It’s the 2nd weekend in February, and over 3500 archers have converged upon Las Vegas to participate in archery’s version of over-indulgence known as The Vegas Shoot. Everyone is looking forward to 4 days of attending in workshops, meeting pros and friends alike, browsing one of the nearly 100 vendor booths for new equipment and accessories, and of course shooting arrows. Over 800 of these archers are under the age of 18, and they’re about to have quite the experience at the largest archery tournament in the world.
One of Mackenzie Brown’s favorite parts of this event is talking to some of those 3500+ people. “I really like getting to meet new people and sponsors,” the Rio
Olympian shares. “I love the sport of Archery – we have such an awesome community. Actually, I think that’s a big part of my career, and how I’ve come to my success – knowing a lot of really cool people.”
One unique part of The Vegas Shoot gives young archers a chance to meet a few of these “really cool people.” The Practice with the Pros event at this competition/archery circus allows archers under the age of 18 the opportunity to stand on the shooting line with the likes of Mackenzie, Reo Wilde, David Houser, Paige Gore, and many others. This year is South Dakota compounder Madison Perry’s first time participating in what many simply refer to as “Vegas.” As we watch her 8-year-old sister Maggie take aim alongside the Rio Olympian, I ask her about her impressions of the tournament. “It’s really big, and super cool. But it is a little weird to see people carrying around bows in the casino!”
The Perry sisters are one of many sibling teams here at Vegas. A few lanes down, compounder Chris Bee drills the center of a spot, while his sister Emily takes “shots” of her own with a camera. He starts a conversation with the kid shooting next to him, whose reaction to meeting THE Chris Bee is priceless. Nearby, a team of recurve girls smile and laugh as they wait for their line to start. Ava and Dru Hill have both competed here before, as had their cousins Lucy and Avery English. Their teammate Emma Kirby, is here for the first time, and chuckles that she is “just tagging along” in reference to her lack of familial connection with the others.
They’ve come here from West Jordan, Utah with the rest of their team from Datus Archery. The girls practice 3-4 times a week together, so it’s no surprise that Dru’s favorite part of coming to Vegas is “being together with my team and seeing all my friends.” That is also Lucy’s favorite part, and she adds that “it’s more fun to be together [with my team] instead of trying to do everything by myself and then getting all pressured and stuff.” All 5 girls agreed that Vegas is “huge, big, and has a ton of things to do!” That’s a sentiment shared by many of their peers.
After Practice with the Pros finishes, I catch up with compound shooter Brandon Lynch, who says Vegas is “very big and very fun.” The 13-year old is here for the first time with a team from Next Step Archery in Seattle, which travels to this tournament every year. When asked what he thought about shooting on the same line as some of the sport’s best, he gives a half-smile. “I didn’t actually know a lot of them, but it was still cool to shoot with them – this is just another practice, after all. I got to talk to a lot of [the pros], but didn’t try to get too much advice because we’re less one day away from competition at this point. I’m just here to shoot and get my name up there. To say you shot at Vegas is a pretty cool thing, as an archer, and I wanted to experience that.”
I meet some other young archers while walking around the trade show, which consists of over 75 vendor, sponsor, and organizational booths. Seattle-area native Therese Gordon is here for the 2nd time, and shares that she “gets nervous a little bit with everything that’s happening, but once I get to the range and I’m shooting, I’m kinda like ‘okay, its all good’ .” 12-year old Tasjia Boyle traveled from the Saskatchewan province in central Canada for this tournament. “I think it’s really cool, but it’s really overwhelming. There’s just so many things happening.”
Tasjia’s dad is also here for the first time: “It’s amazing to see so many archers from all over the world,” he tells me. “I was shooting next to a guy earlier, and his coach and his buddies were all speaking in French!” France and Canada aren’t the only other countries represented at this international tournament. I see archers from Mexico, Italy, Sweden, Denmark, Japan, Colombia, the Netherlands, Australia, Colombia, the UK, Colombia, Korea, and many many others throughout the weekend.
Many others notice the amount of international stars walking around. Melissa Kontogiannis’ favorite part of Vegas is “seeing everyone else here – because there’s a lot of famous people here – Mackenzie [Brown] just signed my shirt, and that was pretty cool!” The Colorado native has been shooting for 4 years and competed in other national events before, but says that this one is different.
“This whole tournament is very intimidating but at the same very amazing and exciting. I mean, where else are you going to see people carrying around bows in a casino? And the trade show is huge, and has a lot of things going on – there was a vendor somewhere with a life-size Sasquatch target, and that looked pretty fantastic!”
There are also vendors for super-light stabilizers, exoskeleton active wear, custom grips, collegiate archery teams, and of course bows. Friday and Saturday evenings see events at the Hoyt booth which draw healthy crowds of adults and youth alike. Kids had a chance to meet some of their Pro Staff and win hats, backpacks, or even a full competition compound or recurve bow! There lots of exciting new gear to be seen, and many of the archers I talk to admit to buying some new toys after trying them out on the practice range. I don’t blame them – with over 75 different booths, it would be hard not to find something to bring home! The trade show is yet another aspect contributing to the size and scope of this event.
The Indoor World Cup final also takes place here; more than a thousand spectators gather in the championship arena to watch Gold Medal matches, cheering archers on with shouts, applause, and even inflatable noisemakers distributed by event staff.
While some of those indoor matches where going on, I interview Sébastien Huynh, who won the Cub Male Recurve division for the 2nd year in a row! The crowd noise buzzes around us as I ask him about his mindset during scoring rounds. “I didn’t really say anything [to the people around me],” he says. “I guess I just sit there, wait until the other line is done shooting, and maybe do some meditation. When I visualize, I just imagine what my form is and how it feels, so I can try to do the same thing. Then I step up to the line, don’t load my arrow until the first whistle, and just do my original stuff.”
He says he didn’t really think about winning or score as the end of the round came closer: “Usually I forget what my score is when I get back to the shooting line. I just listen to what my coach-slash-dad tells me, and try to do what I normally do, which is to do my form and shoot.”
Dad/coach Tristan Huynh says he watches the target “to make sure the patterns are good. I’m just watching his form, and not really anyone else.” I ask them who initiates the moving of the sight pin, and Sébastien laughs. “Sometimes I remember to ask Dad if I should [move the sight], but normally he just tells me!”
His advice for other youth who have dreams of standing atop Vegas’s podium? “Don’t think about score. Just keep shooting the way you like to shoot, and stay focused.”
Nearly every single person I talked to at Vegas mentioned some form of the words “big,” “huge,” and “overwhelming” when giving their impression of the tournament. And it’s fitting – there are so many archers, a multitude of targets, and probably the biggest spectator crowds you will see in archery. Plus, everything seems big when you are less than 5’ tall, as was the case with many of the young archers here.
But Vegas was also described as “fun,” “cool,” and “memorable” by those same people, first timers and veterans alike. It’s those things that make it seem overwhelming that also make it so unique. All the people I talked to said that The Vegas Shoot is an event every archer should try attend. “It’s a super fun experience, even if you’re not that competitive as an archer,” says Brandon. Many others shared that if you come here looking for a good time, you’ll find it in so many different ways and at so many different places: Meeting your archery heroes, discovering new gear, spending time with friends old and new, and simply shooting arrows at the gold.