Photo by Jay Westcott
THOUGHT GUN CONTROL was strict in the District? Try bow-and-arrow control. There isnt a single public place within city limits to practice archery, much to the chagrin of resident Alex Herz, who founded D.C. Archers (

So, despite the name, Herz and friends haul their quivers over to Lake Needwood Park in Rockville, where they have four targets to attack while hanging out with their fellow enthusiasts. “Its not much of a competitive thing. Its an encouraging thing,” Herz says. Think summer camp, not Summer Olympics.

Herz even recently started showing beginners the ropes, after getting certified as an instructor with the National Archery Association.

On a recent Sunday afternoon, 29-year-old Suresh Thallura was taking aim for the first time with Herz on coaching duty. The first shot landed in the grass. “What I notice is youre not pulling quite far enough,” Herz advised. “You cant be scared to get the string near your face.” To the neophytes out there, this is because one must “anchor” the hand drawing back to a point near the chin.

Thallura placed another arrow into the bow and took aim once more. This time, target achieved. “I like shooting,” he declared.

So does D.C. Archer Chris Thomas, 38, who calls the sport “quiet and sublime.” And unlike Herz, he sometimes uses his equipment on animals, too. “I dont eat meat unless I kill it myself. Archery puts the odds in their favor. They put me over their furry knees and slap me,” he says.

Photos by Jay Westcott
For Herz, the pleasure is simple: “Whats really cool is the sound of the arrow hitting the paper.”

One person whos heard that noise a lot is Ruth Rowe, who runs the Archery Program out of Bull Run Park in Manassas (703-830-2344;, where there are 18 indoor lanes and an outdoor training field. The 60-year-old is an archery legend who represented the United States at the 1984 Olympics.

And shes the go-to teacher in the region if you really want to learn how to handle a bow and arrow, which can be a tricky set of skills to master. “In golf, you cant hit the ball without doing the entire swing. Same with archery. You have to shoot the arrow. Theres a steep learning curve at the beginning,” says Rowe, who estimates it takes six to 12 private coaching sessions before students are ready for her group classes.

Its an individual sport by nature, and Rowe says those who excel tend to be quieter, introspective types. “You have to go within yourself,” she explains. But it doesnt have to be lonely — walking to the target to pull out arrows gives archers a chance to mix a little socializing with their solitude.

That may also be the best chance for some real huffing and puffing during a shooting session. Pulling back the bow takes a certain amount of strength, but it doesnt count as a workout, Rowe admits.

The real exercise will be getting D.C. to allow archery again, and Herz has faith the D.C. Archers will hit a bulls-eye.

Photos by Jay Westcott