On a humid evening in early August, professional 3D archery shooter Sherry Hott of Conroe, Texas, found herself in a familiar spot: preparing for a final shoot-down – the very last head-to-head arrows – against four other women as hundreds of spectators watched.
After shooting 40 foam (3D) animal targets in two days of tough competition at St. Bernard Abbey in Cullman, Alabama, the five women knew this final shoot-down was an accomplishment. Each hoped this would be the year they claimed the top prize at the Archery Shooters Association (ASA) Classic, but the shoot-down was especially memorable for Hott.
“I have a good friend I’ve known 20 years who couldn’t come to this tournament because his health isn’t good,” Hott said. “I made up my mind to shoot this tournament to honor him.”
That decision provided the inspiration Hott needed, and she entered the final shoot-down with a 15-point lead. But in a sport where one perfectly placed shot can earn 14 points – or one poorly placed shot misses the target and earns zero – Hott couldn’t relax until the final score was called.
“It’s easy to get tense when the pressure is on,” Hott said. “You can only think about one thing at a time. I just kept telling myself to follow my process. I set my sight, gripped, took a breath, drew and released just like I’ve done in practice, and it made a difference. I was a little shaky on the first shot, but after that it all settled down.”
For the past month, Hott practiced the same pattern and rhythm every time she shot. She takes a deep breath before drawing. As she draws, she takes a deep breath and lets it halfway out. This process helps her relax enough to shoot smoothly without shaking and feeling tense.
Hott might have felt relaxed while shooting, but the tension was palpable in the football stadium, where spectators with binoculars packed every seat and spread onto the grass behind the competitors. Each shot sparked a response from the crowd, ranging from a quiet gasp after a low-scoring shot, to a sigh of relief when an arrow hit the intended ring on the target.
Four shots in, Hott held her lead and worked to keep focused on shooting straight and holding steady on the 10-ring. She drew, sighted in on her target, and let the arrow fly. Hers was the competition’s final shot, but instead of a collective sigh of relief, cheers rang out when her arrow scored.
A range of emotions washed over Hott’s face as her score became official, and she realized her years of practice had paid off. She looked relieved, flashed a dazzling smile to friends in the stands, and then covered her face and cried. She wasn’t alone. Friends she made during 14 years on the professional 3D archery circuit flooded the field in a wave of support. Yellow-and-black-clad pros – her Mathews-sponsored teammates – waited in line for hugs and clapped her on the back. Even Hott’s competitors in the shoot-down gathered around to offer congratulations.
A Long Time Coming
Connie Griffin of Atkins, Arkansas, a fellow archer and Hott’s close friend, said everyone at the tournament was proud of her win because they knew how long and hard she worked to achieve it.
“I can’t think of a single person out there who wasn’t excited for Sherry,” Griffin said. “We all know each other and what everyone goes through, how they practice, what they give up, and how much it means. When you know what they did to get there, you can’t help but be happy for the winner.”
Hott began shooting archery in 1992 and turned pro in 2000. She’s made the final shoot-down more times than she remembers, but has never won. Most competitors at the ASA Classic shoot for two main titles: champion of their division and Shooter of the Year.
ASA has many divisions, from Eagle for children to Senior Masters Class for male archers over age 70. Hott competed in and won the Women’s Pro Class. For this competition, women shot 20 3D targets at unknown distances up to 50 yards on both days of the competition.
Shooter of the Year
ASA holds six tournaments each season. Shooter of the Year is determined by the cumulative points from each ranked tournament, with the lowest score dropped. Hott started the ASA Classic in fifth place for Shooter of the Year, and ended the tournament in third place for this title.
“I got here and it all just fell into place, like I couldn’t really do anything wrong,” Hott said. “I judged well, made good shots, and got the arrow calls. When you get down to the target, there’s always the chance someone can see the call one way and someone else will see it another way. We had some tough calls, but the ladies worked hard to score the arrows right.”
So what about Hott’s friend who couldn’t make the tournament, but helped inspire her win?
“He already knew I’d won before I could call him,” Hott said. “My friends here had him on the phone while I was shooting, and when I got on the phone I couldn’t say much because we were both blubbering. He was telling me he loved me, and how proud he was, and how much he wanted to be here. I called my mama and my son and my grandbabies and pretty much everyone I could think of. It still hasn’t sunk in yet.”
Friendships and Sportsmanship
Hott also won the sportsmanship award for Texas, a title she received at the ASA Classic. This achievement might not be as well-known as champion and Shooter of the Year, but it’s deeply meaningful to archers. Hott earned the sportsmanship award during an ASA tournament in Texas in April when she did something almost unthinkable to help her competitor, Ginger Morehead, of Booneville, Indiana.
“My bow broke during competition and I couldn’t fix it,” Morehead said. “I didn’t have a backup bow, and was going to have to leave the tournament when Sherry, who was in my shooting group, handed me her bow and told me to shoot it. Every professional archer’s bow is set up specifically for them, so it’s almost unheard of for someone to shoot another person’s bow.”
The risky move not only interrupted Hott’s routine, but tested Morehead’s ability to practice what she preaches. Morehead, an archery coach, teaches her students to establish and practice a routine that works. For Hott and Morehead to shoot Hott’s bow in the same competition, they each had to move the sight, judge the distance to the target, aim, shoot and hand the bow back and forth.
“When my bow broke, I was shooting good but Sherry was shooting great,” Morehead said. “When I shot her bow the first time, the arrow hit about a foot to the right of where I aimed. For the rest of the tournament, I aimed a foot to the left to compensate.”
Trading the bow during competition worked for both archers; at least for a while.
“Sherry set her bow to shoot, but then we found out it was my turn to shoot,” Morehead said. “I set the sight and shot. When it was her turn to shoot, she forgot to reset her sight and she missed the target entirely. At that time, she was in the lead by 6 points. It broke my heart when she missed that target because I knew she’d missed it because lending me her bow broke her routine.”
Morehead had her bow fixed by the next day, and both women made the tournament’s final shoot-down. Morehead finished in third place; Hott finished in fourth. Hott said she would lend her bow again, even if it cost her a spot on the podium.
“There are people who wouldn’t lend their bow to another person, but I can’t imagine why you wouldn’t,” Hott said. “I’ve always helped people. I’ll let someone try my bow on the practice range an hour before I compete in the shoot-down. I don’t think about it. I just assume the best in people.
In ASA, archers can only drop one low score or miss one tournament, and Morehead had already missed one tournament when her bow broke in April.
“I couldn’t drop another score, so I needed a good score in Texas,” Morehead said. “Sherry knows my heart, and there’s no way she would let me leave without finishing that tournament. She’s my sister.”
Morehead insisted upon splitting her winnings from the Texas tournament with her friend, and was especially happy when Hott won the ASA Classic.
“It was very emotional for me to see her win,” Morehead said. “It’s a close call as to whether I’d want to win or want Sherry to win. I know where she’s been and how hard she’s worked to get here. This win will be a game-changer for her. She’s an awesome person who out-works me, and she earned this.”
Join the Sisterhood
Winning aside, Hott says friendships she forms through archery are invaluable, and invites other women to find a 3D archery club to get started.
“The women I shoot 3D archery with are like family,” Hott said. “We wouldn’t have met if it weren’t through archery, and we want more women in this sport to keep it going. We all work full time and use our vacation days to shoot archery tournaments and see our archery family. Give it a try. You’ll love it!”