Kurt Baumgartner has hunted with a bow for more than 30 years.
In the question-and-answer 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.
QUESTION: Hunting bows have become so accurate that 100-yards shots - at least at targets, as opposed to deer and other game - are now possible.
ANSWER: Archery 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.
Q: What has been the most important recent development in archery?
A: The 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 considerable less wind drag. Yet they’re capable of producing accurate flight at long distances.
Q: Archery competition has gained higher visibility with the Olympics in London. But most tournaments aren’t with shots as long as 100 yards.
A: That’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.
Q: How fast are the fastest hunting bows today?
A: Some 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.
Q: What importance is speed to a hunter, as opposed to a target shooter?
A: It 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.
Q: What type of sight do you use on your bow?
A: I 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.
Q: How much do the new, faster bows cost?
A: Some 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.
Q: With bows, however - regardless of price - it’s never one-size-fits-all.
A: That’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.
Q: A consideration with some of the new, faster bows is the importance of keeping them tuned, so they shoot accurately.
A: It’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.
Q: Target 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 fewer?
A: 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.