Sunday, April 21, 2013

Chasing The Arrow

I bought a compound bow yesterday. I'm resorting to archery to satisfy my shooting fix. Today, I spent about three hours at Archery Field & Sports finding out just how little I know about archery.

Just getting started can be dizzying. There are about six hundred million different kinds of bows made by a dozen or so major manufacturers. What I have been told by two bow shop pros is this: to get a good bow, you'll need to spend $400-$500. The bows in that price range are just as fast and forgiving (for the most part) as their $1000+ brethren. Second, brand loyalty is fierce among archers, but the bow your buddy shoots might not feel good to you. Go in with an open mind and buy the bow that "speaks" to you. You shoot a bow almost 100% by how it feels, and if it doesn't feel good, you won't like it and you probably won't hit much. Your bow's draw length and poundage has to be set up specifically for you, which is called "tuning". This is an elaborate process, but a good pro shop guy (or gal) will walk you through it and it won't be scary or expensive. Most places set up your bow for free if you buy from them.

Then you'll need a mechanical release. Almost nobody shoots by hand anymore, and for good reason. A mechanical release lets the string go much more cleanly than most mortals can. One thing that seasoned archers all agree on is DO NOT cheap out on your release. You'll be looking at $60-120 for a good release. Cheap releases have sharp corners that chew up the "D-loop" that connects the release to the bowstring. Also, they usually have crap triggers.

Arrows come in 1.2 bazillion different lengths, sectional densities, and styles. Have a pro help you until you can make sense of arrow-selection charts. "Cheap" arrows for a reasonably stout compound bow are about $45 per 6 arrows. Then the pro shop guy has to cut them down to the proper length for your bow.

Then you'll need tips, but at first you should probably get some field points or target points. They're cheap, and will at least get you shooting. Broadheads come in 3.4 quadrillion styles, weights, and types. They are expensive and you should do your research before you drop any money.

So once you have your gear, you have to zero, just as you would with a firearm. The process is called "chasing the arrow". You shoot for group and then move the sight housing to the point of impact. This is probably the only simple part of archery. The pins within the sight housing are usually pretty damn close to calibrated for whatever distance the manufacturer says they are. My Bear Encounter package bow came with a simple 3-pin sight, and it is calibrated at 10, 20, and 30 yards. I've shot at 10 and 20 yards and it is pretty damn close once I zeroed.

So now lets talk shooting. I went to the range late in the afternoon and started off in the 10yd stall apart from the 10-40yd range. Once satisfied that I was zeroed, I walked over to the "big boy" line and lined up for my first 20yd shot in about 18 years (I learned archery in 4-H when I was about 10 years old). I put two arrows into the white area very near the bullseye. I got excited and shanked three in a row into oblivion. I heard an unsettling delay between release and whack. Upon closer inspection I saw three arrows in the wall at the back of the range, about 12ft up from the floor. My stomach sank and I sheepishly reported to the lady at the front desk that I made a boo boo. I got a step ladder and once I got up there, I realized they were Easton arrows--not mine. A rush of relief washed over me. I looked left and right and found three Gold Tip carbon arrows (mine) stuck in the 10-point buck 3D target at the 40yd line. I apologized for the ordeal and went back to the 10yd line for some introspection and re-training.


Then an older gentleman who was shooting a 3" bullseye at 40yds came over and fixed me. He introduced himself and mentioned that he had been the national champion compound bow shooter in 2007. So I listened intently as the guru told me I was doing basically everything wrong. I followed his advice and my groups immediately shrank, and I stopped throwing arrows left. Trusting in Yoda's advice, I went back to the 20yd side and proceeded to shoot a six arrow group of about 8", nicely centered. I recovered my arrows and tried again. This time it was a 6" group and a couple of arrows were touching. My last group of the day was all in the heart of my deer vitals target. I profusely thanked the man and left to contemplate my inadequacy and write this article.

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