Time for a Change

By M.R. James, Founder/Editor Emeritus

AS A SENIOR MEMBER of the Pope and Young Club since 1980 and editor of three of the five P&Y record books published since 1975, I have been involved in various club activities for more than 32 years. I served on the board of directors from 1986 to 2000, including a 10-year stint as first vice president. I've been an official measurer since 1978. And I have helped the Club raise tens of thousands of dollars for conservation and prohunting projects. Currently I am involved in helping to generate $500,000 in funds for the P&Y/St. Charles Museum.

At the Club's 2003 convention in Madison, Wisconsin, I addressed the voting membership in support of changing the 65-percent letoff rule for compounds. Following are some of my comments:

I was a director in 1988 when the Club established the 65-percent letoff rule. In fact, I helped to write the language used to amend our bylaws. Back then I absolutely thought it was the right thing to do.

Today I'm convinced it was a mistake, and I'm not alone in that belief. Several past and present P&Y officers - not to mention many regular and senior members - have admitted they feel the same way.

In '88 only one compound company (McPherson) advertised bows with letoffs above 65 percent. Others were all 65 percent or lower. That's why we set the upper P&Y limit at 65 percent. Had 70 percent been the norm in '88, I suspect that's the number we would have picked. Thus, there's absolutely nothing sacred about the present letoff limit. Back then we simply were worried about the unknown, about the possibility of future compound bows relaxing to 90 or 99 percent, which might allow people to walk around the woods with their bows held at full draw.

Of course, that concern has never come to pass, and it's not because it can't be done. Bow manufacturers say they can make 99-percent-letoff bows right now, but such bows simply are not practical. Personally, I don't like to shoot bows with even 80-percent letoff. They're tougher for me to tune and touchier to shoot accurately than those with 65-percent letoff. That's why I will continue to shoot compounds with 65-percent letoff. A majority of the top bowhunters I know have similar opinions.

As I see it, we must admit we made a mistake. Why? For years now, about 80 percent of compound bows sold have greater than 65-percent letoff. That means most bowhunters heading afield this fall will be toting bows that are P&Y "illegal," and none of the trophy animals they harvest will be eligible for the P&Y record book. In my opinion, something is definitely wrong when our record system excludes a majority of legally licensed bowhunters.

Not only does this deprive the Club of valuable revenue needed for many worthwhile projects, but worse, it means our club no longer fulfills a fundamental P&Y goal of serving as repository for bowhunting records of North American big game. And as long as a majority of this continent's bowhunters use equipment deemed unacceptable by Pope and Young, we will never collect truly representative trophy data. Without change, we'll soon be accepting and documenting a mere fraction of the total annual trophy harvest.

Given that fact, the Club's credibility is at stake. We can stubbornly stick to our 65-percent rule and exclude an increasing number of worthy trophies year after year, or we can accept the reality of a changing bowhunting world and realize that this particular equipment issue is not really significant.

Consider these facts. For a 60-pound bow, increasing letoff from 65 to 80 percent makes a difference in holding weight of only 9 pounds - 21 pounds for the 65 percent bow, 12 pounds for the 80. The average bowhunter would scarcely notice the difference, and he still has to pull 60 pounds peak weight to reach full draw. Compare that to some of the other changes P&Y has accepted: self-wood longbows to laminated recurves; recurves to compounds; fingers to release aids. Without question, these transitions have had major impact on two aspects of bowhunting: the number of bowhunters, and success rates. In contrast, I doubt that the transition from 65 to 80-percent letoff has had much, if any, impact on either the number of bowhunters or success rates. If letoff had indeed been held at 65 percent, I believe we would still have over 3 million bowhunters today, and the overall bowhunting success rate would be equal to its present level. In reality, the difference in letoff is more of a marketing ploy than a substantive advantage in the field. So it's hardly worth splitting P&Y ranks over.

Beyond any doubt, we need Fair Chase rules and ethical bowhunting standards. No serious bowhunter with traditional values would argue for drug-tipped arrows, electronic targeting devices, exploding broadheads, or gadgets that lock or hold bows at full or partial draw. Nor would they support the general use of crossbows during archery seasons or the acceptance of crossbow harvests into the bowhunting record book. But compound bows are here to stay, they are legal throughout North America, and they are accepted by the P&Y Club. Thus, compounds with 80-percent letoff hardly can be judged "extreme" by any knowledgeable, open-minded individual willing to accept compound bows with 65-percent letoff.

Some people compare the P&Y Club to organizations like the PGA, which do set equipment standards for participants. The comparison is invalid. We are not a professional bowhunting organization with participation limited to a few elite players. Our records purportedly are a listing of legal archery harvests taken by all bowhunters across the continent. And the P&Y Club does not receive millions of dollars in support from industry sponsors. We must rely mainly on $25 record book entry fees, plus membership dues and the beneficence of members for funding. To turn our backs on a growing majority of bowhunters is unwise and self-defeating.

It's time to raise the maximum compound letoff ceiling to 80 percent and to welcome many thousands of current bowhunters and their magnificent trophies that are now being excluded from the record book based on 15-year-old worries that have proven baseless. It's time for the Pope and Young Club to recognize that bowhunting and the makeup of its membership have changed dramatically since 1988. It's time to put this troublesome letoff issue to rest and focus full attention on more important 21st century bowhunting and conservation matters, namely those issues that will benefit all of North America's hunters, hunting, and a great organization, the Pope and Young Club.

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