New archery range scores bullseye

A styrofoam deer lurks in the woods as archers from around the state gathered at the Silver Springs Archery Range on Sunday. The club recently opened and is a partnership between Marion County and the Silver Springs Archers club. [Alan Youngblood/Special to Ocala Gazette]
It didn’t take long for a newly unveiled archery range in Marion County to fall into the crosshairs.

The Silver Springs Archery Range at 5227 NE 35th St. officially opened on Friday. By Sunday, the range played host to 100 archers for an Archery Shooters Association (ASA) tournament.

Carlton Blackburn, one of the competitors, said he drove 3,000 miles to attend the “Father’s Day tournament” at the new range. While the tournament served as a qualifier for the ASA Florida Championships, Blackburn came because of Buster Stratton.

Stratton, a longtime archery instructor, taught Blackburn how to shoot. He serves as the liaison with the Silver Springs Archers, which runs and manages the new range as a nonprofit.

Blackburn calls Stratton a “second dad” after they grew close during years of archery instruction.

Despite retiring four years ago, Stratton said teaching young people how to shoot keeps him close to the sport.

“I want every kid who gets a bow to learn to be a ‘great’ archer,” he said.

The new facility hopes to serve Marion County’s estimated 8,000 to 10,000 bow owners.

For 11 years, Silver Springs Archers, formerly Forest Archers, have worked to open a new facility after the last public one closed. Stratton said the new range has been long-awaited by local archery enthusiasts. The range is open to the public every Thursday, and club members get unlimited access.

Maurice Campbell sets the sights on his bow on Sunday at the recently opened Silver Springs Archery Range. [Alan Youngblood/Special to Ocala Gazette]
Archers can use anything from traditional bows to high-tech compound bows. Stratton said traditional bows users prefer the art behind shooting, while compound bow shooters are more concerned with scientific accuracy.

No matter what equipment is used, archers shoot for the love of the sport.

This new range was created in partnership with Marion County Parks & Recreation. The range is spread across 60 acres and is open to all ages. The facility includes a typical flat range with circular targets but also has two three-dimensional ranges with 15 targets each.

The 3-D ranges are spread out in wooded areas and resemble hiking trails. Archers walk the course and shoot at the three-dimensional animal targets located in the woods. The targets at the Silver Springs Archery Range include exotic animals like a leopard and tapir, but also have traditional targets, including a deer.

Bob Beehoer pulls arrows from the leopard target as Archers from around the state gathered at the Silver Springs Archery Range for a tournament on Sunday. [Alan Youngblood/Special to Ocala Gazette]
The three-dimensional targets allow archers to keep their aim sharp during the hunting off-season. The ranges at the new facility will be available year-round.

Stratton hopes to introduce after-school or summer programs to attract the next generation of archers. He is a National Archery in Schools Program (NASP) instructor and said the new partnership with the county will give children the space to properly learn archery.

Meanwhile, the range will stay busy. Another competition is set for the end of July.

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