Field-Proven Gear

Field-Proven Gear

There are some things in life where mere seconds can seemingly amount to everything. And, in this moment, success or failure hinges on one thing — your ability to perform. A great example of this is found in bull riding. You've got eight seconds to pack your year's worth of work into a fraction of time. You don't know what the circumstances will bring in terms of how the bull will come out of the chute, but one thing you do know is that confidence and skill will be your only saving graces when the clock stands still.

Bowhunting deer in the backcountry can be hard on a bowhunter and his or her equipment. There is simply no place for inferior gear that isn't proven to perform.

In bowhunting, the environment is all too similar. You can't count on perfect shooting conditions, but you can count on your ability to deliver a smooth, consistent shot, even under the most challenging circumstances. Like a veteran bull rider, a good bowhunter prepares for this moment religiously by focusing on the basics of good form and selecting paraphernalia that simply delivers, no matter what.

Each year, more bowhunting products are revised and reinvented. As an archery technical nut, I believe this is good. However, every longtime bowhunter has a handful of tried-and-true items he or she keeps coming back to — all in hopes of keeping the shooting game more automatic. Here are some standby items that always perform well for me, and help boost my confidence in the field.

Weapon Of Choice

As an archery editor for more than 15 years, I've shot and hunted with a plethora of bows, even in the same season. I've learned lessons the hard way and have taken finicky rigs on some pretty serious hunting trips. I no longer do this. My hunting time is too valuable to permit risks. This is why I now insist on a proven, well-tuned bow for all my bowhunting adventures.

In other words, I like an extremely forgiving design. I don't believe in paying a price for speed. I like a fast arrow just as much as anyone else, particularly in those moments when a rangefinder reading isn't possible. But I don't believe in sacrificing control for an extra 10 or 15 feet per second. A slow hit is better than a fast miss any day. Fortunately, engineers are continuously working toward faster, more forgiving setups, and each year we seem to see bows that remain a bit more accurate while promoting speed.

Unfortunately, defining a forgiving bow is difficult. Why? Because every archer is different in terms of draw length, shooting form, and bow-grip preferences. However, if I were to emphasize one geometrical element on a bow, it would have to be brace height. Despite brilliant bow craftsmanship, there's no getting away from the physical makeup of brace-height distance. It remains a constant physical property that can oftentimes hamper or improve consistency.

Draw torque is the issue of a shorter brace height. The arrow must pass some distance above the hand, and since you're pulling above this "pressure" or holding point, some natural pulling torque exists. The amount of this torque depends on the distance the arrow is positioned above the hand, and the length of the bow's power stroke (or brace-height measurement).

In the last decade, I've exclusively shot bows with six to 7½-inch brace heights. I'm partial to models boasting brace heights in the seven-inch range, because such bows seem to point faster, come to full draw quicker, and overall tend to counter my slight shooting mistakes when I'm cold, tired, or feeling rushed.

As far as bow length goes, again, this is based on a person's physique, anchor preference, and the type of bowhunting most often encountered. For a Western archer like me, with a moderate 27½ to 28-inch draw length, I tend to favor bows in the 31 to 34-inch range, depending on cam style and string angle. I've always favored slightly longer bows, or short bows with oversized cams, in order to improve holding inertia in relation to the bow's grip. I also like how slightly longer bows reduce the string angle and place the peep sight closer to my eye.

Craig Yehle, an accomplished bow engineer, once told me that a longer brace-height bow usually yields less high, low, left and right misses, while a longer bow usually emits less high and low misses, all for the reasons stated.

Beyond this, I like an unintimidating draw valley and a firm wall — two elements that breed confidence and rhythmic shooting in challenging environments.

Flies The Same, Time And Again

"Perfection" is a strong term to use for anything, but if there are any archery products deserving of that label it would have to be the Easton A/C/C arrow.

The venerable Easton A/C/C arrow remains one of the most consistent shafts on the market. It ranks high on my gear list.

This shaft has been around for about three decades, yet it remains as one of the best products to ever hit the archery market. Why? Because it's unreservedly consistent in spine, weight, and straightness. Unlike today's all-carbon arrows, the A/C/C is made from an internal aluminum shaft that is then overlapped with carbon fibers. The aluminum gives it impeccably tight tolerances, while the carbon adds stiffness and provides a relatively small-diameter shape, which improves penetration and crosswind control.

