With eyes narrowed and his bow drawn, 8-year-old Eli focuses his concentration to the center circle of a target just down range. With the quick release of his first three fingers his arrow shoots; its fluorescent green fletching is but a blur, cutting through the air in a gentle arch. The calm silence of his serene surroundings is briefly interrupted by a dull “thwack” as he meets his mark. His father, Scott, and his great-grandfather, Vernon Sr., join him at the shooting line while his grandmother, Pam, and stepmom, Olivia, encourage him from behind. A shared hobby, archery is a cornerstone of the Peabody Family and their gathering place is at the Agawam Bowmen’s Club.
Just off the main drag of Route 57, a long gravel driveway meanders it’s way back to the oldest archery-only club in Western Massachusetts. Founded by William Chiba, a local sportsman and U.S. mailman, the club began in 1961 and continues to promote not only family archery, but also education in the art of the sport.
Dave Jackson, the club’s president, says that the Peabody’s are just one unit of the 40-member club that you’ll find enjoying the peaceful grounds.
“There are generations of members here,” shares Dave. “Families come here – sometimes campout or bring picnic baskets – a lot of fun has happened here.”
With neighbors like the Metacomet-Monadnock Trail and Calabrese Farms, the over 50-acre property is incredibly tranquil. The facility includes two rustic buildings, lighted practice-range, a 30-target archery course and plenty of hiking trails. A playscape, deep fire pit and scattered picnic tables signify that this is a place enjoyed by many.
In association with the Pioneer Valley Bowhunters League, the club hosts a series of 3-D shoots, a type of competitive field archery. 30 life-size foam targets – designed to replicate everything from game animals to aliens – are strategically set up at various distances through the woods. Archers move from station to station, taking a shot at each target. Natural obstacles, uneven terrain and even moving shadows create different challenges throughout the course, and various start points are created to accommodate different skill levels. Scorecards are kept – similar to golf – tallied by hitting various scoring rings. The highest score wins and the prize is typically bragging rights. Many who participate are members of various clubs in the league, but not a requirement. The $10 entry fee serves as a monthly fundraiser for the non-profit club and allows participants of all ages and skill level to enjoy the natural landscape. In October members host a “Zombie Shoot,” similar to the 3-D shoot, but with targets replicating monsters and apocalyptic animals.
“People who shoot at clubs all over Western Mass always comment on how beautiful our course is; it’s heavily wooded, has targets along the brook and is just really pretty,” says Dave. “It’s absolutely gorgeous, just a very pretty facility.”
Their Annual Pig Roast on August 19 serves as the club’s largest fundraiser. With an open invitation to the public the event invites the community to come out, eat good food, win prizes and try out a new hobby. The summer party is the opportunity for newcomers to shoot on an open range with a certified instructor and with equipment provided by the club.
Dave says each event is designed to further their mission of promoting family archery, but also a necessary component of sustaining a supply of archery equipment, expanding recreation opportunities, and facility maintenance and upgrades. Currently their biggest undertaking is making improvements to an existing clubhouse, which includes interior and exterior work, and a new septic system. Each project is designed to serve current members, attract new participants and create the opportunity for facility rentals.
Under a natural canopy of mixed hardwoods and pines, the club is a beautiful natural retreat. While there are many benefits of archery – like improved focus, control, hand-eye coordination and balance – it’s also an incredibly social sport that can be enjoyed by all. The Peabodys and most members treat the space as a place to enjoy the sport as a family, but is also the opportunity to enjoy being in the woods together.
“My grandkids just love it here – we all do – it’s very calming,” says Pam who serves as the club’s secretary. “I love shooting; we all enjoy it. We come up here all the time as a family, we love the club and want to see it improved and working. We want everyone to know it’s kid friendly and family oriented and look forward to inviting more families to join.”
“We live right down the road in Agawam, if it’s been a long day we come up here and take a walk or just hang out,” says Olivia. “It always relaxes me, especially after a long week of work. We’ll have a fire, do a cookout and just let the kids and run around without worrying. It’s the perfect place to get the family together.”
The Agawam Bowmen’s Club doesn’t bring just archers’ together, but family and friends. For the Peabodys it’s the opportunity to build meaningful memories and shows they have a lot more in common that just their last name. In this family, no one is on the sidelines.
“I love the camaraderie here, we’re like one big family. We all get along great, are friendly with one another and have fun,” says Pam as she watches Eli take aim once again. “I’m in it for the club and being part of an organization with a common interest that includes the younger generation, that’s what it’s all about.”
To learn more about membership, upcoming events, would like to come out and shoot or see the property, visit agawambowmen.org or email firstname.lastname@example.org. The club is located at 309 Feeding Hills Road in Southwick, MA. For updates on the Annual Pig Roast and other events, visit facebook.com/AgawamBowmenClub