I tried combat archery at Chelsea

I thought something was my friend Doc, watching me walk. Of all my friends, he was undoubtedly the most deserving.

For the past two years under Doc’s mentorship – he claims to have a Ph.D. in something to do with wildlife – I had taken my bow for very many walks in the woods, usually in the dark, always at a coordinate chosen by him, to watch the sun rise from a tree, bow in hand, silent, arrow notched, wanting a deer to pass.

And never once in those two years had I seen a deer, much less shot an arrow.

Have you ever heard that for a man with a hammer everything is a nail?

So, as deer season closed in without a freezer full of venison, I signed us up to play something called combat archery, which the Archery Games Boston website described as “dodgeball , but with soft foam-tipped bows and arrows”, and which I read as “an authorized opportunity to shoot Doc”.

We brought our 12 year old sons, who couldn’t believe a game like this was actually allowed. And we had a weird time trying to find the place because it shares an entrance with a Dollar General, in a building that also hosts paintball, an escape room and, of course, a dispensary. It’s been open for a few years, hosts birthday parties and league nights, or you can just join a 75-minute game for $30.

Fourteen helmeted players shoot foam-tipped arrows at each other in a caged arena at Archery Games Boston in Chelsea.Staff of Pat Greenhouse/Globe

It was the guys from the league who came to get me, and as soon as they started coming, I forgot all about Doc. Maybe it was the convenient way they put on the football catcher’s gloves. Maybe it was the smug way they pulled hockey helmets with cages out of their bags and pityingly watched me hold the cheap paintball mask the guy behind the counter gave me. Maybe it was the fact that they were elongation. All I know is that it suddenly triggered an unexpected appearance from High School Billy.

Next thing you know I’m walking around with my chest pumping out like a wrestler, throwing silent pull ups at all those people I was about to pull, loosening my arms a bit because apparently we’re elongation.

I may stink hunting, but I got amazing with a compound bow. At least in my garden. But here’s the problem. I have no experience catching arrows. That’s one of the reasons I’m still here today.

As the ref was explaining the rules to the 20 of us crammed into the grassy arena, I realized what the stick gloves were for. If you make a catch, you can recall one of your teammates from the sideline, just like the dodge ball.

Nothing to worry about, I thought. I didn’t come here because I was desperately looking for something.

We were split into two teams, and as I watched my future victims on the other side – which thankfully included Doc – I decided my strategy was going to be to hide behind one of the inflatable obstacles, wait until a poor schmuck shows their head, then comes out and shoots it to the cheers of the adoring crowd. It would be great if it was Doc’s head, but really any head would do.

At the referee’s signal, the first game began. We all ran with our bows to the center of the field, where the arrows were scattered in a neutral zone, grabbed one and backpedaled while trying to quickly snap the arrow onto our string, all the while keeping an eye out for the arrows which immediately began to whistle through the air.

Katt Hallet of Methuen donned a hard hat to resume play.Staff of Pat Greenhouse/Globe

In quick succession, I realized I was shedding sweat; that my cheap mask was completely fogged up (why the regulars wore hockey goals), and that I should have stretched. But most urgently, I realized I didn’t know my way around this bow, which was naturally underpowered and difficult to shoot with rocket precision. That’s why, I suddenly learned, combat archery is as much a game of catching as it is shooting. So if I was going to come out of there the No. 1 pick in the next league draft, I had to figure out how to catch.

To start, I obviously went for the “Matrix” backbend, coupled with a one-handed wavering grip as the arrow spun, which turned out to be the right way out for me.

Games move quickly and don’t last long, and for an hour we played several variations, all dodgeball style, but the bottom line was the same: the best players were the best receivers. And one of the best of them, a guy on my team, was kind enough to point out that I was never going to pull an arrow in the air. He took me aside and explained his technique, which involved squatting like a monkey with one arm hanging in front of you while the other holds the bow behind your back so as not to get in your way. Then, just as the arrow hits, you pick it up and pin it to your body.

Nick McKinnon of Boston took a foam arrow in the stomach. Staff of Pat Greenhouse/Globe

I tried. I am dead. And so I came back to my initial objective: Shoot Doc.

I did nothing but hide and wait for him to show his head for the last few games. But like the North Shore deer, he was on me.

But unlike the deer, he eventually made a mistake, got out of cover, and left himself wide open for a shot. It was the moment I’d spent two years training for, and I quickly stood up, drew the bow and fired a perfect shot, the tip of the marshmallow heading straight for his temple.

He grabbed it, with one hand, straight out of the air.

As I said, of all my friends, he is the most deserving.


Billy Baker can be contacted at [email protected] Follow him on Twitter @billy_baker.

Earnest A. Martinez