January 26, 2022
I’ll never forget my first impression of Randy Walk. I’d seen photos and read plenty about him in archery trade publications, but the first few times I actually ran into him were at the annual Archery Trade Association Shows in the early 2000s. To put it plainly: Randy was intimidating.
I was working as a sales rep for a small trade magazine and was basically an archery industry rookie. My boss was former Bowhunter Equipment Editor Bill Krenz, who had a rich career in archery and had previously spent several years as the marketing manager for Hoyt. He told me stories about how in 1985, Hoyt had hired Randy Walk as a part-time bow builder while he was going to school and earning a degree in engineering, and how he went on to climb the company ladder from fledgling engineer to director of engineering, and eventually to president of the company. It was an impressive story.
At those early ATA Trade Shows, I would always see Randy in the background, arms folded and with a seemingly stern look on his face as he watched over all the goings-on in the Hoyt booth or at other show happenings. I was eventually introduced to him, and while he was cordial, he didn’t seem to have a lot to say. What I didn’t know at the time, however, is how easy it actually is to get Randy Walk talking. All you have to do is ask him something about bowhunting!
As a consumer, that’s exactly how I’d hope the president of a major bow manufacturer would be — first and foremost a hardcore bowhunter. In my eyes, there’s simply no substitute for the fundamental perspective of a true enthusiast. Bowhunting isn’t just a sport — it’s a culture. So how is a company supposed to manufacture products for bowhunters, when their leaders don’t truly understand what motivates us? It would seem to be an obvious requirement, but you’d be surprised how often that’s exactly what you find — leaders who aren’t even bowhunters. Not at Hoyt. Their leaders walk the walk.
Randy Walk is a self-described archery brat. He was raised by two passionate archers who dragged him along to archery shoots and family bowhunts throughout the state of Utah. His father owned an archery shop, and just about everything the family did involved archery. “I can’t actually remember when I started shooting a bow,” says Randy, “but one of my favorite hunting photos shows my brother and me standing next to my dad with a nice buck Dad had taken with his bow. I was two years old in that photo, standing there proud as a peacock with a bow in my hand. Needless to say, my interest in archery and bowhunting started at a very young age.”
By the time Randy was in his teens, he was competing in multiple shooting classes at local archery tournaments and was well on his way to becoming an accomplished bowhunter, but he never expected to one day make a career in the industry. “I went to college to become an electrical engineer,” says Randy.
“The electronics industry was booming in the early 1980s, and I fully intended to carve out a career in that field. I never planned to go to work for an archery company, but that’s when fate intervened.”
In 1985, Randy and his father were shooting in an archery tournament with a man named Jim Pickering, who also happened to be the national sales manager for Hoyt. “Jim asked what I was doing for work while I was going to school. When I told him I was working at a golf course café, he told me he thought I’d be a natural fit for some part-time positions they were trying to fill down at Hoyt. I applied the next day.”
Starting out as a part-time bow builder, Randy quickly assumed additional responsibilities and was given the opportunity to work closely with then Hoyt President Joe Johnston, National Sales Manager and now also Director of Engineering Jim Pickering, and Earl Hoyt himself.
Upon graduating from the University of Utah in 1987, job offers started rolling in from companies looking for electrical engineers. “My plan was to take one of those offers and use the degree I’d worked so hard to earn,” claims Randy. However, Hoyt was in the process of making some major changes: They were moving their manufacturing operation from St. Louis, Missouri, to Salt Lake City, Utah, and they offered Randy an opportunity to build a brand-new engineering program from the ground up in their new location.
That year, Randy accepted a position as assistant director of engineering and was tasked with leading the move from St. Louis to Salt Lake City, and with developing a new formal engineering format, updated testing procedures, and state-of-the-art product development processes. “The risk of being left behind in the fast-moving field of electrical engineering made staying on with Hoyt a difficult decision,” says Randy. “But my love for archery and bowhunting tipped the scales.”
