MARION COUNTY — In a few weeks, Kansas' bowhunters will quietly melt into the woods when deer season begins.
Many may log scores of stoic hours as they enjoy hunting's most silent and lonely pursuit, hoping to fire one arrow at the buck of their dreams.
But Saturday, many gathered at a Marion County farm where they laughed and talked amid a crowd of their peers.
Most launched dozens of arrows on a special target course and shared enjoyable hours with the families they won't see often when the season opens.
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"Because it is such a solitary sport, we wanted to give everyone the opportunity to get together once a year and do this," said Pat Post as he looked at the crowd of about 150 friends at the farmstead he shares with his wife, Janet. "It's fun to get together and shoot our bows."
For about 25 years, the Post place has been the unofficial "Bowhunter's Central" for archery deer hunters from three counties.
During the season it's where hunters meet to help another get a downed buck from the woods. In the late summer it's a place of evening practice sessions.
Janet Post said they decided to host an organized event for a few friends several years ago. The shoot's grown each of its five years.
Saturday, archers hiked trails that took them to 15 challenging shooting stations.
Shots ranged from about 12 to 35 yards at life-sized foam targets of everything from tiny foxes and bobcats to big bears and trophy bucks.
Pat Post designed the course to replicate hunting conditions.
Shooters dealt with targets in dark shadows, sunlight in their eyes, thick screens of leaves and arrow-eating tree trunks.
Even good shooters got humbled by a target or two.
"I like it because it's a good way to sharpen up my shooting skills and be around a lot of good people," said Tom Ross of Halstead. "And the food's excellent, too."
Ross walked the course with his brothers Alan of Council Grove and Tim of Peabody. Wichitan Mike Sowell joined the trio on his first trip to the event.
Most archers did the 15-target course twice before casing their bows and gathering beneath shade trees to talk and feast.
Travis Foth, of nearby Peabody, smoked a 250-pound hog for the event. Many of the guests brought side dishes or appetizers.
Most shooters were accompanied by family.
Many ended up at a mini-range where kids as young as 2 shot arrows from lightweight bows at targets a few feet away.
Most shots drew congratulations, no matter if it hit a target or not.
"A lot of why we do this is so people can get together with their families," Post said. "The family thing is really the most important."