The Legend of Harry Pennypacker.

Ok, perhaps Harry was only a legend to us but he taught my friend and I many important and valuable lessons. So important was our day with Harry that his name comes up often in our reminiscing of our youth. It was a beautiful summer day in upstate NY. My high school friend Steve and I had agreed to attend an archery tournament in a nearby town. We were young and feeling our oats, we routinely finished in the top 3 of our own clubs competitive events so we were feeling a bit cocky and ready to flex our competitive muscles. Our club was laser focused on hunting so most of our targets were 3D and set between 10 and 35 yards. None the less, in our ignorant bliss, we were certain of our archery accuracy and expertise. We finished a wonderful breakfast at the local greasy spoon called “Manos”. With a great meal in our bellies we were ready to take on the world. We hit the road and arrived at our destination ready for competition.

During the check in process we were asked if we had ever shot an NFAA event before. I don’t remember the specifics about our answer but I’m sure we said something along the lines of “What’s NFAA?”. The check-in person must have felt a bit sorry for us and said that they would need to pair us with an experienced NFAA shooter. That was fine with us the more people who witnessed our expertise the better. There was an older gentleman loitering in the clubhouse yucking it up with the other locals and generally making a nuisance of himself, pretty much like I do now when I’m at a shoot. The check-in lady yelled “Hey Harry these guys have never shot an NFAA round could you shoot around with them and explain the rules and such…” With great delight Harry scrambled over to us and shook our hands and made introductions. He was a pleasant chap and seemed eager to help us out. We grabbed our equipment and met back up at the clubhouse.

It was immediately evident that Harry did not subscribe to the old adage “Better archery through aggressive spending” He obviously much preferred “If it ain’t broken don’t fix it” His bow was probably 5 to 7 years old with a DIY camo paint job that was clearly done by his 3 year old. The plastic grip was held on by copious amounts of black electrical tape, so much tape in fact, we thought perhaps he didn’t know how to cut it so he just decided to use the whole role. The string was all frayed and looked like something even the most frugal archer would normally change. I believe he had rubber bands tied to the string as silencers. He had a stabilizer and as best as I can remember it was threaded rod and a stack of washers. His sight was a piece of bent metal with slots in it. The thing seemed littered with pins a total of 5 in all. His arrow rest was equally unimpressive it had the huge ball of what can only be described as hardened goo of some sort and a piece of plastic sticking out of it. Steve never one to mince words said what do you have stuck onto your bow there? Harry proceeded to explain how he had fashioned the rest out of a cow’s ear tag and some epoxy resin he had laying around. In general Harry’s bow was a wreck. Not wanting to go into any more specifics about the condition of Harry’s equipment me thought it best that we just proceed to the range and show Harry how this archery thing was really supposed to be done.

As we stepped to the first target it became evident to Steve and I that we weren’t in Kansas anymore. The first target was at 50 yards, we’d never even considered shooting that far. Steve looked at the only 2 pins he had on his bow, 20 and 30 yards, and started to scratch his head a bit. I was a bit more prepared because I had a 40 yard pin too. I had the forty so it was easier to hit that super long 35 yard shot our club employed. Harry proceeded to explain that NFAA had a whole bunch of longer shots including a walk up that was 80 yards. Despite our bravado, we exclaimed “Holy crap 80 yards Harry you can’t possibly be serious”? Harry chuckled a bit and smiled at us and said yes dead serious. Harry obviously not fixated on equipment finally got around to taking a look at our bows. He asked, what was probably an obvious question to him, “What happened to all your other sight pins?” We explained again that we hadn’t a clue about NFAA and that our experience with 3D shoots was drastically different and 2 pins was plenty. Despite Harry’s skepticism we assured him we would be OK and we agreed to crack on. Harry proceeded to put all 4 arrows in the center of the 50 yard target while we struggle to keep them in the second ring. We were both thinking, man that Harry was lucky!

The next target was measured in feet, it seemed we were practically standing on top of it. Harry was kind enough to explain to us that we would likely need to aim high in order to hit them. Obviously Harry had fallen of the deep end everyone knows that a closer target requires you to put the pin lower on the target, right? Well we quickly realized Harry may have been right but since it was a walk up it made it difficult for us to wrap our heads around the idea that the closer we were the higher we needed to aim. We somehow managed to score some points but you guessed it, all 4 of Harry’s arrows were in the exact center of the bullseye. Man that Harry is one lucky archer!

After about the 4th target Steve and I had given up on any idea that we processed any real archery talent. That insanely lucky Harry had yet to miss, we realized luck had very little to do with Harry’s success. We were pumping Harry for every last bit of knowledge he was willing to offer. He explained about elevation and how that affected the shot. He explained how we could use the gap between our pins to stack up the distances so we could estimate how high we would need to aim. We talked about how a crooked tree in your sight picture may cause you to cant your bow. He was a veritable treasure trove of information that we gleefully gobbled up. We had completely forgotten about Harry’s equipment deficiencies and were just marveling at how effortlessly he seemed to hit what appeared to us like nearly impossible target distances. I’m sure Harry did miss a couple of shots that day but that’s not how Steve and I remember it. Harry will forever and always be remembered as the legendary enigma that shot impossibly good scores with what was the equivalent of landfill rejects.

We never saw Harry again and that was probably best it would have only served to undermine our high opinion of him. Harry taught us many valuable lessons. Archery isn’t about stroking your ego or being better than everyone else. It isn’t about having the best equipment to shoot your best. It’s about being the best you can be and always be prepared and open minded enough to learn something new. Especially from those who on the face of it appear to be ill prepared to offer you guidance. Here’s a novel idea, perhaps you should sign up for a Bowhunters Education course, There are plenty of things the instructors can offer and as an instructor I know I expect to learn something new from you too. Class schedules and details to sign up can be found on the WDFW website. Who knows while attending the class you may meet your equivalent to “The legend of Harry Pennypacker”.