LITTLE FALLS -- Jon Backowski and Jake Cameron have practiced archery together since the sixth grade.
In those days the former Little Falls residents played a game on the banks of the Mississippi River near the house where Cameron lived. They would pick a tree across the river and, using their old, bent arrows, see who could come closest to hitting it. The trees often were more than a hundred yards away -- too far to hit consistently -- but the boys liked watching the arrows rattle through the trees or stick in the mud.
Those days on the 'ol Miss are past, but today Backowski, 22, and Cameron, 20, still shoot together. Now, however, the stakes are higher than bragging rights for hitting a tree.
Backowski and Cameron are among Minnesota's top archers in Male Freestyle, a class that allows competitors to use all accessories on their bows. Backowski's average score is 300 (out of 300 possible points) with 57 arrows in the X-ring. Cameron averages 299 with 48 to 55 arrows in the X-ring. Both shoot Jennings compound bows, enjoy bowhunting as well as target shooting and would like to pursue target archery as far as it will take them.
Backowski already has won state and national titles and would like to compete at the World Archery Festival ("Vegas Shoot") and the NFAA Indoor Nationals, events that draw the top shooters in the nation. Cameron aims to be Minnesota's 3-D indoor grand champion, a feat that would require perfect scores at the state indoor meet, outdoor field meet and 3-D state championship.
Backowski's and Cameron's shooting styles are so similar they're sometimes mistaken for brothers on the archery range. On a shooting line with 50 other competitors they often are the last to make their final shots, sometimes waiting until mere seconds remain on the clock.
"I like to relax and think about the arrow going into the X-ring," Backowski explains.
In trying to establish the perfect rhythm for a shot, Cameron will draw and let down several times in a single shot sequence.
"Sometimes it takes too long, doesn't feel right or I'm not focused," he says.
Cameron was 7 when his father, John, taught him how to shoot in the backyard. But he didn't get serious about archery until about five years later when Backowski started giving him lessons.
"Jake shoots really well considering that I taught him a lot about how to shoot," Backowski jokes. "But he needs to realize that it's okay to miss, that nobody's perfect. Sometime he gets too critical about his shooting."
Likewise, Cameron has helped Backowski get better. "I think the competition between us has helped us both," Cameron says.
Burnout is common among competitive archers, but Backowski and Cameron say they're still having as much fun as they did on those afternoons when they shot at tree stumps across the Mississippi River. They will compete in about a dozen shoots statewide this summer.
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