Twelve years ago, the National Field Archery Association (NFAA) was looking for a new place to put down roots.
“We had an office in California, which is where the association was started in 1939, but we wanted a place somewhere centrally located,” said Bruce Cull, former president of the NFAA and director of the NFAA Easton Yankton Archery Center.
A Yankton native, Cull began work on a proposal to make Yankton home to the NFAA.
In the beginning, the NFAA planned on just moving its offices to the area, but a grant awarded to the group by the Easton Foundation made it possible to build a plethora of shooting ranges.
Construction started in 2008, and since then the facility has continued to expand.
The archery center is the only place in the United States, and one of the few places in the world, with an Olympic-size indoor range.
“A lot of people reading this are probably like ‘archery is archery,’ but it’s not. What we have here is unique, in that we have all the archery disciplines.”
“We have the Olympic arm, which is a flat field over 90 meters, which for those who don’t know is over a city block long,” said Cull. “It’s the only place in the United States where you can practice shooting at an Olympic length in a controlled environment.”
In addition to its indoor ranges, the center has 145 acres of outdoor shooting experiences.
“We have field ranges which are similar to a golf course. We have 28 targets of all different ranges. They are on the lay of the land, so you have to deal with uphill and downhill,” explained Cull. “Topography kind of dictates the difficulty of the ranges.”
Recently, the Olympics named the center the largest archery center in the world.
There are over 70,000 square feet of indoor shooting.
“To have the designation from World Archery, the Olympic body, that we are the world’s largest archery facility is pretty cool, and it means a lot to us. For Yankton, South Dakota that is unheard of,” he said.
The center offers guests a wide variety of experiences from archery to trap shooting, indoor tennis courts, air rifle shooting, and more.
“One of the biggest illusions we’ve had to overcome is that people think we are an Olympic training center and they can’t come here,” said Cull. “You can walk in with nothing, and you get some safety instructions and are able to have fun with the whole family.”
Despite being open to the public, in 2011 the Olympic and Paralympic archery teams trained at the facility prior to competing in the London Olympics.
The center also hosts national and worldwide archery championships. In 2015, it hosted its first World Youth Archery Championships.
“We had 50-some countries represented, and they were all minors, so there were a lot of things at stake. The people at World Archery liked the idea of how safe Yankton is because these are kids,” he said.
The event spanned over 10 days and had almost 1,000 volunteers.
“The community is one of the biggest parts of making it work, and it has a big economic impact on the whole area,” explained Cull.
Cull says that due to the sheer size of the archery center, the social distancing aspect of COVID-19 has been easy for them to address, but they’ve had issues looking at large events scheduled in the future.
The center was scheduled to host the World Field Archery Championships in mid-September, though it has been postponed until 2022. According to a World Archery press release, a one-year postponement was rejected due to other postponements for next year, and the fact that the Hyundai World Archery Championships are scheduled to take place in Yankton in 2021.
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“Fifty countries were scheduled to come, and we didn’t have embassies open yet, so people couldn’t even go through the application process to get here,” recalled Cull.
Growing up as an archer himself, Cull says his favorite aspect of the sport is the camaraderie.
“It seems like an international way to bridge the gap between different cultures. When people are shooting a bow, they know they have some connection,” he said. “At least for a short time, that barrier can be broken.”