"Wow," was all Harold Buckentin could say when he recalled how the Chilakoot Bowhunters Club had come to call a 53-acre parcel of challenging terrain just outside Somerset home nearly 60 years ago.

According to club newsletter editor, Marlene Odahlen-Hinz, the club started in 1953 as an enthusiastic gathering of 30 bowhunters from the Stillwater, Minn. vicinity just looking for a place to target practice.

"During the first couple of years, the club shot both indoors and out wherever they could. They shot above a bowling alley, beneath a police station and maybe most interestingly, in the caves along the river in Stillwater," said Odahlen-Hinz.

They were using a piece of property north of Stillwater off Highway 95 when they got the bad news that the property was to be sold and they would once again be looking for a new home. It was becoming more challenging to find space to shoot as stricter regulations were being enacted in many of the neighborhoods surrounding Stillwater.

When it came time to make the club official, Buckentin contacted a local attorney in Stillwater, Karl Neumeier, to draw up the papers. Neumeier had been a Wisconsin state senator who fortuitously owned a piece of property appropriate for club activities in Wisconsin.

When Neumeier learned that the club was once again looking for a home, he offered the current parcel which he had been considering giving to the Boy Scouts.

Club members took a look and set up a 15-target course. After a year, Neumeier approached the club again. He'd been so impressed with how professionally they'd managed the property he offered the club a lease for a dollar a year.

It was 1956, two years later, when Buckentin ran into a real estate agent parked in the club parking lot one morning. Concerned that the club might once again be forced out, he contacted Neumeier who said not to worry but that he had "no use for the property." Buckentin sensed an opportunity and met with Neumeier a week later.

He asked him what kind of money was he looking for for the property and he said, "Well, I was thinking maybe $1,300. $300 down and a hundred dollars a year for 10 years and no interest."

"Wow, wow," said Buckentin, "Now all we had to do was raise $300. How were we going to do that? Thirty guys at $10 a piece that's $300. That's how we got going. Absolutely unbelieveable and look what we've got now."

Today the Chilakoot Bowhunters Club boasts more than 250 members encompassing a wide range of ability from beginners to award winning national and international champions.

The grounds include a heated clubhouse with a 20-yard indoor range, as well as an outdoor practice range including elevated platforms with targets at various distances up to 50 yards. The club also features a two-part trail course which weaves its way through the thickly wooded property up and down steep slopes and ridges. This course can be set up with traditional paper targets or with 3D animal targets.

Normally the course would incorporate 30 targets, but for the 60th Anniversary Celebration this past weekend it included 40 3D targets ranging from skunks, turkeys and raccoons, to larger targets like deer, bear, moose and even a life-size velociraptor.

An individual or family membership costs $30 annually and includes a 12-hour work requirement. Non-working and lifetime memberships are also available. All members have 24/7 access to the club and its facilities.

Family friendly

Chilakoot prides itself on being a family friendly environment dedicated to safely teaching the fundamentals of the sport of archery, as well as providing a challenging experience for veteran target shooters and bowhunters.

"We have kids' clinics and kids' leagues. We have partnerships with Becoming an Outdoors Woman, Safari Club and A1 Archery," said Odahlen-Hinz.

Club member Dana Keller has been shooting with a bow since she was 17. She is a state certified 4-H shooting sports instructor who frequently works with beginners on the kids' range,

"With the changes in the technology for youth bows, a youth can shoot a bow as well as an adult, they could even share the same bow," she said. "It's really economical and its something the family can do together."

During the course of a year, the club hosts member-only leagues for all age shooters, club only events, and a number of public events. Fees from these events pay for club expenses, grounds maintenance and taxes, as well as targets and equipment.

A number of local school archery clubs also make use of the facility.

"We're expecting shooters from throughout the Midwest from as far away as North and South Dakota. With good weather we could expect to see as many as 500 participants a day this weekend," said Odahlen-Hinz of the anniversary celebration.

Female shooters

Both Odahlen-Hinz and Keller are proud to point out that women are increasingly embracing the sport of archery.

"For the last couple of years in Minnesota, the purchase of archery licenses has gone down, except for women. The number of women archers and bowhunters have increased 5 to 7 percent every year," said Odahlen-Hinz. "We host several programs aimed specifically at women interested in getting into archery."

According to Keller, movies like "The Hunger Games" and Disney's "Brave" have had a huge impact when it comes to girls taking up archery.

"You don't have to be super strong or super athletic," she said. "You can learn how to shoot a bow by only drawing back six pounds. A 4-year-old can shoot and have fun. It's a blast."

Odahlen-Hinz added television programs like "Revolution" and "The Arrow" to the list of media influencing girls to pick up bows.

"Archery programs in schools have been a huge boon too. Last year at the state competition in Minnesota, there were almost a thousand kids," she said. "Archery's a great equalizer. You can stand shoulder to shoulder with the captain of the football team, or your brother, and you can do just as good. It comes down to you and the arrow."

To learn more about the Chilakoot Bowhunters Club, visit their website at: www.chilakootbowhunters.org.