By Angelee Santillo
First incorporated as a Summer Olympic sport in 1900, archery has had a long history of significance to sportsmen over time, practiced in everything from global combat to hunting for sustenance, and, more recently, recreation. Here in Sullivan County, archery is most popular from October to December, when “bow season” is in effect for licensed hunters to take to the forests of our great state in search of the best big game they can find. For many locals, bowhunting has been a part of life from a very early age, but over in Hurleyville’s neighboring community of Woodbourne, Travis Archery is running a recreational operation that is taking archery as a sport to a whole new level.
On the nicest Sunday afternoon of the year so far, Travis Archery, located on Clark A Road in the Hasbrouck area of Woodbourne, had a full day of classes going on for their winter league. The facilities, on the grounds of the Travis family’s private residence, comprise a retail shop and an indoor shooting gallery where the action takes place. The adult session, which sometimes sees up to 40 participants, had already occurred in the morning, and it was the kids’ turn to shoot at 1PM. Walt Travis, owner and operator, was a friendly and welcoming host as he waited for the kids to arrive and talked a bit about the family business.
The indoor gallery, for one, was as state-of-the-art as backyard recreational facilities get. A sprawling 1,500 square feet, the all-season range is split into five shooting lanes at 20-yards a piece, with built-in containers for arrows at each lane and plenty of hanging mounts on the walls for bows throughout the place. The mounted deer and antlers on the walls added just the right amount of rustic touch, and each piece of equipment hanging next to them looked more high-tech and expensive than the last. This place is the real deal, and as parents started settling into the lounge area behind the shooting lanes, four kids were dedicated enough to give up the one warm winter Sunday they might get all year to practice the sport they love.
It was immediately clear that archery isn’t like the other sports around here. Whereas parents drop kids off at soccer or basketball practice and watch from the sidelines, at Travis Archery’s kids’ league, the family is heavily involved, standing behind the archers and offering words of encouragement as they prepare for the face-off. That is fitting, as Travis Archery has always been a family business.
It began in Liberty with Walt’s father, Howard Jr., who is still involved in the company. About five years ago, the family decided to move the business to Walt’s property in Woodbourne, where they currently operate both the indoor gallery and a retail store. In today’s economic climate for small local businesses, Walt operates Travis Archery as a side gig, as it just wouldn’t be sustainable on its own, but with his full-time job as a corrections officer at the prison in Woodbourne, he’s happy to be able to continue doing what the family loves so much.
As the kids get ready to shoot, this is also apparent in Walt’s daughter, Maggie, who at ten years old entered the gallery with a reserved yet confident manner as she took the left lane and set her arrows into her bow for the first round. It is obvious she’s been doing this for a while, as she hit the bottom right bullseye on a three-target paper dead center on her very first shot of the day. Hey, this is her family’s business, after all. Next to her were Ashli Torres, Amelia Edwards, and Jack Rielly, all lined up to shoot.
For all sessions, it is an individual competition (no teams), where archers shoot 10 rounds of three arrows each for 30 total. A perfect score is a 300, just like in bowling, and all competitors use their own bows and arrows. After each round, Walt Travis, sometimes with the help of the parents, examines the targets to keep score, and a prize is usually awarded at the end. This Sunday, they were shooting for a snazzy Travis Archery t-shirt in patriotic red, white, and blue, and all four kids were incredibly skilled with their bows.
Mary Edwards, mom of archer Amelia, travels all the way from the Sullivan West school district area to shoot every Sunday. “It’s the only place in the county for archery that we know of,” she said, watching her daughter from a distance. “Everyone in our family shoots, and it’s just something we all love to do.”
Ashli Torres, of Liberty, came with her grandfather, Harry Edwards, who stood behind her as she shot, coaching her along the way. At 16, she was the oldest shooter but newest to the sport, although you couldn’t tell from how well she hit the targets.
“She just started shooting this month,” Harry said, looking on proudly as Ashli hit very close to the red. “She got a bow for Christmas, and I read about Travis Archery, so we came here. She likes to bow hunt, so we hope this will be good practice for her.”
That seems to be the case for many of the people who utilize the indoor gallery in the winter. During hunting’s off-season, Walt Travis said many people who shoot indoors do so to keep sharp until bow season comes back around. There are some who simply shoot for sport, but for the many hunters in Sullivan County, their gratitude for a local business like Travis Archery is shown when they bring in photos of big kills they’ve gotten with bows purchased at their little retail shop, or thanks to the precision and skill they’ve attained while having a place to practice all winter.
“You’re their best friend when they get a deer, and they blame the bow when they don’t,” Walt teased while scoring a round. “But we do it because it’s our hobby.”
As the rounds came to a close, also impressive was Jack Rielly, a 7-year-old with a killer shot who wielded his bow like a pro. Jack’s dad was with him as he shot, giving him solid advice and constructive criticism as he launched his arrows down the lane. Shooting since he was just three years old, Jack, like many kids in the Sunday morning class, hopes to improve to eventually bow hunt in the wild when he’s of age.
On Sunday, the kids were shooting for a t-shirt, but in the adult league, the Travis family has been known to be quite generous with the prizes they’ve awarded to the top archers of the season, handing out trophies and plaques to commemorate their accomplishments. They even gave out a $550 bow one year, and judging by the caliber of product they have in their basement retail shop, it was surely top-of-the-line.
The truly special thing about Travis Archery is the spirit of tradition that rings throughout the property. Father Howard Jr., pinning tiny inflated balloons up on all the targets, ended the Sunday session with a game they’ve been playing for years.
“We used to have a range in the basement of Ideal Food in Liberty,” he reminisced, smiling as he recalled the memory. “There was a time when no one was hitting any targets on paper, so I hung some balloons and offered a dollar for every one popped. All of a sudden, you heard pops everywhere!”
Things really do not change. Once the balloons were hung and dollar bills were on the line, the kids started shooting with amazing precision, and the place sounded like bubble wrap being stepped on. The money made the kids smile, but it was surely the love for the sport of archery that brought them back every week.
As Ashli, who is likely to move up to the adult league very soon, said best, “I just love the adrenaline rush you get when you shoot well.”
Travis Archery is located on Clark A Road in Woodbourne, just 10 minutes outside of Hurleyville. It is a friendly neighborhood business that welcomes shooters of all levels and has high-quality equipment available for purchase at their retail store, open from 4-9 on weekdays and 9-9 on weekends. It’s never too late to join in on the winter league, which also shoots on Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday nights, or to call up for a private session at the indoor gallery at (845) 443-3068.