More than three dozen Chickasaw youth learned the fundamentals of an essential part of Chickasaw culture during Chickasaw Nation Traditional Archery Camp, conducted this summer at the Stratford Sportsman Club in rural Garvin County.
Traditional archery skills have been passed down for centuries, and the camp provided an opportunity for Chickasaw youth to learn the ancient sport from seasoned pros, Chickasaw Nation Youth Athletics Manager Tyler Sprabery said.
Sprabery, who also serves as Sportsman Club secretary, said club members were thrilled to introduce students to traditional archery. While Sprabery offered use of the 40-acre club at no charge, the Chickasaw Nation made a donation to support club operations.
“They (club members) are big in getting children involved (in the sport). Our youth class is always the smallest and that is who is going to take over the range, eventually, ”he said.
Traditional archery is the simplest form of archery, using a stick and string, and either a longbow or recurve bow.
Camp participants received a recurve bow, arrows, quiver, armguard and tab. They were taught how to use the gear, instructed on basic shooting techniques, and learned safety tips. But the main objective, Sprabery said, was to offer an enjoyable, outdoor experience.
Two expert archers, Richard Mulligan and Ben Aguirre, led the camp with the help of Mr. Sprabery.
Mr. Aguirre, a club member who lives in Mustang, Oklahoma, said, “Traditional archery is more like a lifestyle which is based on mentoring and collaboration. It just goes hand-in-hand with the opportunity to teach children the sport and help the sport continue to live on. I felt like it was my obligation and I was honored to do it when Tyler reached out to me and asked if I was interested. I jumped at the opportunity. ”
Working with young people keeps a person youthful, he said. “And there is the fulfillment that you are passing the torch on.”
Stratford Sportsman’s Club is home to many exceptional archers, Mr. Aguirre said.
“There are about four to five perennial world champions, as well as some up-and-comers. I am honored to say I am a member of that club. ”
The club hosts two major events annually, the Oklahoma State Longbow Championship and the South Central Blowout. Archers from Oklahoma, Kansas, Texas, Arkansas and New Mexico trek to the Stratford Sportsman Club to compete.
Mr. Aguirre recalled a story about when he purchased his first longbow and made his first visit to the club. He arrived about closing time, but a group of archers welcomed him, walked the course with him and offered some tips.
Among the men was a tall, older gentleman who turned to Mr. Aguirre and asked, “Is that my bow?” It turned out the longbow Mr. Aguirre purchased on a whim at a Prague pawn shop was crafted by this man, GW Flanagan.
“I didn’t know it at the time but his bows have been responsible for winning multiple world championships,” Mr. Aguirre said.
Chickasaw Shiloh Butts and Ryan Ramsey, both world title holders, were also part of the archery group present on Mr. Aguirre’s first visit.
“They were willing to work with me. It told me those folks don’t look at championships as much as they do being involved in traditional archery and just mentoring, ”he said.
“Everyone is on their own journey in archery, some folks are just beginning, some folks have been in it a long time, and (archery camp) was an opportunity to help children embark on their journey.”
Twin Chickasaw girls mentored by Mr. Aguirre, Ralee and Rylan Collins, of Latta, said they enjoyed their time at archery camp and are now looking forward to joining their mother, Rachael, in bow hunting this deer season.
The 8-year-old girls have a compound bow, but this was the first time they shot a traditional bow.
Aiming for the three-dimensional targets was Ralee’s favorite part of the camp.
“There was a turkey, a dinosaur, a lion, a buffalo and a bear,” she said, adding she hopes to attend next year’s archery camp. “Next time we’re going to bring our brother,” she said.
Rylan enjoyed the competition at the end of the camp. A competition for the best archer at the camp concluded the day. Best male and best female archers were honored.
They both agree attending archery camp was much more fun than playing a video game.
Chickasaw grandfather Terry Barnes, Norman, brought his grandson, Bennett, who lives in Oklahoma City to camp.
“We were totally blown away by the organization and by the people running the camp,” said Mr. Barnes. “Ben and Richard were phenomenal. It was a first-rate operation. I was amazed at how many World Champions were part of the club. ”
Mr. Barnes said Bennett, 10, already owned a bow before attending the camp, but the experience motivated and inspired him to keep practicing.
Stratford Sportsman Club is located about 9 miles south of Longmire Lake east of Pauls Valley.
For more information about the Stratford Sportsman Club call (580) 759-6719.