Adam Johnson would love to be in a bow stand through the fall, but it just isn’t an option for him.
Johnson, who grew up just south of Garfield, farms about 2,200 acres, and the crop harvest and best part of the bow-hunting season always coexist.
“I would love to spend the fall hunting with a bow, but it just doesn’t work,” he said.
Johnson’s love for archery was not easily brushed aside, so he needed to find something to replace hunting with. That’s where target archery came in.
Johnson has shot competitively since 2007, now going to many of the major indoor shoots around the country. The most notable of those is the Vegas Shoot, which is the largest indoor archery tournament in the world.
This year’s Las Vegas Shoot in early February set a record attendance with 3,816 archers competing across professional and amateur divisions. Johnson will head to the Indoor National Championships in Louisville, Ky. later this month for his next big event.
Shooting at 20 yards, it takes a perfect score to win the professional open championship in Las Vegas. More than 20 pros accomplished that clean 900 score with a compound bow this year before 22-year-old Kyle Douglas of Utah won in a shootout to earn a $54,000 top prize.
Johnson competed in the pro division for two out of the five years he has shot in Vegas.
“I learned that I don’t have the time to put into it and be competitive and have a family and a job,” Johnson said. “It would take three, four, five hours of shooting a day to be competitive at that level. This year, I ended up 30th in the amateur flights out of 1,300 people.”
The Johnsons make archery a family affair. Adam’s wife, Jill, shoots competitively too, and their three kids -- ages 3.5, 12 and 14 -- can often be found with a bow in their hand, as well. Set up diagonally in his heated shop on the farm, Johnson can create his own 20-yard indoor range where he practices almost daily leading up to the biggest shoots.
“If it’s not every day, it’s at least five days a week,” he said. “I’m shooting 500 arrows a week easy, probably more than that before tournaments.”
That’s what it takes to be competitive even in the amateur division at a tournament like the Vegas Shoot. Johnson scored an 896 at this year’s event out of a possible 900.
“I was happy where I ended up,” Johnson said. “I wanted to make top 50 this year. Last year, I had an oops and shot a zero, so I only scored 89 arrows instead of 90. The rest of my shots last year would have put me right up there too had I shot a 10 instead of a zero.”
One mistake at a big tournament is the difference between multiple spots on the leaderboard. It’s that perfect round that Johnson is always chasing.
“It’s never good enough,” he said. “If I shoot a 60x on a five-spot (target), I’m happy, but how many inside-outs did I shoot? Maybe I shot 40 inside-outs. Well, that’s not enough. I want to shoot 50. It’s just the drive for perfection on the tournament side that keeps me coming back.”
Getting to that point takes focusing on the finest details. Some archers talk themselves through each step of their shot before that arrow explodes, but that’s not the case for Johnson.
“When something isn’t going right, I’ll go back and stand in front of the target at five feet and go through every step of the process,” he said. “(In tournaments), I’m basically just telling myself to touch the front of the riser. After that, it’s just subconscious. You have to do it enough so you don’t have to think about what you’re doing.”
Repeatable form is important, but what often separates archers at a competitive level is how they handle the mental side of the sport. Johnson shot with roughly 250 other archers in Las Vegas, with many more spectators watching. That creates a pressure-packed atmosphere.
“Shooting at a tournament is the same thing as having a big deer in front of you and you have to make the shot on it,” Johnson said. “If you’re shooting a Vegas round of 30 arrows, shooting that 30th arrow to be clean and shoot a 300, it’s the same thing. It’s even worse when you get into a shootoff if you’re tied for first. Your heart is pounding and your adrenaline is pumping as if a deer is standing there.”
Johnson is one of the volunteer coaches with the Alexandria High School archery team through the National Archery in the Schools Program. He works with kids on figuring out the proper form and then working through that mental side of the sport.
“You don’t have to shoot in first place to have it be a win,” Johnson said of the fun of archery and working with those kids. “You can have a personal win too, just trying to shoot the best score you’ve ever shot. It’s more than just trying to be first place or the best hunter or shoot the biggest buck. It can be just something fun to do too.”
Johnson’s advice for any archer looking to improve is to be committed to the practice it takes to get there.
“You can’t be a good shot by pulling your bow out two weeks before deer hunting, standing at 20 yards and saying, ‘Well, I hit four out of five arrows in a pie plate. That’s good enough,’” Johnson said. “The accuracy part for me, I’m never satisfied with. It’s always, ‘What can I do to get the groups smaller and smaller and smaller?’”