to tell us our time was up or anything.
Suddenly, I was starving. Archery is hard work!
We put our bows back on the rack and went out to the front desk. The girl asked if we’d had a good time, and were we sure we didn’t want to keep going? No one seemed too concerned about what time it was or how long we’d been there.
And that wasn’t just at the front desk, either. When we’d finished paying for our range time, we walked over to the café, where a serious-looking woman in her forties or fifties was doing something behind a counter. My sister introduced herself and said that she’d emailed in our food order.
It was quite an order, too. As I mentioned earlier, the café offered several different exotic meats on their online menu, and my sister and I were excited about trying meats that we’d never had before. The café had a sampler platter where you could get fries plus three kinds of meat, but we figured out that it was actually less expensive for us just to order the five meats we were interested in as individual dinners and split them between us (I have no idea why the sampler platter was so much more expensive than the individual dinners). That was going to be way more food than the two of us could eat—especially since each dinner came with two sides—but we decided that we would just box up the extras and eat leftovers for lunch the rest of the week.
Well, it turned out that the online menu was out of date (which I guess shouldn’t have been a surprise, considering that even the address on the website was wrong). Some of the items we had ordered were no longer available, and the cook hadn’t known what we wanted to do about that. So she just hadn’t made anything.
This, I don’t mind confessing, was quite a blow to me. It was after 2:00 p.m. by then, and an hour of driving in the wilderness followed by an hour of archery had left me so hungry that I would have been happy to eat whatever they had ready, no questions asked (Hippo? Sure!). But there didn’t seem to be anything to do except to place our order again and wait to eat until it was ready.
Luckily, we hadn’t looked around the store part of the business yet, so while we waited for our food we walked around and glanced at all the things they had for sale.
This is special feed that you sprinkle in an area where you’re going to be hunting. The deer eat it, and the minerals help them grow bigger antlers–so that you look cooler when you kill the deer the later. I had trouble wrapping my head around this.
It was eye-opening. The store was definitely geared toward bowhunters rather than tournament archers, and they weren’t shy about the fact that hunting involves killing.
Many product names and logos directly alluded to death, either humorously or with a kind of machismo, and overall there was a sense that hunting was not only a natural thing for humans to do, but a way of proving (and celebrating) your virility.
OK–can you explain to me why the GraveDigger Broadhead Chisel Tip arrowheads need a picture of a sexy, mysterious woman with huge cleavage on them?
And not just manly virility, either! A bulletin board near the front door was covered with pictures of members hunting, including about a dozen of a 105-pound woman (who, they said, only drew a 44-pound bow, which I guess is not very powerful) posing with a bunch of different animals she had killed. These ranged from local fauna like deer and antelope to African animals that she must have hunted on some kind of special safari: a wildebeest, for example, and a musk ox. A sign above her collection of pictures mentioned her weight and her draw weight and said, “Think you can’t put an arrow through an animal? Think again!”
The pictures made me feel a little sick. I don’t think I’m going to be adding hunting to my list of adventures. Fishing was hard enough for my soft-hearted self (http://nerdseye.com/2015/09/01/adventure-6-fishing/).
My favorite part of the store was at the back, near the restrooms. Actually, I liked the restrooms, too. They had cute signs on the door:
They had funny toilet seat covers:
And they were all prepared with reading material next to the toilet, just in case you were going to be in there a long time:
But the restrooms weren’t my favorite part. My favorite thing was a display of pink camouflage pajamas, with a sign on top that said “Find Out What Happens When You Get Your Girl Some Camo,” next to a picture of a smiling woman in camo lingerie (wink wink, nudge nudge).
That tickled me by itself, but the back of the display was even better: a selection of padded camo bras and thong underwear, all emblazoned with the range’s logo in pink lettering.
Now I know what my husband can get me for my birthday….
Having “Full Rut” printed on your undies is, um, awkward.
After about forty-five minutes, our lunch was finally ready (although it was rapidly becoming dinner instead). Half the table was covered with the dishes that my sister and I had ordered: frog’s legs, rabbit, alligator, and kangaroo. It looked like we were feeding a party of eight.
Figuring that the breaded and deep-fried frog’s legs wouldn’t taste so good reheated the next day, we ate those first. I’d never had frog’s legs before, so I was interested to find out what they tasted like. I was so hungry, however, that I wolfed down the first two without really tasting them at all.
After that, I was able to slow down a little and notice what I was eating. The frog’s legs had a similar texture to hot wings, but the flavor was much more like whitefish or tilapia. Like hot wings, I liked them best after I’d dipped them in ranch dressing.
When we’d finished the frog’s legs, we divided up the other meat and had a little sample of each, boxing up the rest to take home later.
Rabbit, which is a white meat, has the same kind of texture as chicken but a lighter flavor. It was good. I had my leftovers the next day with some Indian saag.
The alligator ribs were very dry, with not much flavor beyond that of the heavy citrus glaze they’d basted on. I’d had alligator before, but then it was small chunks breaded and deep fried like popcorn shrimp. That had tasted amazing, but pretty much everything tastes good breaded, deep fried, and dunked in sauce.
Kangaroo, interestingly, is red meat, and the serving we had was very much like a steak. The piece we had was medium rare, and the middle part (where it was rarest) was the tastiest. It was delicious. The edges, where it was more well done, were a little tough. Apparently, kangaroo doesn’t have a lot of fat on it, which always means you have to be very careful not to overcook it or it will dry out. Just a little tip in case you ever need to cook a kangaroo.
When lunch was over, we gathered up our takeout boxes and drove home, making it back without incident now that we knew where the place was. It was fun pretending to be Hawkeye from the Avengers for an afternoon, and I enjoyed trying the exotic meats (even though I think I’ll give frog’s legs and alligator ribs a pass next time). My sister really enjoyed it, and she’s thinking of trying it again soon.
If you live in Denver and are thinking about doing something really different for a party, give Full Rut a try. The price is very reasonable, the archery is fun, and the food is good. Just make sure to double check the address before you go.