The latest equipment runs the gamut from elegant recurves to high-tech bows with triggers.
By Gibbs Milliken
Bow hunting, bow fishing and field archery seem to get more and more popular every year. Hunts for feral hogs and small game provide an archer with the chance for exciting action on both day and night hunts. The same is true for bow fishers hunting the backwaters of lakes and rivers in search of huge alligator gar and other rough fish. In addition, field archery and 3-D animal target ranges scattered across the state offer hours of fun and the practice needed to keep shooting skills well tuned. And for many, organized competitions are not simply tests of skill — they represent a new and challenging sport.
The latest trend is a renewed interest in traditional bows, accessories and instinctive shooting. This seems to be a back-to-the-basics movement generated by the need for the primal touch of releasing an arrow at a target using a conventional bow with the arrow guided only by eye-hand coordination. The shot is made instinctively using a spread-draw to a familiar anchor point, ending in a smooth and natural release without the aid of mechanical sights. It takes lots of practice, but nothing in archery compares to the Zen feeling and deep satisfaction of becoming one with the arrow in a pre-visualized perfect shot.
Improvements in Traditional Equipment
Among the most innovative bow designs of all time is the Fred Bear TakeDown, a laminated recurve, conceived after years of tinkering with variations by this legendary archer. Since it was first introduced in 1969, Bear has considered this to be the finest production bow he ever built. It was an ideal choice for him as he traveled around the world, hunting big game and making films of his adventures. The wide fiberglass-powered limbs are removed from the riser by special latches that require no tools, so the bow packs easily for transport and storage. Reassembly and stringing the bow requires about 60 seconds. This bow is expensive, but it is still available in two handle lengths: the classic “A” handle bow measures 56 inches, and the “B” handle bow is four inches longer. This model has a crowned arrow shelf, Bear Hair rest, inlaid compass, fast-flight string and classic Bear Kodiak styling. ($975, Bear TakeDown Bow, Fred Bear Archery, 866-566-2754, www.fredbearoutdoors.com)
New designs in traditional bows evolve slowly because the existing technology is already such a proven performer. It takes a master bowyer to tweak an already great design to an even higher level of speed and smoothness. Such is the case with the new Sarrels Bobbcatt II Recurve. These bows are hand-built one at a time to the highest standards of materials and craftsmanship. Bob Sarrels has been making classic hunting bows for nine years. He has now taken another step forward in this latest formula, so that the riser tapers gradually into the limbs and the working curve is modulated to produce virtually no handshock. His recurves flex at full draw into a graceful parabolic, adding considerable speed and penetration to the arrow. ($475, Bobbcatt Recurve, Sarrels Archery, 512-940-3098. www.sarrelsarchery.com)
Bow fishing is also surging in popularity, and most archery shops stock an assortment of this specialized equipment. Fish hunters are restricted to shooting only non-game fishes (“rough fish”). Included are such quarry as the huge alligator gar and its smaller relatives. Also targeted are river suckers, bowfin, tilapia, buffalo and carp.
Innovations in bow fishing equipment include a new reel design and arrow connection system by AMS Bowfishing. This design is safer to use than the standard line attachment, where a possible line snag on release can be dangerous to the shooter if the arrow snaps back, nock first, into the archer's face or neck. The reel utilizes a delivery method consisting of a bottle container for the line that is connected to a sliding ring around the solid fiberglass arrow. When shot, the ring slides to the nock and the line flows out safely from the bottle and can be retrieved using a friction trigger and crank handle. ($83.65, Slotted Retriever Bowfishing Reel. $13.50, Fiberglass Fish Arrow with point and safety slide. AMS Bowfishing. 888-541-7657. www.amsbowfishing.com)
Both conventional and compound bows are used for this sport. In most cases, it is not necessary, and generally undesirable, to have heavy-poundage, high-performance bows with sights for close-range bow fishing.
High Performance Gear
At the other end of the technology spectrum are the most advanced bows, arrows, points, sights and mechanical releases ever produced.
The latest hunting compound bow is the Fred Bear 2005 Premier Line, SQ32. This 32.5-inch, 4-pound unit features a parallel-limb design with straight carbon-fiber quad limbs, a long perforated machined aluminum riser and a totally synchronized cam-and-a-half pulley system. It is fully adjustable for different draws and comes with 75 percent let-off that can be changed to 65 percent. Shooting smooth and recoil-free, it can deliver arrows consistently and accurately at a blazing 310 F.P.S. by IBO speed standards. ($599, Fred Bear SQ32, Fred Bear Archery. www.fredbearoutdoors.com)
Also using parallel-limb design and weighing just over 4 pounds is the new 33-inch Mathews Switchback, considered by many to be
one of the best compounds built to date. This model introduces the new Straight-line Cobra Cam with dual perimeter weights shooting ultra-fast at 318 F.P.S. measured IBO. The entire system is made smooth and silent by using harmonic dampers at multiple points, including two built into the roller-guard. A new type of string minimizes adjustments of the peep sight. The bow is available in draw weights from 40 to 70 pounds with let-off options from 65 to 80 percent. ($769, Swithchback Bow, Mathews Inc., 608-269-2728, www.mathewsinc.com)
As in any sport, accessories are a vital part of the mix. Experienced archers make sure the arrow with its fletching and point is correctly matched to the bow. With major improvements in arrow shafts, the consistency of precision-built aluminum and carbon arrows allows the archer confidence that the occasional missed shot will not be the result of the shafts. The same is true of arrowheads. High-tech broadheads are now a standard weight of 100 grains and, in the best designs, have aerodynamics that will not cause them to plane off target. Fletching also is improved, with smaller sizes made of soft plastic for greater speed in the high-performance bows.
On the other hand, traditional archers remain dedicated to thicker spine-tested arrows and longer fletching of real turkey feathers with fixed-blade arrowheads at 125 grains or above for better penetration from slower speed bows.
Sights are considered a necessity on most compound bows. These range in style from adjustable fiber-optic pins to electronic red dots superimposed on the target for deadly accuracy. Fingers no longer contact the string, being replaced by mechanical triggers for a smooth release with short bows. The same is true of arrow rests that vary in an endless array of contrivances, the latest being the “drop-away” that rises when drawing the compound bow and falls at the instant of release. Innovation upon innovation feeds the need to have more and more mounted gadgets until your bow is too heavy and shooting is reduced to a robotic performance.
Sometimes less is more. It is easy to understand why a growing number of archers are returning to a light and graceful handmade recurve or longbow, a quiver of feathered arrows and instinctive shooting. Perhaps our own technology has led us too far from the simple pleasures found in roving unmarked courses and hunting the hard way.