Those too young to recall this publication’s birth in 1982 are also too young to know what life was like before highly efficient archery gear. But for the rest of us, it’s fascinating to look at how far we’ve come since Fred Bear was bowhunting’s only A-list personality.
For some perspective on what’s changed, consider this alphabetical list of companies whose archery-centric ads were in our first issue: Amacker; Apache; Baker; Bear; Buck Stop; E-Z Climber; Easton; Kwikee Kwiver; Ranging; Savora; Tink’s; and Trebark. If you were into bowhunting back then, most or all those names will ring a bell. Some are no longer around, but all were there for that key era in the whitetail renaissance.
Anyone born in ‘82 or later might take today’s compound bows for granted. They shouldn’t. These are amazing machines designed by some of the top engineers in the world. When NAW began, even the best “wheel” bows were by current standards heavy, long, loud and slow — but for those of us who’d grown up shooting recurves you could chronograph with a sundial, any compound was a step forward. Back then, even a 35-yard shot was a virtual “hail Mary.” The fact a skilled compound shooter now can hit a softball at twice that distance shows just how far technology has brought us.
In ‘82, rangefinding in the deer woods was frankly more rangeguessing. Most archers just would eyeball the target and let one fly. But Ranging was starting to sell parallax rangefinders that would change our world. Along with compounds equipped with sights, these brought new precision to the archery game. Laser technology later migrated from the battlefield to the woods, further helping us deliver arrows on target. We began to shoot with a belief we’d at least picked the right pin.
Today’s sights serve the same purpose as those in ‘82 but are far more user-friendly. Back then we dabbed white typewriter correction fluid on thick metal pin tips to make them more visible; fluorescent fiber optics now concentrate the ambient light. Where legal, we also can illuminate our pins and even nocks with battery power. And the reliability and lifespan of batteries have improved vastly, even as they’ve shrunk in size.
The list of innovations goes on from there. Carbon arrows, mechanical broadheads, synthetic vanes, drop-away rests, smooth releases, customizable stabilizers, quiet quivers, technical coatings: everything about our accessories is just better. Plus, we have such handy products as grunt calls, rattle bags, decoys, pop-up blinds, trail cameras, carbon clothing, odor-fighting sprays and ozone generators to help us close the gap on whitetails.
None of this was available in ‘82. Back then, we usually sat in rickety permanent tree stands or just hid behind a log. But new gear began to change our ways. Portable tree stands let us set up where sign and wind direction dictated. A fresh, elevated perch and more realistic camo gave us greater confidence we could avoid detection. And a splash of Tink’s #69 offered hope of luring a buck into range, rather than just waiting for one to wander by on his own.
As our continent’s most popular bowhunting species, the whitetail itself drove the bulk of the industry’s change. At the time NAW was founded, many deer herds finally were growing rapidly after years of struggling. With more of them around, bowhunting didn’t seem such a crazy pursuit as it had before. Looking to expand their time afield and maybe collect a little venison in the process, several million gun-only sportsmen were becoming, as Bear’s ads encouraged, “two season” hunters.
It’s understandable some folks today miss bowhunting as it was back then. With way fewer archers afield, it was a less competitive pursuit. But was it truly better? Even after an uptick, deer numbers were far lower than they now are. While many bowhunters had great woods skills, a lack of scientific research meant we all knew relatively little of deer biology or management. Combine those facts with gear far less efficient than today’s, and it’s no wonder success typically proved elusive back then.
So what might the next 35 years bring? Will the tools of the bowhunting trade keep improving? Will gear categories that don’t yet even exist become everyday items in the bowhunter’s toolbox? If the past is a reliable predictor of the future, we should bet on all the above.