June 10, 2013
By Ben OBrien
There's no doubt the cyclical world of bowhunting has seen a whole lot of change over the years. Fred Bear probably wouldn't have had much need for all the gadgets on the shelves nowadays, and his feathered fedora would've seemed weird alongside the studded jeans, black bows and tribal-style tattoos at the 2013 ATA show.
In the burgeoning years of our sport — the first bowhunting season was held in Wisconsin in 1934 — carbon and plastic were used for space shuttles and Tupperware, and the long bow was the only game in town. Then came the recurve, only to be steamrolled years later by Holless Wilber Allen's compound bow, which was approved for patent in 1969.
Most of the early innovations in bowhunting — aluminum arrows, plastic fletchings, stabilizers and the like — were met with excitement, but in an industry that prides itself on a traditionally minimalist approach, there's been a fair share of new introductions that have gotten the shaft...literally.
The rules of fair chase and ethics in bowhunting are frequently up for debate, but there's no doubt that these bowhunting innovations have caused the biggest stir.
Rac-Em-Bac's Bow Mag
This is probably the most recent example of a controversial 'innovation ' in the bowhunting world. I'd say calling this an innovation might be a stretch, but the Bow Mag by Rac-Em-Bac
certainly started a fierce conversation when it was introduced this past January. The manufacturer says this product — which essentially allows you to secure your .38 or .357 Magnum round on the end of your arrow — is 'perfect for big game and varmits ' and that it's a 'revolutionary new product. ' I'd argue with both. Not only is this pseudo-broadhead illegal for hunting purposes in a lot of states, its Frankenstien-like combination of ammunition and archery creates a slippery slope for hunters everywhere. The Bowhunter editors scoffed at the Bow Mag when it first hit the scene, and we have a feeling readers will have the same reaction.
The Mechanical Broadhead
Some hunters might think the mechanical broadhead is a recent development. Not so fast. The effort to create larger wound channels on game and a more versatile broadhead goes back quite a long way — the argument between fixed blade enthusiasts and new school mechanical users has been around just as long.
Traditional archers maintain that the reliability and precision of a fixed blade provides a truer flight and cut than the mechanicals, which have been known to malfunction or fail to open after deployment. But the wider wound channels and quicker recoveries experienced with modern slip cam broadheads, among others, is starting to turn the tides in recent years. No doubt the innovations will continue to progress with the debate, but we can say for sure that bowhunting has come a long way since Greg Johnson introduced the first Rocket Aeroheads in the late 1980s.
In a sport that's preeminently old school, a bow-mounted electronic rangefinder seems pretty futuristic. But in recent years, major players like Leupold
have introduced these mounts for a consumer market seemingly happy to accept them. Though the Pope & Young club
says that 'the use of electronic devices for attracting, locating or pursuing game or guiding the hunter to such game, or by the use of a bow or arrow to which any electronic device is attached ' is not fair chase hunting, many still use them where legal. As most would expect, traditional bowhunters remain opposed to using anything battery-powered in the deer woods.
Crossbows and Crossbow Hunting
Crossbows and their use for hunting are by far the most controversial topic in today's bowhunting world.
When Arkansas made crossbows legal during bow seasons in 1973 (Wyoming had always allowed crossbows during archery season) the popularity and proliferation of the technology was nowhere near its peak.
But with companies like TenPoint, Barnett and PSE stepping to the forefront to mass-produce them and more states legalizing their use, crossbows slowly became more prevalent. Fast-forward nearly four decades and, according to the ATA, crossbows sales have risen 70 to 80 percent in five years.
The Compound Bow
In the early years of the compound bow and its development--Holless Wilber Allen's patent
was approved in 1969 after three years of waiting--a quality recurve bow was probably faster than its new counterpart. Allen's initial design was basic, but the core idea was revolutionary: use the principles of kinetic energy to design a pully system for a bow that would increase arrow speed. Using mostly wood for his first model, the truss handle was made of pine boards and the limb cores of oak flooring, Allen was able to achieve a significant increase in arrow speed over a recurve bow of equal draw weight. By 1977, there were 100 different models of compound bows available, only 50 recurve models.
But even this revolutionary design had its detractors in the beginning. Traditionalists have always maintained that this complicated cam system has made archery more cumbersome, requiring a bow press to make adjustments to let-off and draw length or even to simply replace a string. While we wouldn't even recognize bowhunting today without Allen's invention, we can all be sure that the recurve loyalist will always have their say in this debate.
Poison Pod Arrows
Again, this particular product probably doesn't fit that well as an innovation, but for some, it's a viable solution for taking down game. Even the legendary Fred Bear developed and held patents on drug-dispensing pods for hunting arrows. Bowhunters using liquid and powdered forms of powerful drugs such as anectine and succinylcholine chloride for deer hunting go back to the 1960s, and though they are illegal in many states, the science and ethics behind this practice continue to drum up debate. "Posion" loaded into "pods" at the tip of an arrow is meant to interact with the animal's muscle tissue and enter the blood stream, causing certain death from even a poorly placed shot. As of today, the Pope & Young Club
, National Field Archery Association
, American Archery Council
and Professional Bowhunters Society
are all opposed to pods and their use for hunting.