As part of her transformation into Katniss Everdeen, actress Jennifer Lawrence trained with five-time Olympian archer Khatuna Lorig. Her success was good news for Jim Cox Archery Shop in Salinas.
“When The Hunger Games first came out, that was really a big shot in the arm,” proprietor Jim Cox says. “Users doubled.”
He’s not a big fan of the trilogy, though, and he has some beef with Lawrence’s aiming style. She pulls the bowstring back to her chin, he says, customary of Olympians shooting at long-distance targets; a proper hunter would pull the string back to the corner of their mouth. (In the 1938 version of Robin Hood, actor Errol Flynn got it right.)
Cox, 69, has been in the archery business since 1970, long enough to cultivate an encyclopedic knowledge of archery trivia. His face, along with his family’s, has repeatedly appeared in advertisements for bow maker Martin Archery. He’s hunted hundreds of animals on multiple continents.
In 1970, Cox started selling archery equipment alongside car stereos at a shop in North Salinas. He’d been working as an auto repairman, and a buddy at a Castroville archery shop suggested they merge their inventories.
From there he dove in, becoming not just a seller of gear but also an archer and inventor. In the late ’70s, he designed the “Dynabow.” At the time, it shot faster than bows ever had before.
COX REMINISCES FONDLY OF THE DAYS HE COULD SHOOT SHARKS IN ELKHORN SLOUGH.
“When we broke 200 feet per second, we thought we were the coolest thing in the world,” Cox says. “They’re shooting close to 400 feet per second now.”
He’s met celebrities along the way. When guitarist/NRA spokesman Ted Nugent married Shemane Deziel in 1989, Cox joined him on a 10-person bowhunting trip to South Africa, where they shot animals like impalas and warthogs.
Cox’s memorabilia is on display in his Salinas archery shop and indoor range, located in a Salinas shopping center behind a chiropractic office. Photos of hunts line the walls alongside taxidermied heads of wild boar, deer and elk.
Cox reminisces fondly of the days in the ’60s and ’70s when he could shoot sharks in (now protected) Elkhorn Slough. He also hunted goats and sheep on the Channel Islands before The Nature Conservancy acquired the land.
Cox is something of an archery artisan, assembling bows, adjusting the tightness of their strings, making arrows and gluing on feathers. Recurved bows – long and straight, evoking Robin Hood – start at $139. Faster, more precise compound bows start around $300.
His shooting range is a narrow room, 20 yards of white tile floor and a back wall covered in layers of dark carpet, where he’s pinned up paper targets. “We had to put a double wall there because there’s a church next door,” he says.
I take up a training bow, one so easy to use Cox won’t sell them. My arrows fly weakly, failing to penetrate the carpeted wall.
After some firm instructions from Cox – right elbow up, left arm straight, and “quit being nice” – I’m hitting the target from 10 yards away. Cox has shot his target from as far as 100 yards.
Archery is increasingly popular among urban types with little interest in hunting, Cox says. “We have a lot of people who don’t want to kill anything,” he says. “We don’t care what you do, as long as you shoot a bow.”
That’s proven on a Friday night, when a casual league gathers for a competition. Judy Burditt of Prunedale comes with her husband and son. She routinely hits the bullseye.
“It’s something I could be competitive with the guys at,” Burditt says. “It’s pretty much an even playing field.”
Roberta Williams, a special education teacher with the Monterey County Office of Education, brings her blind middle – and high-school students to the range. “It becomes just body mechanics: how to stand, where to position your arm,” she says. “They’re very excited if they hit the target.”
Williams, who lives in Pacific Grove, isn’t interested in real hunting, but she does use Salinas Bowmen Archery Club’s 15-acre range off Crazy Horse Canyon Road in Prunedale. There, members pursue life-sized foam bears, elk and deer through an oak-studded course.
Actual hunts can cost upwards of $3,500, including permits and access to private land. Cox used to offer hunting access, for a fee, on his own ranch near Chualar. But he stopped a few years ago, settling instead for the club range in Prunedale and daily practice rounds at his own shop before it opens.
“I’ll do this until I’m 100 years old,” he says, “as long as I don’t become a grumpy old man.”