FOXBOROUGH — Steady now. Aim below the place where you want the arrow to hit. Keep your elbow up when you hold the string.
As I listened to the instructor, the string cut into my fingers. Yet holding the bow felt good. It was full of tension, the arrow sharp. Even if I missed the target, the arrow would fly, true and fast, in whatever direction I aimed.
I felt as though, were I thrown into a world without civilization as we know it, I might have a shot at defending myself or hunting down dinner.
“It’s a very truthful sport,” said Thomas Herrington, co-owner with his wife of Ace Archers, an archery shop in Foxborough.
I took a class at Herrington’s shop recently with two couples who saw a deal on Groupon and decided it would be a fun outing.
Archery is very much a mental game, Herrington said. “It’s you, the bow, and the arrow.” You control your mind and your body, and no one else can block you or affect your shot.
The sport has enjoyed some pop-culture exposure recently with the release of the movie “The Hunger Games,” based on a young-adult trilogy of novels, and Disney/Pixar’s animated movie, “Brave.” Both stories star a teenage girl wielding a bow and arrow.
The exposure has sparked real-life interest. Teresa Iaconi, a spokeswoman for USA Archery, the US national governing body for Olympic archery, attributed a “huge spike in interest” to the movies and to the upcoming Summer Olympics, for which the United States is fielding strong archery teams after not medaling since 2000.
The men’s team includes number one world-ranked archer Brady Ellison, and the women, who have not won a medal since 1988, took gold in an Olympic qualifier, Iaconi said. Women’s team member Khatuna Lorig served as archery coach for the female lead in “The Hunger Games.”
When the movie hit theaters in March, traffic on the organization’s website, www.usarchery.org, reached more than 30,000 unique visitors, up from an average of fewer than 18,000 monthly last year. USA Archery now claims more than 5,000 members, up 20.6 percent since December.
Thearon Helton, one of the amateur archers I met in Foxborough, took up the sport in high school. He did target shooting in college and hunted with a compound bow, which has pulleys and cables that decrease the pressure required to hold the string.
For the lesson, though, we used a recurve bow, without all the extras. It’s the same style used in the Olympics.
To my surprise, I was asked to shoot with my weaker arm. Helton was, too. It’s standard practice, we learned, to shoot with the arm that matches your dominant eye.
Our instructor, 19-year-old Cam Klavsen of Walpole, tested our eyes by having us hold out our arms, put our hands together to make a small hole, and look in his direction. He could see which eye we used to look through the hole, and that was the dominant eye.
There are ways you can test yourself at home. Point to an object in the distance, look at the object, and then alternate closing each eye. If closing one eye makes your finger appear to move to the side, the closed eye is the dominant eye.
Helton was a good sport, giving it a try with his weaker arm, but when he switched back to the arm with which he normally shoots, his aim improved.
He was visiting from Georgia, spending time with his fiancée, Beverly Kristenson Jaeger of Foxborough. They went shooting with Jaeger’s nephew and his wife, who live in Newport.
The five of us stood along a line on the floor of the old mill that houses the archery range. We got coaching from Klavsen and Herrington as we emptied our quivers — sheaths of arrows — into targets nine meters away. Every one of us hit the yellow center or came close. We also tried a longer range, 18 meters, which was more difficult, but as a newbie, just hitting the target felt like a modicum of success.
“I like the primitive nature of it more than anything,” Helton said.
Jaeger, who has limited archery experience, said she liked the personal challenge of every shot. She wanted to learn something each time she stepped to the line.
At Reedy’s Archery in Middleborough, a more hunting-oriented shop, though not exclusively so, owner Chris Reed tells novices he’ll have them hitting the bull’s-eye in 10 shots. Some people definitely seem to have an instinct for it, he said. “The cool thing is, you know how some people are good at baseball or softball? Some kids just pick up a bow, and they catch on right away.”
Bow hunters choose archery because it takes work, and it’s up close and personal, he said. They spend a lot of time in the woods, and when they finally see a deer, they may not get a good shot. The bow must be carefully prepared, lest something go wrong at a critical moment.
Klavsen, our instructor at Ace Archers, first got into target archery when his grandparents, who live in Denmark, gave him a gift certificate to a Dedham shop that has since closed. He shot competitively from about age 13 to 17.
“I’ve had kind of a strange relationship with archery, I suppose,” he said.
He went all the way to the USA Archery Junior Dream Team, for which he traveled to train at the Olympic Training Center in California. But to go further in the sport, he would have had to finish high school online and delay college.
Faced with a choice between archery and school, he chose school. Now he attends the Maryland Institute College of Art and teaches archery during the summer. His favorite thing about archery these days, he said, is teaching and watching students improve. They can be as competitive, or not, as they want to be.
“It all comes from you in archery,” he said. “It’s all about you and the bow and the arrow.”