Archery firm takes bow hunting show on the road

"This is my office," Hans Saunders said with a grin as he stood inside an air-conditioned semitrailer set up as an archery range. "The company called and told me they wanted do a clinic in Michigan, and two days later I was here."

Outside, hunters signed up to enter the trailer and try out the BowTech compound bows hanging on a rack inside the entrance, modern man's ultimate evolution of a hunting tool that dates back at least 10,000 years.

Sanders is an archery expert who lives in Bentonville, Ark. ("Home of Wal-Mart"), and travels the country for BowTech, demonstrating and teaching. He is so good that he can often aim the bow better standing five feet off to the side than the archer who is looking through the bow's high-tech sight.

Glancing at a man preparing to shoot at a standing bear target, Saunders said, "You're a little high. Down a little, down a little, OK," then watched the arrow fly straight into the target's chest.

Saunders said that most of the archery hunters he sees suffer from one or two common problems - the draw weight of their bows are too great, and/or their arrows aren't matched to the bow.

"With a 55-pound (draw weight) bow, you can kill about any game animal in North America. It's certainly more than sufficient for deer," Saunders said. "I used to shoot a 60-pound bow, but this year I'm going down to 55."

Saunders had brought his mobile range to the Pro Fishing and Archery Center in Harrison Township, and many of the hunters had come to see the new BowTech Guardian, which the buzz said was the hottest thing on the market.

While Saunders promoted the company line that its products are the most advanced on the market, he allowed that several firms build excellent equipment, and "It really comes down to personal choice. Before you buy any bow, you should try every bow and go with the one that feels best to you."

The Guardian has been ranked at or near the top of every magazine and archery Web site that does bow tests, and all commented on its amazingly quiet and vibration-free shooting. But not all hunters liked that.

"One guy who tried the Guardian wanted to feel some string jump when he let the arrow go, because that's what he's used to," Saunders said. "Sometimes a hunter will have his mind set on a bow, but he has such a short draw length that it isn't right for him. Instead of trying to make it work because of what he read in magazines or heard from friends, he should go to a bow that suits to his body."

For years, archery hunters have split over the question of which is more important, arrow speed or kinetic energy. Heavier arrows are slower, but they strike with a bit more force at the distance bow hunters normally shoot. Lighter arrows are faster but don't penetrate quite as well.

That debate has largely been made moot by the new generation of compound bows, which shoot so fast that even a light arrow hits with more than enough energy to pass through a deer at normal hunting ranges.

The 45-50 pound recurve and longbows that many archery hunters used 30 years ago used heavy wooden arrows that shot at about 150-170 feet per second, and it took about 0.4 seconds for the arrow to reach a deer 20 yards away. Many modern compounds will shoot at 300-340 feet per second, reducing flight time to 0.2 seconds, are much quieter than bows sold even five years ago.

The primary reason there were so few archery hunters in the stick bow days is that it took much more practice to become proficient than with a compound, which was patented in 1967 and took over the market by the 1980s.

Dale Lobel of Birmingham, an archery hunter for 45 years, said, "The most important thing with a stick bow was being accurate, putting the arrow in a vital spot that killed the deer quickly. I don't care if your bow shoots 1,000 feet a second, it isn't much good if you stick the arrow in the deer's butt. That's still true with compounds, but a lot of people don't seem to understand that."

Saunders said that many hunters seem to have lost sight of the fact that the real reason for bow hunting is the hunt.

"If you just want to kill a deer, use a gun. It's a lot easier," he said. "I don't even hunt from a (tree) stand any more. I stalk.

"Last fall, I pushed a beautiful 12-pointer out of his bed and then got in there and waited for him. For six hours, I could hear him moving around just outside of me. I'd get a glimpse of him every now and then, but I never could get a shot. When it was over, I didn't get that deer, but it was the most intense deer hunting experience of my life."