By Joseph Robertia
Teeth bared, claws out, it stood on its hind legs not more than 34 yards away, and towered over the tallest hunter in the group.
“Look at that bear,” said David Powell, of Sterling, to his wife, Charlee. “Look at how big it is.”
The fluorescent pink of her arrows might have given the impression of novice, but it was clear when she drew back her compound bow that she knew what she was doing. The movement was fluid and precise, and she lined up the bear’s vital area in her sights. But, as she let the arrow fly, her trajectory was a little off. The shaft found a home in the bear’s neck to shoulder area.
“Now you just pissed him off,” quipped Ron Homan, of Kenai, from behind her. “It’s OK. I’ve had a few shots like that today, too.”
The three of them, along with Jake Lautaret, of Soldotna, were taking part in one of the Kenai Peninsula Archers 3-D shoot events in an effort to tune up their hunting skills before opening day of bowhunting season, which is fast approaching. Bowhunting for many species, especially in Game Management Unit 15, opens Aug. 10.
Len Malmquist, president of the archery club, said practicing before hunting season begins — particularly on 3-D targets — can greatly enhance a hunter’s chances for success. He cited a survey conducted among bowhunters across 12 different states in the Lower 48.
“It showed that if a hunter got out about two weeks before opening day and just plunked a few arrows, their odds of hunting success went up 1 to 2 percent. If they got out to practice a month before, it went up 5 percent. If they practice all year, it went up 25 to 35 percent,” he said. “But if they practice all year using 3-D targets, their success jumped up to 65 to 75 percent.”
The 3-D shoots are much more realistic compared to firing down a clear lane at a paper or bag target. Archers must contend with obscuring vegetation, sunlight and shadows, wind and mosquitoes, and shooting from various distances and occasionally various heights — all of which could be encountered in a real hunting scenario.
“We have 32 3-D targets, with about 14 out on any given weekend, and we’re constantly switching up the game species and how they’re put out,” Malmquist said.
There are Alaska species, such as moose, caribou, bear, Dall sheep and mountain goat, and there are others species, including deer, pronghorn, puma, peccary and turkey, for hunters who travel Outside in pursuit of game.
The 3-D targets aren’t cheap, according to Malmquist. He said the full-racked, full-sized, bull moose cost the archery club roughly $2,000, including shipping to Alaska. To the archers who use these targets for tuning up, though, the practice they’re getting is invaluable.
“It’s so much more challenging,” Charlee Powell said. “I do a lot of shooting at home in the backyard, but I’m just shooting from either 20 yards or 30 yards away. This is much different. I’m constantly having to adjust.”
“I’m getting more comfortable,” she said, “but I think it won’t be until next season, at least.”
Like Powell, Lautaret said his goal is to get good enough with his bow and arrow to bring down real game.
“I’m just getting into archery,” he said. “I’ve been a rifle hunter a long time, but this seems more challenging, and it opens up a lot more hunting opportunities.”
Lautaret said he was taking to the bow and arrow quite quickly since, like Powell, he could practice regularly at home, which is not an option with his rifle. At the archery range, he hit several vital-organ shots on the 3-D targets, but said he knew hunting real animals would be much more difficult.
“You’ve got to get a lot closer than when using a rifle,” he said. “I think the stalk will be much more challenging. I’d like to bowhunt sheep and goat one day, but I’ll probably stick to moose for a while, and think about the other species as I get more experience.”
Ron Homan said this is another lesson hunters learn from the 3-D shoots — until they know they can kill with their bow and arrows, sometimes the best shot is the one not taken.
“It has to do with archery ethics,” he said. “If you’re going to do something like this where you kill an animal, you want to be sure you’re going to kill it, and that it’s a quick, clean kill.”
As hunting season draws near, Malmquist said more archers are drawing back their bows.
“Our membership is way up and growing each weekend,” he said. “We’re up to 171 members, which includes 22 families and 18 women.”
Malmquist said the Kenai Peninsula Archers are always looking for new members. Annual membership is $25 for individuals and $50 for families.
“We have the 3-D targets out most weekends from spring through fall, and members can come by and shoot the bag targets 24-seven, 365,” he said.
For more information, contact the club by calling 262-7375.