Eldon Larson has aimed for greatness
FULDA -- Behind a flagpole upon which waves a U.S. flag, below which rests a handmade sign that reads, "Don't like my flag? Dial 1-800-LEAVE THE USA" Eldon Larson sat behind his dining room table Wednesday morning and talked about a subject he says he can expound upon all day.
On April 27, the 68-year-old Fulda resident was inducted into the Minnesota Archery Hall of Fame.
"I couldn't believe it. I thought, 'You've got to be kidding me.' I was elated, but humbled, also," he said.
Larson's surprise, though refreshing, may have been misplaced. After all, his accomplishments speak for themselves. They include:
-- Twenty-seven state championships
-- Six Midwest championships (which includes Minnesota, Iowa, Kansas, Missouri and South Dakota)
-- One North American championship (U.S., Canada and Mexico)
-- One second and two thirds at the Nationals
-- Nine state-record scores.
-- One North American record score
-- Five white-tail deer entered in the Pope and Young record book, plus many other non-records
-- Two mule deer, two black bear and two wild turkeys harvested.
Larson's archery story begins at a young age when he remembers being "intrigued" with bows. As a kid, he tried to make them out of willow branches. Then came the day, at the age of 14, when he happened upon a book called "Hunting the Hard Way."
"And I was just fascinated," he said.
He begged his parents for a real bow, and they let him purchase one out of a Sears & Roebuck catalog. It was a hickory bow.
So Eldon put up a target on hay bales and shot at rabbits. His accuracy was as suspect as his knowledge.
"When I started out, I was shooting left-handed with a right-handed bow. I didn't know what I was doing. And nobody was around to show me," he recalled, laughing.
Things changed when the young Larson met high school senior and fellow Westbrook resident Robert Barrie, an archery enthusiast who took a liking to the lad. "I went up to his house and he showed me aluminum arrows. I thought, 'My gosh, aluminum arrows!' And all this time I was just using wood dowels."
In his first tournament with his old wooden bow, still around the age of 14, Larson said he did "terrible." But he worked at it. He joined a local archery club in Fulda, which had an indoor range, and honed his skills.
Today the Westbrook native, who lived much of his life in the Slayton and Fulda areas, continues to enjoy archery along with hunting and fishing. He plays guitar in a band called "Starfire." Larson and his wife, Sharyl, have two children, Tim and Krista, and five grandchildren.
Retired from a 42-year career with the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, the jovial Larson continues to raise the bow. Though he is still winning tournaments (he won the state senior division 25-meter indoor shoot in Anoka last month), he admits that the aging process has affected him.
"I'm not as steady as I used to be. Sad to say, it does go away. But once in a while I have a flash of brilliance."
And the memories are still fresh. Like the time in 1974 when he won a state championship using a wooden bow --when everybody else was using the latest technological wonder, the compound bow. Or the time in 1987 when he won the North American Field Archery Championship (a tournament that featured competitors from the U.S., Canada and Mexico) and stood on an Olympic-like pedestal while the national anthem played.
It was a moment that brought tears.
Larson, who belongs to the Worthington Southwest Bowbenders Club and the Beaver Creek Archers of Slayton, shoots indoors at both clubs during winter. He has served on the Minnesota State Archery Association board of governors for 15 years.
Archery competition, he said, is an unquenchable challenge.
"It's the trying to perfect yourself to the point that you can be as good as you can be. And you're on your own. There's no one there to help you.
Tournaments, said Larson, are a "head game."
"You gotta keep your wits about you for every shot. You miss one and you might as well go home."
Home is now a place where Eldon Larson, a 68-year-old retiree who looks at least 10 years younger, remembers and is grateful. He has stored countless memories of tournaments and hunts that, he says, "you can't put a price on." Still active, justifiably proud but thoughtfully humble, he seems to be just the kind of man who would display a flag with a patriotic message in front of his gray-sided Fulda home. He calls the U.S. the greatest country on Earth, and he says the statement underneath the flag has been well-received.
"Some people have commented on it and said they liked it," says Larson. "Nobody's called to complain yet."