I don't know too many arrows that behave as consistently as this shaft. I can take an A/C/C arrow that's 10 years old, and it'll shoot side by side to one purchased today. Also, I've placed dozens of A/C/C shafts on a spine-testing machine, and they all boast exact spine readings.

Also, I find the A/C/C shaft fairly moderate in weight (just heavy and light enough), and it seems to cover all my bowhunting needs quite well, from antelope to elk to wild boar. It also allows for various types of internal components, so you can customize this shaft to your liking.

Don't get me wrong. There are a lot of great arrow shafts on the market. However, if I could choose only one arrow, I still would pick the A/C/C. It delivers.

Shoot By Surprise

Target panic is the worst thing that can happen to any bowhunter. One key defense in eliminating snap-shooting, or freezing below the target, is to use an unanticipated shooting sequence and to shoot this way over and over again until that mental circuitry becomes completely restructured. In doing so, aiming becomes the most important ingredient during the shot, and not fear of missing or how or when you should trigger the shot.

To shoot this way, you should fire the arrow by pulling with your back or rhomboid muscles, otherwise known as "back tension." To do this consistently, it's best to choose a triggerless, back-tension release aid, or use a trigger release that exhibits zero play or trigger travel for that crisp, surprise feel.

All the top release manufacturers provide great models to choose from, but I've been using two Carter releases that have exceeded my every expectation. This includes the Honey back tension and the Like Mike index-trigger releases.

The Honey is the most user-friendly back-tension release I've ever used. It comes with a safety, so all you have to do is hook up and draw back. Once you hit anchor, simply flip the safety forward, and you're ready to begin the back-tension process. It's a great off-season or 3-D shooting tool, but it can also be used for hunting.

The Like Mike is an extremely comfortable strap-on release. It's superior ergonomically, because the hook is centrally located for an equalized pulling load during the draw cycle. Also, the release's long body promotes a better trigger feel. It has a large, sweeping indent along the trigger face to keep your finger more in line with the center of the release's body and nylon-connecting strap. This accentuates an extension-of-your-hand feel that few other releases can rival. Lastly, the release's trigger emits no "over travel," keeping every shot feeling crisp and consistent.

Maximum Support, Fast Fall

While writing my book "Technical Bowhunting," I remember watching a great deal of slow-motion video focused on how the arrow cycles out of the bow. Arrow takeoff varied from bow to bow, of course, depending on the string path or nock travel and the arrow's spine. However, all in all it was quite astonishing to watch arrows flop up and down, and even side to side, before they cleared each particular bow's riser. It became apparent that any drop-away rest that didn't support the arrow long enough would be a major drawback.

During this phase, I began experimenting with a lot of different drop-away rests. Soon I became partial to limb-activated models, due to their torque-free simplicity and ability to support the arrow.

One model that I'm partial to is the Arizona Archery Pro Drop, and there are three reasons why. First, the rest's launcher mechanism attaches to the upper limb on my bow via a steel-braided cord. This connection makes adjustments a cinch, and the steel cord is impervious to moisture, dust and elongation, so it remains consistent. Second, since it's a limb-activated rest, it's designed to support the arrow for about 70 percent of the launch cycle. Lastly, it features an oversized "lizard-tongue" blade that cradles the arrow securely, yet it flexes during the cycling process to smooth out imperfections in the takeoff process. This feature seems to make my shooting smoother and more forgiving, especially with broadheads.

Another excellent limb-activated rest is the Vapor Trail Limb Driver Pro-V. This model uses a J-shaped support arm that rises and falls vertically, so it provides maximum fletching clearance when using tall, short fletching. The arm also falls securely into its own rigid, sound-dampening guard assembly, making setup a breeze while increasing reliability. As an added bonus, the support arm is free-floating, so it absorbs any slight oscillation of the shaft during the takeoff — another huge plus.

Bowhunting is an extreme sport. The adrenaline and intensity at the moment of truth is enough to foil any archer's plans. However, those who prepare in advance, focus on the basics of executing a good shot, and rely on gear they can count on, seem to prevail in the end. Don't risk blowing your next bowhunting shot. Stick with tactics that work, and gear that has proven worthy in the field.

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