Tightly strung: Practice key to bowhunting success

By Allen Thomas, Columbian outdoors reporter



CAMAS — Phil Stewart drew back on his bow, notched his right index finger into the hollow of his cheek and released an arrow that a half-second later imbedded into a life-size, foam-filled elk target.

Stewart, a Brush Prairie resident, was participating in the Chinook Archers Charity Shoot in late January, the first of about 10 practice shoots using three-dimensional targets scheduled in 2012.

"You learn to judge at what distance you can shoot effectively,'' Stewart said about practicing at the 56-acre range off Northwest Payne Street near Camas Meadows Golf Course.

About Chinook Archers

Membership: Annual membership costs $250 a year, or $100 a year for members who contribute to three work parties.

Meetings: 7 p.m., second Sunday of each month at the clubhouse. While the address is 6101 N.W Nightshade Street, Camas, access is from Northwest Payne Street to west.

Benefits: The range is always open and members may enter through an automated, password-protected security gate. The indoor range has targets at 5, 10, 15 and 20 yards. The outdoor range has targets ranging from 5 to 80 yards. Members can stay at the campground.

Charity work: The club contributed $1,100 from its Jan. 21-22 charity shooting event to the Clark County Food Bank. The club will partner with Archery World for another charity event for the food bank on March 10-11. All entry fees will be donated to the charity.

Chinook Archers, with a membership ranging from 100 to 140, has been in Clark County for decades.

"The club is a big secret,'' said Bob Christensen of Vancouver, a board member. "We're got people living nearby who don't even know we're here.''

Joe Mallicoat, a club member and also owner of Archery World, a retailer in Vancouver, said practice is critical for bowhunters to have success afield.

"If you don't practice very much you're going to fall out of form pretty fast,'' Mallicoat said. "It takes a little bit more practice to get accurate because you're shooting from an unstable position all the time.''

Chinook Archers set up 40-plus targets for their practice shoots. The 3-D targets include life-size deer, elk, bear, moose, caribou, bison, wolves and even skunks.

The targets have a perforated line showing where the lungs would be. A body hit earns five points, a hit in the lungs garners eight points, a better hit in the lungs where the heart would be will earn 10 points and an even smaller circle called a "super kill'' is worth 12 points.

"If you go and barely touch a lung, and you're doing that all the time, you know you need to practice more if you're going hunting,'' Mallicoat said.

While it's possible to keep score, most of the club's shoots are for fun, Christensen said.

"People can shoot from the stakes (designate shooting location) or from wherever they are comfortable,'' said Christensen, who practices two to three times a week, 60 to 100 shots each session.

While traditional archery with longbows and recurves are still shot today, a huge jump in technology occurred in the late 1960s with the development of compound bows.

"A compound is a bow that has wheels on it,'' Mallicoat said. "It's called "let-off.''

To oversimply, let-off means less energy is required on the part of the archer to pull and hold the bow before releasing the arrow.

"The common bow weight for hunting is 70 pounds for adult males,'' he said. "A 70-pound bow with an 80 percent let-off, if you do the math, you're holding about 14 pounds. How much longer are you going to be able to aim compared to a recurve bow where you're trying to hold 70 pounds to aim?''

Bows are made from cast magnesium, aircraft aluminum and even carbon, greatly reducing weight. Compound bows that started at 54 inches in length have been shortened to 26 to 28 inches.

"They kind of make these like cars now, where they are three or four years ahead in design than they are in production,'' Mallicoat said.

Archery also took a leap forward with the development of releases in the middle to late 1970s.

"It's like a trigger that attaches to your wrist,'' he said. "It relieves you from having to let the string go with your fingers.''

Arrow technology has improved, too, with 90 percent of today's arrows made from carbon.

Bows range in price from $400 to $2,500, while arrows are $75 to $140 per dozen and a release is $20 to $110. Sights on a bow typically cost $130-$140.

Christensen said bowhunters have to work harder to kill game.

"You've got to get closer to the animal to shoot it,'' he said. "With a rifle, you might see it at 100 yards and it's pretty much done.''

Mallicoat was a bit more diplomatic.

"If you see an animal at 100 yards with a bow, the first thing you do is think which direction is the wind blowing and how can I get closer without getting caught,'' he said. "I know a lot of people who kill with a rifle still kill within a bow range of 20 to 30 yards, so they're capable of doing it.''

Mallicoat said that while he shoots in archery competitions at a distances of 100 yards, the longest shot he has taken at an elk is 32 yards.

Arrows travel about 300 feet per second, he said, a slow projectile compared to a bullet.

The distance from the shooting stake to the target at the Chinook Archers range is listed at each station.

Archers need to be able to estimate the distance to their target down to the yard, Mallicoat said.

"An arrow is so slow that plus or minus 5 yards in a guess can mean you either hit or miss that animal,'' he said. "Practicing tells you your competent range.''

Archery hunting in Washington for deer and elk is split between an early season in September and late opportunities in November and December.

The early season is the big attraction for most archers, Mallicoat said.

"Your getting the beginning of the rut (breeding season when bulls are less wary) for elk,'' he said. "Most people gear for that early season. You can bugle in bulls.''

Deer hunters like the late season.

"In the late season, you're usually getting the last part of the rut for deer,'' he said. "People who are into deer tend to focus more on the late season.''

A deer, after processing, yields 50 to 80 pounds of meat, he said. An elk yields 250 to 300 pounds.

"It's two years worth of food for a normal family,'' he said. "I absolutely think elk meat is better than deer meat. Most people do.''