(ran PW, PS editions)
John Butler was walking through the woods one day with his parents when they stumbled upon his destiny.
"I was out hunting with mom and dad in the woods, and my mom almost stepped on an arrow," Butler said. "I'd been wanting to take up archery for a while, and I took that as a sign."
Helen Butler then helped her son with the next step in becoming an archer, getting him in touch with a friend of hers who was a member of the Aripeka Archers. The rest, Butler has taken care of himself.
In just six years since his mother sidestepped that solitary arrow, the 31-year-old Butler, who lives in Hudson, has become one of the best in the state at the sport. This year, Butler has won four major competitions: the Florida Archery Association's first three statewide events of the year as well as the Sunshine State Games in July, where he won a gold and a silver medal.
Sunday in Hudson, Butler continued his hot streak, winning the bowhunter unlimited A class at the Central (Florida) Region tournament. Although it was a smaller event than some of the others he has won this year, it might have been the most personally significant.
In May, the Aripeka Archers had its shooting range destroyed by a fire sparked by multiple lightning strikes. It was the second major disappointment for the group in recent months. First, the company that owned the shooting range property decided to no longer lease it out, effective this February. So the Aripeka Archers were expecting to have to find a new location, just not so soon.
But after the fire, a benefactor stepped in.
Russell Wynn, a Hudson resident who owns a large amount of undeveloped property, decided to allow the Aripeka Archers to turn part of his grounds into a new shooting range.
Sunday's tournament was the first event at the new digs, and the facility got rave reviews.
"It's excellent. It's great. It's a lot more challenging," said Butler, who was the range captain for the Aripeka Archers for two terms (four years) before recently stepping down. "About 75-80 percent of the targets are in the shade, beneath wooded canopies, and you get a nice mixture of yardages on the targets. It's very challenging."
Butler, nicknamed The Cat Man for his preference for shooting mountain lions, cougars and the like in competition, was most up to the challenge, scoring 243 points in the bowhunter unlimited A (the highest bowhunter class) to earn the win.
The bowhunter unlimited is Butler's specialty. The unlimited part means the archer can use a release aid, a device attached to the wrist that draws back the string. In limited, competitors must use their fingers.
The difference between bowhunter and freestyle is in the sights. In freestyle, the sights on the bow are movable or adjustable optics, which can focus like binoculars on a part of the target. In bowhunter, the sights are fixed pins, which don't change the target.
"With the movable optics, it messes up my vision," Butler said, explaining his preference. "The (fixed pins) don't alter my sight."
Though he was an experienced hunter, Butler, who grew up in Tarpon Springs and moved to Hudson two years ago, wasn't an instant success as an archer.
"I always shot my gun, but I didn't know anybody involved in archery until I went to the Aripeka Archers," said Butler, who works as a design draftsman for NCA Systems in Clearwater and represents Arrowhead Archery of Seffner when competing. "In my first tournament, I lost about a half-dozen arrows. I went out and bought some more (arrows cost about $75 a dozen) and lost another half-dozen at the next tournament."
With several years of dedication, Butler no longer scatters shots off nearby trees, busting his arrows. Sunday, he averaged 10 out of a possible 12 score shooting one time at each of 25 3-D targets (life-sized foam turkeys, deer, hogs, mountain lions, bears, etc.), ranging in distance from 20 to 45 yards.
Since discovering archery, Butler's gun has gotten a lot less use. He always liked hunting with it but wasn't competitive in tournaments as he has become in archery.
"Archery has become No. 1 in my priorities," Butler said. "In tournaments, I love the camaraderie of the group. It's fun. And in hunting, it's silent. It gets me out in the woods by myself, and I can get in tune with nature."
The next statewide FAA event, the fourth of five this year, is Aug. 21-22. And the Aripeka Archers and the new shooting range are the host.
"I'll try to make it four (FAA events) in a row," Butler said.