BY SHERRY D. RAMSEY
Zip! Boing! Thunk!
Hear those sounds? No, you’re not in the middle of a comic book fight scene. You’re learning archery at Highland Bow & Arrow, under the instruction and guidance of owner and operator Jay Rawding.
Look left just after you pass Cal’s Restaurant on the Cabot Trail in Skir Dhu, and you can’t miss it: the tall lettering on the sign says SHOOT ARROWS. Located in an otherwise empty quarry, Highland Bow & Arrow is the perfect place to do just that. Wide open and accessible, the archery range can accommodate individuals, small or large groups. We went with eight and found plenty of room, equipment, and targets for all of us to shoot comfortably.
There’s a safe spot for bystanders to watch the fun as well. Although drop-ins are more than welcome, Jay does recommend calling ahead if you’re planning on arriving with a group of five or more. You can get in touch quickly through their Facebook page.
After opening on June 2 of this year, Jay has hosted more than 200 archers on the site, about 98% of whom are new to the sport. Her clientele has come from all over Cape Breton Island, as well as from the U.S. and as far away as Switzerland and Germany.
One pleasant surprise has been the interest from groups, like bachelor and bachelorette parties. “It’s a very safe sport,” Jay tells me. “It’s actually three times safer than golf!” Jay is a conscientious and safety-conscious host, explaining the simple rules we’ll follow to make sure everyone has a fun and safe adventure. She also guides us as we practice, offering gentle tips on form and technique so we can all hear that satisfying thunk as the arrow strikes the target—hopefully somewhere close to where we intended.
An hour of archery, including an introduction to equipment, instruction and guidance, and at least thirty minutes of shooting practice with unlimited arrows, runs $30 + tax for adults, and $15 + tax for children 5 – 12. If you don’t have an hour to spend, you can still drop in for a bit of guidance and a few minutes of shooting for the price of a donation to Autism Nova Scotia. Jay recommends archery as an autism-friendly sport and is happy to accommodate archers at all levels of ability.
Highland Bow and Arrow also seeks to connect people to Cape Breton’s history. Jay offers longbow and recurve bow shooting, in keeping with a long tradition of archery on the island stretching back to the earliest Mi’kmaq hunters. Jay herself hunts with a traditional bow, although she admits her prey so far has been confined to grouse. She hopes to expand the shooting range in the fall, establishing a field archery ground which will take shooters along a trail through the nearby woods.
Although I’d never shot a bow before, by the end of the hour I was “clustering” most of my arrows (shooting into generally the same spot) and felt great about my progress. We all had a wonderful time and left vowing to return—and once you’ve had your initial lesson, you can go back for a reduced rate the next time. Even if you’d never consider yourself a hunter, archery as a sport is exhilarating, fun, and easier to try than you might think. Watch for that SHOOT ARROWS sign on your next trip around the Trail, and stop in. As Jay says on her website at highlandbowandarrow.ca, “Don’t Nock it Til You Try It!”