Dennis Anderson: Archer's aim is true

  • Article by: DENNIS ANDERSON , Star Tribune
  • Updated: August 12, 2012 - 12:53 AM

A contest at Game Fair pits man and bow against balloon at 100 yards and also shows how the sport and its gear have evolved.

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Kurt Baumgartner has hunted with a bow for more than 30 years and is coordinator of the first 100-yard archery contest this year at Game Fair, which runs today and next Friday, Saturday and Sunday at Armstrong Ranch Kennels in Ramsey, just west of Anoka.

Contest entry fee is $10, all of which will be donated to the National Archery in the Schools Program. Qualifying events are at 10 a.m. and 3 p.m. each day of Game Fair (www.gamefair.com), with the finals next Sunday. Prize for first, second and third places is $500, $300 and $200.

In the interview below, Baumgartner discusses how the evolution of modern bows and other archery equipment allows archers using off-the-shelf gear to hit targets at 100 yards.

QHunting bows have become so accurate that 100-yards shots -- at least at targets, as opposed to deer and other game -- are now possible.

AArchery equipment has evolved dramatically in recent years. As few as 10 years ago, shooting 100 yards with a hunting bow wasn't a very good idea. But as the technology has gotten better, it's now possible.

QWhat has been the most important recent development in archery?

AThe speed with which they shoot arrows. Also, today's bows have less vibration. And arrow manufacturing has changed dramatically. It used to be that everyone shot aluminum arrows. Now it's carbon. Additionally, the way fletchings are made nowadays -- they're smaller, with considerably less wind drag. Yet they're capable of producing accurate flight at long distances.

QWhose idea was it for the 100-yard Game Fair contest?

AWe've been shooting exhibition 100-yard shots at Game Fair the past four years. We do it just before Tom Knapp does his trick-shooting exhibition, so we've had some good crowds. People get a kick out of it -- many don't think it's possible to do. So the idea of a contest just grew out of the exhibition, and now we expect a pretty good turnout.

It's the only contest of its kind we know of. In the preliminary rounds, each archer will get three warmup shots, then one shot at a balloon 100 yards away. If they break it, they qualify for the finals next Sunday. Finalists that day who break the balloon stay in. Those who miss are out.

QArchery competition has gained higher visibility with the Olympics in London. But most tournaments aren't with shots as long as 100 yards.

AThat's right. In fact, a lot of actual target shooting is done at 20 yards. But those competitors use target bows and are looking for pinpoint accuracy, whereas in our contest, accuracy will be determined by those who pop a balloon at 100 yards.

QHow fast are the fastest hunting bows today?

ASome of the higher-end ones are in the 350-feet-per-second range. Realistically, in the field, that translates to about 290, which is still extremely fast. The best news is you don't have to pull a 70-pound bow anymore to get those speeds. I pull 60 pounds and still get plenty of speed. It all depends how you've got your bow set up.

QWhat importance is speed to a hunter, as opposed to a target shooter?

AIt comes down to distance. When you're shooting slower bows, you have to be a very accurate judge of distance. I'm not advocating that hunters with fast bows don't have to judge distances accurately -- all archers should know what they're shooting at and how far away it is. Carrying a good range finder helps do this.

Still, if I've got a fast bow, the advantage I've got is that, say I've got a 20-yard pin on my sights, I can still hit an ethical vitals shot out to 35 yards. In fact, I can make the same shot anywhere from 10 to 35 yards, using that single sighting pin, because my bow is so fast.

Speed just gives your arrow a flatter trajectory and takes some of the distance judging out of the equation.

QWhat type of sight do you use on your bow?

AI have only a single-pin sight. I've got it preset at different distances, so that if I'm target shooting at 100 yards, for instance, I can move the pin to that setting. I use a single-pin sight because, again, I shoot a fast bow, and using a sight with, say, five pins, would be too confusing.

It used to be with slower bows that there would be a gap between the pins, making the different colored pins easy to pick out -- one for 10 yards, another for 20, 30, 40 and 50 and so forth. But the fast bows would require the pins to be placed nearly on top of one another. The pin gaps would be so small it would be difficult to pick one out in a hurry. And anyway, you wouldn't have to, because in hunting, you're usually setting your stand up so most shots that you take will be at about 20 yards, give or take. With a fast bow, and one pin, you can stretch that out pretty much as you need to, say to 30 or 35 yards, or shorten it up to as few as 10 yards.

QHow much do the new, faster bows cost?

ASome of them run up to $1,000 and more. And there will be other costs to get a bow set up with sights and so forth. But you don't have to spend that much. There are a lot of good-performing bows on the market today in the $500 range.

QWith bows, however -- regardless of price -- it's never one-size-fits-all.

AThat's right. Archery equipment is size and dimension specific. It has to be set up to your measurements. That's the most critical part of archery equipment purchasing: getting a bow that fits you.

QA consideration with some of the new, faster bows is the importance of keeping them tuned, so they shoot accurately.

AIt's a factor of the brace height of a bow, or the distance from the handle to the string. The shorter that distance -- taking certain other factors into consideration -- the faster the bow will be, and the more tuning it might require. In my opinion, a hunting bow should have a brace height of about 7 inches.

QTarget shooting with a high-tech bow at long distances is one thing. Shooting at an animal at long distances is another. Have the new bows changed the general rule that most hunting shots with a bow should be in the range of 20 yards or less?

ABefore our shooting exhibitions at Game Fair, I always issue a disclaimer saying we don't advocate shots at these distances at game. Can I break a balloon at 100 yards? Yes, fairly regularly. But I always set up my bow stands for 20-yard shots. In all the years I've been hunting, I've only taken one "long'' shot, and that was at an elk in Colorado that I killed at 45 yards.

Dennis Anderson danderson@startribune. com

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