Taking slow food to a whole new level
Owners Ian Garner and Erica Gregory at their downtown
Santa Cruz archery range, Archery Santa Cruz
By Andrea Riordan
Photography by Michelle Magdalena
I got into archery through yoga. Fifteen years ago, in the middle of a warrior pose, the teacher explained that the intent was to emulate soldiers from ancient India; our aim was to fix our eyes beyond our outstretched arms and just beyond our fingertips, finding the precision of the the archer. Archery and yoga both ask the practitioner to create a perfect suspension between push and pull, so much so that time and the human experience seem suspended for a moment. It’s a powerful thing.
Archery has a long history in recreation and warfare—and it has an even longer history in hunting.
The Pomo Indians of California almost exclusively caught their prey with archery. Today, there are between 150,000 and 300,000 bow hunters in California, according to Wayne Raupe, president of the California Bowmen Hunters/State Archery Association, although it’s hard to know the exact number since California at present doesn’t require a specific bow hunting license, only a generic hunting license.
Bow hunting is more than a sport; it is a lifestyle that takes the idea of slow food to a whole new level. Practitioners don’t just know where their meat comes from, they choose it—mostly wild boar, turkeys and deer here on the Central Coast—and harvest it themselves.
The hunters I spoke with in the area all say it takes a great deal of time and commitment to successfully hunt with a bow. For some would-be hunters, that rigor makes the idea of bow hunting seem like a fantasy. But the challenge it presents is precisely what inspires and even obsesses many others. Indeed, bow hunting and archery are very much alive on the Central Coast, and there lots of ways for even the greenest of novices to become proficient.
It’s like you’ve found one
of Santa Cruz’s best kept secrets
and instead of pretense, only good,
old-fashioned fun is happening inside.
First things first: You want to start with target practice. A lot of target shooters never go on to hunt with a bow, but if you dream of taking down your own prey, you have to be an excellent shot.
As Cody Dumont, an artisanal bow maker and owner of Tenbrook Archery in Santa Cruz says, “If you can’t make a humane kill, you shouldn’t be hunting. It can take years to get good enough to go out and hunt.”
Dumont means that you have to be able to make a fatal hit to the heart or the lungs; either target is no bigger than a softball and a moving one at that. Luckily, the target ranges here are friendly and accessible, so getting started is easy, and once the first arrow is loosed, it’s hard to stop practicing.
Archery Santa Cruz has been teaching private archery lessons since 2014 and earlier this year opened a short-distance archery range on Walnut Avenue in downtown Santa Cruz.
Owners Ian Garner and Erica Gregory have an infectious love of the sport that you can feel as soon as you walk into their little sun-filled range next to the Social Security building. It’s like you’ve found one of Santa Cruz’s best kept secrets and instead of pretense, only good, old-fashioned fun is happening inside.
But make no mistake: Form, safety and a positive attitude are paramount here, and both Gregory and Garner, who met and fell in love through archery, are certified USA Archery instructors. They offer different sizes of fiberglass bows and lots of arrows to practice with. Garner also makes bow strings by hand, and if you or your child needs a new string, he’ll let you choose the colors.
If you’ve decided you’re ready to take your archery to the next level, you might want to buy your own bow and some arrows. It’s the norm to buy a fiberglass recurve bow when you’re first starting out, and those are available from several archery shops around the tri-county region. (See listing at right.) But there’s nothing like having a locally made, personalized piece of archery equipment that performs flawlessly.
For a gorgeous, handmade “traditional” longbow or recurve bow, Tenbrook Archery’s Dumont makes custom pieces for people worldwide, both for target archery and bow hunting. Lined together like the ribs of a resting beast, the wooden bows gleam richly in the sunshine of his Westside studio.
Dumont also teaches bow-making workshops a few times a year out of his studio. For $250 you can shape your own bamboo and ipé bow, make some arrows with turkey feather fletching and meet some affable characters in a beautiful spot. Dumont’s portly beagle will probably steal the donut you’ve set aside to split your turkey quill, but it’s part of the charm.
For the whole archery experience, Santa Cruz Archers, a club affiliated with the National Field Archery Association, runs an indoor and outdoor archery range in a somewhat hidden part of Santa Cruz’s DeLaveaga Park.
Club president Andy Sterbenz, a quiet and perceptive fellow who has been shooting for 16 years, enjoys the camaraderie and integrity of the folks at the range.
“No one’s ever going to say, ‘Hey, you’re doing that wrong!’ Instead, they’ll come over and help you figure out what’s not quite working, give you some pointers and help you shoot better and safer. That’s what it’s all about.”
Becoming a member takes a few steps, including finding a sponsor and paying a $100 fee. But after that you can attend special events, shoot at the indoor and outdoor ranges year round and enjoy plenty of other perks, not the least being the ability to enjoy the beauty of Santa Cruz County’s forests while honing new skills and making new friends.
If hunting is your ultimate aim, you’ll need to obtain a California hunting license, for which a hunting safety class is required. (Like any form of hunting, this is a dangerous sport, and focusing on safety is of utmost importance.)
The state also offers a bow hunting education course and is considering making it a requirement before going into the field.
Finding a place to hunt is the next challenge, but the U.S. Bureau of Land Management allows some of its land to be used for hunting, and the California Department of Fish and Wildlife has updated information on when and where bow hunting is allowed. Some hunters use a friend’s private land, and it’s also very common to use a rancher’s property.
Guided hunt operations are also a good way to navigate the maze of restrictions and land boundaries in the region; the guides, some of whom have been leading hunts for 30 years, have agreements with various ranchers to use their land.
There is a lot to learn, and the CDFW’s Lt. Alan Gregory holds regular advanced hunting workshops in our region, such as one-day wild pig hunting clinics, which include all of the above-mentioned topics, plus how to process your kill and other information you’ll need to know.
Back at Archery Santa Cruz, co-owner and instructor Erica Gregory says for her, archery was “love at first shoot.” She describes the attraction coming from the sport’s combination of solitary and communal aspects, as well as the ever-satisfying whisper and hit of an arrow that has struck its target.
A warm, intuitive and precise teacher, she helps you align your body in a single constellation of connections that are released through an arrow.
You’ve hit your mark and you realize that you can focus in a whole new way. Gregory high fives you.
It’s addictive, and it’s only the beginning. Andrea Riordan is a Santa Cruz-based food politics writer and teacher. Her first love is poetry.
The following resources will help you get started, whether you plan to take up archery only or bow hunting as well.
INFORMATION ON LICENSING, REGULATIONS AND HUNTER SAFETY CLASSES:
California Department of Fish and Wildlife
Mt. Madonna Bowmen
Santa Cruz Archers
ARCHERY GEAR PURVEYORS AND TARGET RANGES:
Archery Santa Cruz
Jim Cox Archery Shop
Bryson Hesperia Resort