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By Courtney Rubin
The archery instructor Patricia Gonsalves aims to please, so these days it's out with the bull's-eyes, in with the squirrels' eyes.
"A couple of years ago, if I ever even put up an animal target, all the girls would go, 'Eww, that's so gross,'" said Gonsalves, of Vancouver, who spends hours hand-painting her squirrels. "Now I do, and they're like: 'Cool. Can you shoot an apple out of a pig's mouth like Katniss did?'"
Katniss, of course, is Katniss Everdeen, the bow-wielding heroine of The Hunger Games trilogy. The 16-year-old warrior, played by Jennifer Lawrence, is such a good shot that she hits squirrels in the eye—and she is the major cause of waiting lists for archery lessons from coast to coast.
At Gonsalves' school, Academie Duello, classes can fill up within 24 hours of the booking window's opening, and the waiting list is so long children are waiting for six months. Lutherville-Timonium Recreation Council in suburban Baltimore has a waiting list of more than 100 children, according to coach, Ted Light.
And on Staten Island in New York, the Victory Archers is besieged with Girl Scout troops "all talking Katniss," said Joe Strcich, the club's secretary-treasurer.
Archery has enjoyed blips in popularity from films in the past—The Lord of the Rings trilogy and Robin Hood films are frequently cite—but nothing as big or sustained as the current surge. Nor have films ever resonated much with girls, who now turn up for lessons in variations of Katniss' side-braid hairstyle.
"Katniss has helped give archery a hip factor it's just never had before," said Teresa Iaconi, the spokeswoman for USA Archery, which fields the Olympic team. "No disrespect to Kevin Costner"—the star of 1991's Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves, she added, "but he was an old guy in tights."
Since December 2011, individual membership in USA Archery has jumped 25 percent, while the number of clubs has nearly doubled, to 540 from 279. Stacy Smith, 16, of Smiths Station, Alabama, has been around hunting her whole life. She thought shooting a bow "was something my dad did," she said, until she saw Katniss. "I thought it was cool that she could protect herself," Smith said. She and three friends finally gave the sport a try. Now she shoots regularly.
For Lauren Tang, 14, of Delta, British Columbia, the sport became a must-try after Katniss shot the apple on-screen. "If anything ever happens, I could survive in the wilderness," said Lauren.
Teenage girls are not the only devotees. Boys appear to idolise the arrow-slinging hero Hawkeye from this year's film The Avengers—much to the chagrin of archery teachers.
The child-archer craze is also spurring adults to try the sport. Karen Seaman, chief marketing officer for the Sportsman's Warehouse chain, said she bought her first bow this year, for her 8-year-old son. "We've seen a lot of women doing that," she said. "It's a family activity, away from the iPad for a few hours."
The second installment of the Hunger Games film franchise, Catching Fire, is scheduled for next winter. In April, USA Archery wrote to thank the author Suzanne Collins for taking archery "from 'men in tights' to the blazing hot spotlight." To which Alli Petheriotis, 14, who has never even heard of Robin Hood, would add: "She made it look cool. And it is cool."