"A life-changing experience on so many different levels," that's how Prineville resident Brooke Smith describes her recent experience in the world of competitive hunting. "I'm probably in the best shape of my life. The friends that I have met and the relationships formed are ones that I am thankful for. Meeting so many like-minded people from all over the country who love hunting and conservation is something very special."
Smith just returned from Mesa, Colorado, where she placed second in the women's masters division of the National Train to Hunt competition.
The event, which is for archery hunters, took place July 8 and 9 at the Powderhorn Mountain Resort, which is at 9,000 feet in elevation, making competition challenging.
Smith qualified for the national event by winning the Oregon State Championship in her division.
"Train to Hunt is an archery competition that is so much more than shooting," she said. "It combines physical challenges with archery to emulate the physical demands of hunting."
Smith added that she is not the only local person who competed in Train to Hunt this year.
The competition is continuing to grow, and next year, she expects to compete with her husband, Tim, as well.
"My husband has caught the Train to Hunt bug, so next year, we would like to go to a qualifier and compete as a coed team and then go to a different qualifier and compete individually," she said.
At the regional qualifying competition, individuals shot at 20 3D targets, with time penalties added for missed targets. The course included a 100-foot tire drag, a 400-yard loop, shots at a target, followed by stepping on and over a box 10 times carrying a 30-pound bag of sand. Then it was time for more targets, followed by lifting a sand bag over the shoulders and another 400-yard loop, then another target shoot.
The course continued with two more fitness activities, two more 400-yard loops, and two more target shoots.
The course finished with running a mountain course with bow in hand while carrying a 30-pound backpack and shooting at a handful of remaining targets.
Adding to the difficulty, each time you missed a shot, you had to do 20 penalty burpees before continuing on the course.
"I made a couple of poor shots during the challenge course, and it was hard to not let that go to my head," Smith said. "It is not only a physically challenging course, but it is just as much mental."
Smith added that she approached the course one challenge at a time.
"Probably one of the biggest factors to my success was that I put in the time," she said. "I decided that I wanted to compete last fall, and at that time, I started doing a lot of running and shooting."
In February, Smith started working with Elevation Fitness Training, an online-based training program designed for outdoor athletes.
"This training program was very instrumental to my success," she said. "All of my workouts could be done at home and were based around what I was going to need to be competitive at Train to Hunt."
Smith added that she trained four to five days a week and tried to shoot six days a week to prepare.
"My husband was there every step of the way, from the daily workouts to the competition," Smith said. "He was right by my side, pushing me and supporting me."
After qualifying for the national championship, Smith continued to train.
"Nationals was a completely different animal," she said. "One of the biggest factors was the elevation."
The national event included three separate events, a challenge course, a 3D shoot and a meat pack.
"Every challenge that we did, we had to go over a 20-inch box," Smith said. "All together, we went 140 times over the box, 110 of those times was with added weight."
Saturday, competitors also ran a 1.5-mile course with a weighted pack with target shoots along the way.
Once the challenge course was completed, contestants had 30 minutes to recover before starting the 3D course, which had 20 targets ranging in distance from 60 yards away to 1 yard.
"Some shots had to be taken after holding at full draw for a minute," Smith said. "Other shots we would draw from a seated position, stand and shoot, while another one was to shoot two arrows at two targets in 10 seconds."
Sunday was the meat pack, which included a 2.2-mile hike with 1,800 feet of elevation gain while carrying a weighted pack.
"The meat pack was steep with a lot of underbrush, logs and rocks to make our way through," she said. "This was to simulate going in for the last pack out after a harvest."
Smith added that one of the best things about the competition was that there were complete strangers cheering you on.
"At the finish line, they are there to help you get your pack off and take your bow from you so that you can get cooled down and hydrated," she said."
Smith noted that at the Oregon qualifier, there was a woman there who had only shot a bow for a couple of days.
"She was shooting a bow that belonged to Gilchrist High School and was not set up for her at all," she said. "There were struggles through the 3D shoot, but she never gave up. She fought through the challenge course and kept going 'til she crossed the finish line. There were so many stories like this where people were hurting and frustrated, but they didn't give up. Each and every competitor was there to help them get across the finish line. We may all be competing, but more importantly, we are all there to help each other be successful."
Smith noted that her biggest weakness is that she tends to get a little nervous when shooting around other people and that she is still working on improving how accurately she judges yardage.
Smith added that she plans to continue training for future competition.
"For the future, I will continue to train as I have been and keep shooting," she said. "I will continue to work on the skills where I have weaknesses. Train to Hunt helps us sharpen our skills. It is important to us to be able to make ethical shots when harvesting an animal, and we respect every animal that we harvest."
In addition, Smith said that she would encourage anyone else who was interested in archery to try competition.
"Do it," she said. "It doesn't matter how much experience you have. I went into this with never stepping foot into a gym and shooting less than a year. The Train to Hunt family will not only motivate you, but it will build your confidence and desire to become a more athletic hunter."