Randy’s original commitment to Hoyt was for only three years. “I had an opportunity to spend a lot of time with two great engineering minds in Earl Hoyt and Jim Easton, and to transfer engineering from Earl to our newly formed engineering team,” says Randy. “I was having fun. I’m not sure what happened at the end of that initial three-year commitment, but three years somehow turned into 36.”
In 1991, Randy was promoted to director of engineering, then to general manager in 1995, and finally in 1996, to president of the company. During his tenure at Hoyt, the company grew from 25 employees to over 230 and has become one of the most successful archery manufacturers in the world. Thirty of Hoyt’s 47 U.S. patents related to archery products were developed under Randy Walk’s leadership — nine of which are attributed directly to him.
When asked which patents he’s most proud of, there are two that stand out. The first has to do with the split-limb technology that you see incorporated into the vast majority of compound bows today. “In 1996, we introduced split-limb technology to solve some inherent problems with one-piece solid limbs,” explains Randy. “We initially took some criticism for the concept, but now, over a quarter-century later, split limbs are the norm and have helped to dramatically improve bow performance for the entire industry.”
The second patent is for the TEC Riser, which remains the hallmark engineering and design element used in all current Hoyt compound bows. This advancement was the direct result of one of the scariest moments in Randy’s career. “In 1992, I was shooting a prototype bow and experienced a riser failure while at full draw. The bow riser basically broke right at the grip, which is the worst place a riser can fail, because the entire bow basically comes right back at you. I stood there in pain — cables wrapped around my head and bow parts dangling from me like Christmas tree ornaments — and I told myself, ‘never again.’ I will not allow this to ever happen to one of our customers.”
Randy and his team immediately went to work, and they came up with a revolutionary new bridged-riser design. “Our TEC Riser dramatically increased strength, while actually cutting weight and bulk from previous designs, and every Hoyt compound features our TEC Riser to this day. It remains the stiffest, most stable compound shooting platform around, but what I’m most proud of, is that no one shooting a TEC Riser has, or ever will, experience that type of catastrophic failure.”
Randy’s long list of innovations are both time-tested and competition proven. While he attests that the core of Hoyt’s market is comprised of bowhunters, target archery is where the company’s engineering and design prowess is actually confirmed. “When archery was reintroduced to the Olympics in 1972, Earl Hoyt’s goal was to make the Olympics his proving ground. Both the men’s and women’s gold medals were won with Hoyt bows that year, and we have dominated the medal count ever since.”
Hoyt was an engineering-driven company back then, and continues to be today. “Bow performance and efficiencies have improved dramatically as technology has advanced over the years,” says Randy, “and truth be told, today’s best competitive archers can probably win with just about any bow, but only on their best days. What we try to do at Hoyt, is design and engineer bows that they can still win with on their bad days.”
With all the responsibilities that come with running one of the industry’s premier bow-manufacturing companies, you might not think a guy like Randy Walk would have time for doing much else. But Randy’s passion for all things archery and bowhunting has driven him to accomplish far more than just building great-shooting bows. He has won 12 Utah State Archery Championships in Bowhunter Freestyle, Bow hunter Unlimited and Freestyle. In 1991, he set a new world record in broadhead flight, shooting a 450 grain broadhead-tipped arrow over 600 yards with a 70 pound bow! The previous record was just 475 yards. He has served on the Archery Trade Association’s Board of Directors for four terms, was on the Executive Committee for one, and chaired the Technical Committee twice. He also has served on the Utah Archery Association’s Board of Directors since 1981, and like both parents before him, was inducted into the Utah Archery Hall of Fame in 2020. He was awarded the Mule Deer Foundation’s Leadership Award in 2010, and was inducted into the National Bowhunter’s Hall of Fame in 2003. While that is one heck of a resume, what really impresses is that throughout all this, Randy found time to take over 40 species of game with a bow!
In Bowhunter’s 2013 Whitetail Special issue, I shared the story of the 226-inch Kansas whitetail that Randy had taken the year before. Randy had stood motionless for hours upon a rickety, three-foot-tall platform built from old shipping crates that were set up in the middle of the only patch of cover for miles. Randy knew the buck was there, and that the unique strategy to take the buck was a longshot, but he also knew it might be his only chance. Long story short: The buck ended up checking that little patch of cover for does, and Randy took the giant at a distance of about two yards! As Randy told me the story, I remember thinking, How many executive types would have the drive to do that — to stand motionless on a shipping crate for hours, praying for that one chance?
