By Karen Zautyk
With the release of the movies “Hunger Games,” “The Avengers” and “Brave” – all of them featuring archery of some sort – the sport has soared in popularity, especially among young folk.
You can add to the list of archers some 30 N.J. children, ages five to 18, who have now learned the necessary skills to gain proficiency with a bow and arrow. And their teacher is a 78-year-old Kearny man, Joe Caruso.
Caruso, who teaches at Targeteers Sporting Goods on Route 46 in Saddle Brook, last month conducted a four-day archery “camp” at the store. It was the second of the summer and was filled to capacity.
The program was launched four years ago, but, Caruso noted, because of the movies, “a lot of kids are becoming more involved.”
“The sport has exploded,” he said.
When we expressed surprise that a 5-year-old could take up archery, Caruso said, “As long as he or she can pull a bow, we can teach them.”
With the help of two twenty something archers, Kaitlyn and Damian, Caruso taught his students “everything from soup to nuts” about the sport. That includes how to construct their own equipment, how to make a bow string, how to put a bow together. But “the first thing they learn is safety,” he said, “because it is a weapon.”
For instance, they were taught that “you don’t knock an arrow (put one on the string) unless you’re shooting at a target and there is no one in front of you,” Caruso explained.
And if they decide to take up hunting, “you don’t take a shot unless you know you can harvest the animal.” He explained that hunting with bow-and-arrow is more humane than with a gun because the skilled archer never needs more than one shot and the animal dies “within a minute.”
Anti-hunting readers, be advised that the camp was target-shooting only. The youngsters were not out in the woods harvesting bunny rabbits, okay?
Caruso, however, has been hunting – always and only with bow-and-arrow – since 1960 and has been previously profiled in these pages for his extensive travels, taking game in 31 states and Canada. All said game hunted was food.
Caruso emphasizes “responsibility and ethics” in his classes, along with “discipline” and “good, clean competition.” The students, though, “compete against themselves,” not against each other.
“You know you’re teaching them properly,” Caruso said, “when the child is not interested in hitting the target; he or she is interested in how to shoot a bow properly. “If you concentrate on the target only, you can’t concentrate on the skills to make it happen.”
Those interested in furthering their skills can participate in a children’s league at Targeteers.
Footnote: Awhile back, we were driving past the archery range at the foot of Bergen Avenue in Kearny when we noticed a fairly large deer standing stock-still near the riverbank. It didn’t move, even though two men were shooting arrows at it.
“Golly,” we thought.
It took a bit of time to comprehend that the thing was a dummy deer (but less of a dummy than the person who thought it was real).
We have since found out that one of the archers was Caruso, who told us we could get a similar deer at Targeteers.
We are thinking of installing one on our patio.