Although the start of archery season is still a month away, there is still plenty of opportunity to do a little bowhunting right now.
The Hazleton Archery Club, which is actually located in Freeland, has 26 acres open for hunting, seven days a week.
But instead of pursuing deer, the main quarry at the club are 3D targets.
Thirty of them.
With the Oct. 5 opener of archery season weeks ago, the club becomes a busy place during September as hunters fine-tune their bows and hunting skills on the 3D course. Club president Bob “Ski” Bugaiski said the course was designed to not only hone shooting skills for those who use a bow or crossbow, but the 3D targets were situated in a wooded area to simulate hunting conditions.
“When you’re on the course, you’re putting yourself in an exact hunting setting and shooting at a target that is the exact size of that animal,” he said. “It’s a hunting setup.”
The course includes life-size replicas of deer, elk, moose, turkey and antelope, to name a few, and even features of couple of locations where shooting is done from a 12-foot high platform that can accommodate five people.
Bugaiski said the platforms simulate shooting from a treestand, an important aspect for an archery hunter who is preparing for the season.
“You shoot down from the platform so you’re getting used to shooting at the same angle you would from a treestand,” he said. “You’re also learning to judge distance, as with the case with all of our targets. The distances aren’t marked so you have to judge, just like when you do when a deer is in front of your stand.”
The club also offers a practice range for archers to sight in their bows before they head out onto the 3D course. Club director Leo McHugh said practice range is also used by hunters to sight in their crossbows, which are also welcome on the 3D course.
McHugh said crossbows were allowed at the club once the Pennsylvania Game Commission approved their use for hunting several years ago.
“This is an archery club, and since they’re legal now we encourage it,” said McHugh, adding he hunts with a crossbow. “It’s a good place to sight in a crossbow because we have targets up to 60 yards. A lot of people in town can’t do that in their backyards.”
The club started putting out 3D targets in the late 1980s and at one time the course consisted of 40 targets. Bugaiski said it was cut back to 30 because it took a lot of time to go through a 40-target course and more and more people were turning out to shoot.
While 3D targets have become a great way for hunters to practice for archery season, Bugaiski said they have changed the sport of archery. Years ago, he said, many of the club members weren’t necessarily hunters but simply archers who loved the sport. They competed in leagues and target competitions and at one time the club’s league had 60 shooters.
Today, he said, most of the club members along with those who shoot at the facility are hunters interested in practicing rather than competitive shooting.
“When archery was a sport, we had a lot more people and groups coming out,” Bugaiski said. “People still come here, but there isn’t the amount of leagues that there used to be. That went to the wayside when 3D came in, and now the focus is more on hunting.”
Bugaiski and McHugh themselves are avid archery hunters and are still happy to see the club serve the needs of those who prefer hunting with a bow.
In fact, hunting is what attracted Bugaiski to archery in the first place.
“It’s a good season with the pleasant weather, plenty of time to hunt and the deer are moving,” he said. “Years ago I was hunting deer with a rifle and saw another hunter fire a shot from his hip at a deer. After I saw that I went home, put my rifle in the case and didn’t hunt for 10 years until I discovered archery.”