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Farm adds archery range to operation

The old tiestall barn at Elder Creek Farm in Springport has a new lease on life. In the past, it housed contented cows; now, it’s the perfect place for people of all ages to try their hand at archery.

The Barn Archery, an indoor archery range, is the brainchild of Ray Heisler, part owner of Elder Creek Farm with his father, Duane, and brother, Steve. In 1997 the Heislers built a new freestall barn to accommodate their growing herd. After the cows settled into their new digs, it wasn’t long before Ray had designs on the old barn.

Instead of tearing it down, Ray repurposed it by gutting the interior and adding insulation. He wanted to install top-of-the-line targets as the crowning touch; however, 3-D competition targets, which retail for about $200 to $1,200 each, were too expensive. Luckily, he got a deal on several 3-D targets used during the world archery finals. Ray refurbished the targets and arranged them in the barn to simulate a forest-like setting, complete with fake grass and trees.

Key Points

• The Heislers combine their affinity for archery and dairy farming.

• On-farm recreation is an opportunity to connect consumers with farming.

• Managing a side business is extra work but doable for the family.

The Heislers’ affinity for archery and the community’s need for a local year-round range motivated Ray to make the range something special and open it to the public. “My brother and I like shooting; it’s a lot of fun and good exercise,” he says. “And I wanted the community to have a convenient and affordable place to shoot indoors during the winter.”

The range, geared for everyone from beginners to pros, is one of the few places in Michigan for indoor, long-distance shooting with 3-D targets.

Once he built The Barn Archery, people came. At any given time, around 20 people — men, women, teens and children — are shooting there. About 150 people visit each week. Ray offers lessons on Saturday mornings and organized archery leagues for couples, women and beginners.

All in the family

“The family involvement is amazing,” says Ray’s wife, Kathy. “Parents bring their kids to shoot, and they stay and watch for hours. We opened a kids’ league so parents can have time for their own shooting. There’s heartfelt support and encouragement — people laugh, joke and have fun, and you can see their confidence level increasing unbelievably.”

Ray says the best part of the venture is the opportunity to promote both dairy and archery. “Now people are more aware of what goes on at a dairy farm. There are times I have to leave the range to go pull a calf; sometimes guys come with me to help. A lot of times the kids will go out to the barn, while their dads are shooting to see if any cows are calving or help Kathy feed the calves. Sometimes the moms come out just to help on the farm.”

The atmosphere of the farm and the retrofitted barn are what makes shooting at The Barn Archery unique. “A lot of guys who shoot at a $2 million facility in the Thumb [area] say they like shooting at The Barn Archery better,” says Ray.

Ten of his patrons, including many new to archery, participated in a national archery tournament in Indiana this year. This past winter, The Barn Archery hosted a state-sanctioned qualifier shoot, which attracted more than 180 people during the two-day event. And this year, the G5 bow company asked Ray to host its state tournament.

Ray admits that his pet project got much bigger than he thought it would, although he says, “It’s not a get-rich thing.” He spends an additional 40 to 50 hours per week with the business.

“It’s time-consuming; it’s like a second job. The good part is that during the winter, when things [on the farm] are a bit slower, I have something to do; it’s a fun winter activity.”

Daughter runs operation

During the spring, though, Ray has a hard time getting to the shooting barn, and so Kathy and their daughters cover for him. Last year, one of Ray’s daughters, Danielle, then 15, took over as the manager of The Barn Archery on a volunteer basis. Danielle logs shooting hours, records income, and assists with public relations by developing fliers, writing articles for the local paper and posting updates on The Barn Archery’s Facebook page.

Through her volunteer work, she has raised and donated $1,000 to the Shinsky Orphanage in Matamoros, Mexico; $500 to the Springport FFA greenhouse; and $2,500 to a Springport family who lost their house to a fire in January. This year Danielle and her uncle Steve compiled Danielle’s experiences and results as The Barn Archery manager and entered it as a junior business project in the FFA national scholarship competition, garnering fourth place.

The Barn Archery is at 28354 W. Drive North in Springport. For more information, contact Ray at 517-917-2774 or Kathy at 517-857-4252.

Karen Giles-Smith writes from Mason.

About the farm

Elder Creek Farm is a family-owned dairy farm in Springport, with a milking herd of about 200 Brown Swiss, Holstein and Jersey cows, and close to 500 acres of feed corn and hay. The Heislers are one of the premier breeders of registered Brown Swiss cattle in Michigan. Ray and Steve are the third generation of Heislers dairying with registered Brown Swiss cows.


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The Heislers: Kathy and Ray Heisler pose with their daughters Danielle, Amber and Courtney, and pet dog.

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Sign marks the spot: The sign welcoming visitors to Elder Creek Farm was designed by Ray Heisler’s wife, Kathy.

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straight as an arrow: At The Barn Archery, people enjoy getting in the game or watching from the sidelines.

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stage is set: The Heislers purchased and refurbished 3-D targets used in national competitions.

This article published in the November, 2012 edition of MICHIGAN FARMER.

All rights reserved. Copyright Farm Progress Cos. 2012.