When you break it all down to engineering, manufacturing, research and development, finance, human resources, marketing, sales, and customer service…how rare is it to find someone who possesses the skill set to run all of that, yet also possesses the passion for our sport that we bowhunters expect to find in the leader of a major bow company? A person who at his core, is truly one of us? I can tell you, it’s pretty darn rare. So when Randy suddenly announced that he would soon be retiring last summer, I panicked.
A brand’s identity means a lot to bowhunters, and Hoyt’s identity has always had a heavy engineering focus, and has always been led by truly hardcore bowhunting enthusiasts. It’s a big part of why I, and others like me, relate so well to the brand. What might Hoyt have become without someone like Randy at the helm; someone who actually walks the walk? I didn’t want to find out.
Enter Zak Kurtzhals.
I met Zak not long after he was hired by Hoyt as a product engineer in 2003. He was a Nebraska boy, whose father-in-law owned a successful bow shop, and a bowhunting nut who had taken a liking to the shop-owner’s daughter while he was earning his degree in engineering.
“As I was going to school and trying to figure out what I eventually wanted to do with my degree, I had the opportunity to go to the ATA Show with my father-in-law,” says Zak. “The ATA Show is the industry’s largest display of archery and bowhunting gear, and when I walked into that showroom, my head was spinning. It had an impact on me, and I ended up developing a brand-new goal — I wanted to become an archery engineer. I quickly realized it was my dream job, and it didn’t take me long to learn that Hoyt set the engineering standard in the archery industry.”
As luck would have it, Zak’s father-in-law was a Hoyt dealer, and he was able to introduce Zak to the director of engineering at the time, Jason Fogg. “When I met Jason, I had two years of schooling left,” explains Zak. “But I stayed in his ear, and upon graduating I was given an interview and was hired as a product engineer.”
In 2016, I was able to join Zak on an antelope hunt. He killed a nice buck on that outing, and we became fast friends. I quickly realized that just like the rest of the engineering team Randy had assembled, Zak was hardcore. His ideas were spawned by actual experience in the field, and he could hunt and shoot with the best of them. Zak was nothing less than what I had come to expect from Hoyt.
Little did I know that Zak had been making his own quiet climb up the company ladder. In 2010, he was promoted to product engineering manager. Then, shortly after I hunted with him, he took on the title of director of engineering. A short time later, in 2017, he was named vice president of engineering. By 2019, he was overseeing all of manufacturing as well, and by April 2020, he was named vice president of operations. From the outside looking in, it might have seemed as though someone was grooming a new engineering-minded executive, who also happened to be another passionate bowhunter, for a much bigger position.
When the formal announcement came out that Randy’s replacement as president of Hoyt would be Zak Kurtzhals, it was a huge relief. Not only would the president’s chair continue to be filled by a hardcore bowhunter who understood our bowhunting culture but also by someone who came through Randy Walk’s school of engineering-focused archery products manufacturing and had 18 years’ worth of education on where this iconic company came from, where it has been, and how it has evolved. Hoyt has a culture all its own, and because Zak is a product of that culture, brand loyalists like me, and many thousands of others, can have faith in Zak’s vision and direction.
Not long after taking the reins last summer, Zak and I had a chance to talk about how elk season treated us in September. I was excited to show him a photo of the big bull I’d taken with my Carbon RX-5. After congratulating me, he whipped out a photo of the beautiful bull he’d taken, and I quickly shoved my phone back in my pocket. His bull dwarfed mine! You might be thinking, Of course it did, he’s the president of Hoyt! Who knows what kind of private ranch or reserve he had the privilege to hunt? If that was your thought, you’d be dead wrong. Zak saved his preference points like we all do, and then drew a Wyoming tag — where he took the magnificent bull on a DIY public-land bowhunt. Fortunately for us, Hoyt President Zak Kurtzhals is truly one of us…and he walks the walk!