Target sighted

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Justin Blouin points Unity’s archery team in right direction.

UNITY – Bowhunting was Justin Blouin’s favorite sport while growing up in Lisbon Falls. Peer pressure being as powerful as it is, however, Blouin gradually put away his quiver and gravitated to traditional team sports.

Rather than taking aim at the bull’s-eye, Blouin became a sort of target himself, standing in the line of fire as goaltender for his high school hockey team. After all, outdoor sports were a nifty diversion on weekends, but the Lisbon High School class president didn’t think there were opportunities to apply his childhood craft in a competitive environment.

Think again.

Now a freshman fisheries major at Unity College, Blouin has joined one of the nation’s largest interscholastic archery clubs, hitting his mark almost immediately. In the first week of August, Blouin will travel with six Unity teammates to Snowshoe, W.Va., to compete in the International Bowhunting Organization World Championships.

“This was really my first major competition with three-dimensional targets,” said Blouin. “I guess I did all right.”

Blouin punched his ticket to West Virginia with an 11th-place finish in the bowhunter class at a February qualifying meet in Springfield, Mass.

While he concedes that the exclamation point to his first season is a pleasant surprise, Blouin is hardly a rookie. Although Blouin isn’t accustomed to shooting for points and medals, he’s been taking home different types of trophies for years, hunting whatever is in season.

Steady hands run in the family, too. Blouin’s father, Jeff, was the state bowhunting champion in 1994.

“I just sort of followed him to the range,” Blouin said. “I started doing archery when I was 5 years old. I shot until I was about 10, then gave it up for quite a while.”

After finding some kindred, outdoor spirits among his high school buddies, Blouin rekindled his interest in shooting at stationary targets. About three years ago, he began shooting almost daily at Fast Flight, an indoor archery range in his hometown.

Blouin also collaborated with friends to create their own range in the woods.

Shooting stars

Unity was the perfect choice for Blouin as he pursued both his career interests and his sport. The college’s archery club has accumulated more than 100 members in just over five years.

The team competes against professionals at the regional and world championship meets. Club president Mike Chickering of Keene, N.H., and Julius Koenig of Vassalboro were the first Unity students to qualify for worlds last year. In February, Amanda Hardaswick placed second overall in the women’s division at the qualifier.

“We are focused on continuing to build a nationally known collegiate archery program at Unity College, and to attract some of the best young archers to attend our college,” Chickering, a junior wildlife major, said in a news release. “There is no reason why Unity College archery won’t soon be mentioned along with Texas A&M and James Madison.”

According to the U.S. Collegiate Archery Web site (www.clarkesinclair.org/USCollegeArchery), there are approximately 40 active college or university clubs in the country. Unity is one of only four in New England, joined by Boston University, Wellesley and Yale.

Other notable NCAA Division I schools with a club include Texas, UCLA, Stanford and Arizona State.

“We have an archery range here at Unity where we shoot almost religiously every day,” Blouin said. “A lot of people never picked up a bow before they joined the club, and now they can shoot perfect scores.”

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Thrill of a lifetime

Archery appeals to many students from stick-and-ball sports backgrounds because it is more of a lifelong, individual activity.

New bow technology exerts minimal physical toll on the shooter’s arms. In Springfield, Blouin competed against several shooters in their 60s and 70s.

“The camaraderie is great,” said Blouin. “Everybody (in archery) is willing to give you a hand to help you improve.”

Blouin plans to stay sharp for his trip in August by competing on the Maine 3-D target circuit through spring and early summer. State championships are held in the fall.

He looks forward to the international stage but probably won’t be in awe.

“We have some world class shooters here at Unity,” Blouin said, modestly not mentioning the fact that he’s well on his way to becoming one of them.

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