Eight-year-old Lacee Polsgrove pulls back the neon green string on her black and white compound bow until it touches the tip of her nose. After a breath and a pause, she lets a carbon fiber arrow fly 20 yards across the practice field at Impact Archery in Clovis.
It sinks into the target with a satisfying “thwap.”
The Weldon Elementary student is cute as a button with her blonde hair pulled back into a tight ponytail topped with a red bow, standing a full two feet shorter than the men shooting in the lanes next to her.
But when Lacee extends her bow overhead and stretches the string back for another shot, she’s all business.
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She waits for the man standing next to her to loose his arrow, then she lets her own fly.
“We have her shooting at 20 yards just like the adults,” said her grandfather, Jim Polsgrove, who introduced both Lacee and her sister, Baylee, 6, to archery about nine months ago. “They started at 5 yards, then Lacee moved up to 10 yards. Now she’s at 20.”
At the end of the month, Lacee will join her grandfather at the world’s largest indoor archery competition, The Vegas Shoot, where she will contend with other archers in the under-12 Cub division.
Polsgrove went to the shoot last year just four months after taking up the sport.
“This year is the 50th anniversary of The Vegas Shoot and they anticipate 5,000 shooters from all over the world to come out,” Polsgrove said, noting that some are Olympic-caliber competitors.
The Vegas Shoot, hosted by the National Field Archery Association, will be held Jan. 29-31. Participants compete for cash prizes, or scholarships for the youth classes. Bonuses are given to those who earn perfect scores — 300 — all three days.
Lacee is “excited and nervous” about The Vegas Shoot because she said she is the youngest from Impact Archery to compete there.
“I’m probably not going to get first place,” she said. “But I’m probably going to do good… My goals are to shoot red or better. Hitting red and yellow on the target is the best. I want a high score.”
Polsgrove said the competition is tough.
“There’s going to be shooters there that shoot better than I do in her category,” he explained.
Lacee’s best score at 10 yards is 236, out of a perfect 300. In Las Vegas, she’ll be shooting at 20 yards, Polsgrove said.
There are several classes of archery including bare bow and crossbow. Polsgrove shoots in the freestyle unlimited class using front stabilizers, a target sight and a trigger release.
His bow, a Hoyt Pro Comp Elite, cost him about $3,500 fully-equipped. An adult entry-level bow with a full setup and arrows costs about $500, he said.
Bailee shoots with a Genesis Mini, which runs about $150, while her older sister shoots with a Ruckus Jr.
“Lacee’s outfitted with some professional equipment, including a $500 Axcel Achieve sight. She’s shooting close to a $1,000 setup, including the competition arrows that adults use,” Polsgrove said. “That’s not typical for an 8-year-old.”
But Lacee isn’t a typical 8-year-old.
“(Lacee) has almost a natural, perfect form,” Polsgrove said. “She’s very, very good. At 7 years old she was helping me with instruction for people coming in off the street.”
To get ready for The Vegas Shoot, Polsgrove is trying to get Lacee to practice for about an hour three to five days a week.
“I don’t want her to get too tired, but she needs the repetition,” he said. “The key to archery is to learn to do the same thing over and over again. Your drop point, your stance, (it’s) muscle memory.
“You pull the string back to the very tip of your nose, because if you’ve got everything else lined up, the tip of your nose never changes so you’re going to pull to the exact same place every time.”
While indoor competitions are at the 20-yard length, outdoor competitions simulate the hunting experience with a variety of angles, targets — including paper and three-dimensional — and distances from 3 yards to more than 100 yards, Polsgrove said.
Lacee has shot in one outdoor tournament with her grandfather, organized by local recreational club Fresno Field Archers.
She loved it.
“She has expressed a desire to shoot all of the outdoor tournaments in California with me,” Polsgrove said. “From southern Oregon down to Bakersfield there are half a dozen to a dozen tournaments during the summer. She’ll be going with me to all of the outdoor tournaments this year.”
Lacee also competes in Impact Archery’s youth league, Impact Aces, which Polsgrove heads. He instructs about a dozen children ages 5 to 17 in archery from 5 to 7 p.m. every first and third Saturday of the month.
No equipment is required; Impact Archery provides students with bows and arrows with which to practice. All 14 lanes are open for them to use.
“The most important thing about shooting is to have fun,” Polsgrove said. “Number two is safety. You’re dealing with a potentially dangerous article.”
But children as young as 5 have shot at Impact Archery and “they interact with the adults very naturally,” he said. “It’s a very family-oriented sport.”
Polsgrove, nearing his retirement as a project manager for City of Fresno, decided it was time to take up a few hobbies. He bought an entry level bow at Impact Archery and then upgraded to a target bow. Over the past 14 months he’s purchased nine bows.
“The whole family is equipped now.”
Polsgrove often shoots alongside his son, Justin, his daughter-in-law, Melodie, and his two granddaughters. He typically sees other fathers come in and shoot with their sons and daughters.
Impact Archery staff helps customers choose the right bow for them.
More than 200 shooters come to Impact Archery regularly, estimates manager Andrew Hays. The business is at 1621 Railroad Ave. near Clovis and Barstow avenues.
“They come from all over, from Modesto to Bakersfield,” he said.
Others come in to try it out once or twice as a family outing. Anyone can rent a lane and then use the shop’s equipment.
Another archery shop recently opened up in Fresno called The Spot, but other than that, archery ranges are few and far between, Hays said.
“It’s a very good sport,” Polsgrove said. “The one thing a lot of people get confused about is archery being a bunch of redneck hunters out there. I’m not saying we don’t have hunters in the group, but there is also another facet of it and that’s the target and competitions.”
The sport appeals to both genders; the youth league is made up of about half girls and half boys, Polsgrove said.
“My goal is to promote archery,” he said, noting that he started heading the youth league last summer. “It provides something positive for the kids to do.”
The league also influences the kids to do well in other areas of life.
“If the kids don’t do well in school, they don’t get to shoot,” Polsgrove said. “I’ve walked in and seen kids doing their homework at the front counter because they haven’t finished it. We’re very serious about scholastics.”
Montana Konkle, who is enrolled in Clovis Online School, started shooting after her cousin gave her a bow about three months ago. She’s now enrolled in the youth league.
The 14-year-old practices two hours a day, three to five days a week. She learned quickly and now pulling back her bowstring and releasing an arrow feels natural.
“Having fun is the main thing. If I don’t have fun I’m not going to continue shooting,” she said. “Archery definitely holds my attention.”
But don’t call her Katniss.
The Hunger Games trilogy featuring fictional archer extraordinaire Katniss Everdeen has certainly drawn attention to the sport, but the heroine’s antics are not taken too seriously by those who are serious about the hobby.
“I know it’s been good for the sport in general, that part I like,” Polsgrove said of the character’s popularity. “But realistically, being able to make some of those shots (that Katniss takes) — it would never happen.”
Impact Aces winter youth fun league for ages 5 to 17 will continue through March 19. Competitions are held from 5 to 7 p.m. the first and third Saturday of each month. The cost is $10 per week; equipment is provided. Visit Impact Archery at 1621 Railroad Ave., Suite 101 in Clovis or call (559) 325-2320. Visit the website at www.impact-archery.com.