Can’t wait for hunting season to start? Archery is the latest trend to get you out in the field and keep you sharp. Plus, you can take the whole family. Archery is safe and surprisingly affordable, and at the newly constructed 28-station course and five-target practice range at Hartford Beach State Park you can shoot at a course designed to host state and national tournaments.
With the rising cost of ammunition and the difficulty of even finding it, Mark Veen, owner of Bent Arrow Archery and Range ProShop, says many people are turning to archery. It’s getting so popular, he says, “you could attend an archery shoot within 150 miles of Milbank every weekend.”
The new range at Hartford Beach was his brainchild, and he considered taking on the project alone, but after word got around, other people got excited about it, too. Veen decided the project could only improve with more input and assistance. The course that resulted exceeded his expectations and presents new opportunities for the area. It meets all South Dakota and National Field Archery Association (NFAA) safety guidelines and is eligible to host state and national tournaments.
Veen says the project took about a year and a half from start to finish and was only possible because of the amazing volunteers. “They performed so much of the work. The park staff assisted, too, but the volunteers put in a ton of time.”
Veen says the planning and designing took a big chunk of that time — about a year. He took on many of those responsibilities. “One of the biggest challenges was determining where the existing trails were at the park and designing the course so the park trails are safely out of the line of fire.”
If you aren’t familiar with this type of archery, imagine it as a cross between hunting and golf. The range consists of 28 courses and you can shoot the first 14, the second 14, or go for all 28. The 28 stations vary from 15 feet to 80 yards, and they wind through about a mile and a half of trails.
“If you have a South Dakota State Park pass you are set,” Veen says. “You can come out and shoot whenever you like.”
The course is set up to take about three hours to complete, but archers are welcome to spend an hour or the whole day shooting and practicing. Veen says, “If your interest is only hunting, the range is great place for you. Come out and practice shooting at the bales marked with animal silhouettes. Currently, there are pink stakes that give shooters their distances at 10, 20, 30, 40, and 50 yards.”
All ages are welcome, but children under 16 require a parent to directly supervise them. Veen says the typical age group for archery is 20 to 50, but he offers private and group lessons for beginners to advanced shooters, and his students range from six years old to 80.
And, when he says the course is open to everyone, he means it. “If you have physical challenges, you can still shoot this course,” he says with confidence. ”It is designed to be handicapped accessible.” Veen, who hopped off the golf cart he often uses to get around, says a wheelchair needs even less room to navigate.
Veen also created a local league that takes advantage of the course on Monday evenings. The cost is just $10 per week and members are free to pick and choose the weeks they want to pay to participate. Half of that money goes back to the park. Veen also donates half of the money he collects from all of the leagues at Bent Arrow to the state parks.
He says the range at Hartford Beach is still in need of funding for upgrades. Things on their wish list include: installing toilets, pouring concrete underfoot and placing canopies at the practice range, and adding picnic tables behind the shooting area. He reminds everyone there is an option to earmark a donation to the state parks so the money goes directly to the Hartford Beach Archery Range and Course.
Veen laments he doesn’t have more time to use the course himself. Much of the time he spends there, he is leading the league, putting up targets, or trimming trails. He says when the foliage gets overgrown on the trails, he trims it back. It’s a job he’s happy to do if it means archers will have a clearer line of sight.
The course is also designed to take advantage of the natural light. Each station offers a different perspective depending on the time of day. The light is always shifting and one minute the target is in the sun and the next minute it’s in the shade. “That makes it especially interesting if you are shooting in a competition,” Veen says. “I have competed in national tournaments that use the same format as the Hartford Beach course and learning how to work with the light is a challenge and a fun aspect of the sport.”
Veen also stays busy at the Bent Arrow ProShop. He has been a hunter all his life and involved in target archery for over 20 years, and says he has seen big changes in the technology used in manufacturing bows. “They have come a long way. It’s impressive when you think how years ago, you would never have considered shooting out to 80 yards. Now, it’s easy! And, by spending just a short amount of time, you can become fairly proficient.”
“Lately, archery hunters are switching out of the 3D targets to paper targets because it is less of an investment,” he says. And, although many pro shops and retailers are still fighting to obtain supplies for hunters because certain states were shut down and many items were not being made or were not being shipped in from overseas, Bent Arrow is fully stocked. Veen says, “We are a certified dealer for several major companies and have plenty of merchandise for all your needs.”
You can often find him at Bent Arrow putting strings on bows. “That,” he says, “is the most common thing that wears out on a bow.”
Does he have a favorite bow? “I usually use three bows each year,” he says. “This year for hunting, it’s the new Hoyt 2021 model.” He’s added sight marks all the way out to 100 and will use the new 4mm skinny carbon arrows from Easton.
If you are in the market for a bow, Veen says there’s a mountain of options — everything from a recurve to a basic compound and all the way up to a target bow. He again marvels at the new technology and how much lighter the aluminum and carbon bows have become.
“Bows can get expensive as well as extensive, but there’s something for every age and every price range,” Veen says. The perfect combination exists for anyone who wants to take the plunge and get started.
Many people are discovering archery is a fun way to improve their hand-eye coordination and build strength. It’s also a pretty good bargain when you consider it encourages patience, focus, and confidence in children, teens, and adults. Others find it’s a unique way to socialize and relax. The famed bow manufacturer Fred Bear was quoted as saying, “Nothing clears a troubled mind better than shooting a bow.”
The Hartford Beach practice range will remain open year round. The course will close on October 1 while hunting season is open in the park. It will reopen May 1.
To drive to the course take Highway 15 and follow the signs to Hartford Beach State Park. Additional signs guide you to the archery range. Enter and exit the course using the marked trails.
Better yet, first stop at Bent Arrow Archery and ProShop in Milbank. Veen can not only aim you in the right direction, he can explain everything you need to know about trying out the new range. Questions? He’s got the answers. If it’s equipment you want, he can fix you up and save you money.