CLARA CITY — Dalen Caspers has collected so many trophies attesting to his prowess with a recurve bow that he has to line them on shelves in his home like books at the library, side-by-side.
There is one story these trophies don’t tell. He wasn’t always a sure shot.
His father, George, started him hunting as a youth with a 12-gauge, lever-action Winchester. “I couldn’t hit anything with that thing,” said Caspers, laughing.
Tell that to the archers in the state, who recognize this traditional archer as one of the best.
They made it official in August, when Caspers was inducted into the Minnesota State Archery Hall of Fame.
“He is one of the elite, top recurve shooters in the state of Minnesota,” said Ron Mackedanz of Kandiyohi. Mackedanz has been a friend and shooting partner of Caspers for 36 years and nominated Caspers for the recognition.
Casper’s troubles with that lever-action Winchester were recognized by his father, George. He got the young Dalen on target by replacing it with a 12-gauge pump. Caspers, now 87, still remembers fondly his success with that shotgun. He’d carry it home from school in the fall and surprise mallards in small potholes.
But, Caspers' real talents were developed in 1958 when he and his new bride, Janice, moved into an upstairs apartment in Clara City. Their neighbor, Stan Meyer, was in need of an archery partner.
Meyer’s shooting partner, Kenny Priebe, was giving up the sport. He convinced Caspers to purchase Priebe’s Bear bow with 50 pounds of draw weight and its quiver of arrows.
It was like handing a baseball bat to Babe Ruth.
Caspers and Meyer became fast friends and shooting and hunting partners. Meyer, now of Montevideo, was inducted into the Minnesota State Archery Hall of Fame in 2016.
In one of Casper's first archery tournaments, he and Meyer were paired against Bob Rohde and Bob Siever, the two very best archers in the state at the time.
Caspers got to meet other legends of the archery world as well, including Fred Bear, who is widely recognized for reviving the sport.
It wasn’t long before Caspers and Meyers were known in the archery world as well, thanks to the tournament trophies they won. Both were also active in promoting the archery clubs and leagues in Clara City, Willmar and Montevideo.
Their Clara City neighbors knew of their passion for archery in a different way. The two men would often stalk rabbits with their bows in the backyards of the community. Caspers laughs that he and his buddy would probably be arrested for trying the same today.
His love for hunting and the outdoors led him to pursue bigger game as well, and in locations far from the town’s backyards. For 35 years, Caspers and other traditional archery enthusiasts from the area made annual treks to hunt mule deer in Colorado.
He has a line-up of mule deer mounts in his home as proof of his success.
There are more than a few Minnesota whitetail racks in this collection as well. Caspers grew up near Sacred Heart. He has hunted whitetail deer in an area of the Minnesota River Valley south of the community all of his adult life.
Caspers has stuck with traditional archery through all of these years. He said he was never tempted to join the growing legion of archers who have turned to compound bows.
Modern compound bows offer more power, distance and accuracy than recurve or longbows, but Caspers has always held his own. “He’ll keep up with most of the guys with compound bows, their sights and fancy gadgets,” said Mackendanz. Both men said they believe traditional archery — with its simple stick and string technology — is more fun and challenging.
While making his name in tournament shoots and other archery events, Caspers exhibited the same passion for family, church and work. He and Janice were parents to four boys and he introduced each to archery and hunting.
He was successful in careers with the V-Stores (28 years) and MaraCom in Willmar (22 years). A largely self-taught artist, he also produced graphic designs and for years operated his own side business providing lettering for trucks and window fronts.
He has served as elder, deacon and Sunday school teacher at his church, the Bethany Reformed Church in Clara City.
And for 20 years, he led a male gospel quartet that performed throughout the region and other parts of the state.
“My wife would probably say I wasn’t home a lot,” said Caspers, laughing. He admits that he sometimes wonders just how he did manage it all.
Caspers said he is hoping to rebuild some of the upper body strength his recurve bow demands in order to get back in the field this fall. He wants to return to the Minnesota River Valley to continue his pursuit of those big, river bottom bucks, but said he can’t be sure. He is looking at the need for a knee replacement. The loss of cartilage in one knee is the legacy of an automobile accident many years ago.
While age may limit his body, Caspers said his passion for archery and hunting is no less today than when he first pulled back that 50-pound Bear bow that he had purchased from Kenny Priebe.
Mackedanz said he’s a better archer and person just for having been in the company of his friend. He said his friend is more than deserving of this latest recognition in the Hall of Fame. “Ultimate gentleman. Great friend. Always fun to be with,” he said.