There were oblong cams on either “limb,” as the laminated, high-tech tips of the bow are known, cams that added a mechanical advantage to my strength. There were string silencers and limb dampeners and a long stabilizer out in front of the machined aluminum riser, where my bow hand was braced. Above the arrow shelf, I peered through a sight with fiber-optic lighted pins, set for certain distances: 20, 30, and 40 yards.
Instead of using my fingers to draw the bowstring, I used a trigger release attached to my wrist.
We were standing on the carpet of the sight-in range at Howling Coyote Archery, just west of Colona, on the Ouray-Montrose county line. Scott Johnston, a genial, 48-year-old ex-cop and military sniper from Ohio, was giving the instructions, and advising me to aim for the bulls-eye on the 10-yard bag.
Despite the nearness, my first arrow barely clipped the edge of bag.
Everything about my setup was wrong. I’m left-handed, and Johnston had only this bow, a right-hander, hanging from its hook ready to go in the shop next to his log home. The draw weight, the force it takes to pull the string back – and, by extension, the force generated to accelerate the arrow (up to 340 feet/second) – was too much for me. “This bow was set up with a 60-pound draw weight. Fifty pounds would be about right for you,” Johnston said.
“Minimum poundage to hunt deer in Colorado,” he went on, “is 35 pounds. Most women can hunt in Colorado.”
If I were to buy a bow from Johnston, or have him order me one, he would do a free set-up for me. Make sure the bow and all its accoutrements were right for my body. “I’m not sure the guys at Cabela’s, or Wal-Mart, are going to bother to ask you the right questions,” he said.
The shop was not Johnston’s first idea for Howling Coyote, though. It just sort of happened as an adjunct to his real purpose, the creation of a 16-station, 3D archery range that encircles the house on 25 acres of pristine piñon-juniper terrain shared by Johnston and neighbor Randy Lehman. The two archers put their heart and artistic souls into each real-life shooting situation, including challenging placements of molded foam targets that look exactly like the deer or elk or turkey you might ultimately be hunting.
“It’s designed by bow hunters for bow hunters,” Johnston said, and it provides to members a kind of “perfect practice.”
Johnston wanted to walk me around the mile-and-a-quarter course, but first I needed to shoot my second arrow.
I drew the string back and he “nocked” the arrow for me, setting the tail groove in the It certainly is one of the oldest forms of hunting, and warring, dating back to the string. I placed my thumb against my jaw as an “anchor point,” as Johnston had instructed, and peered through the peep sight at the topmost fiber-optic pin. (I’d neglected to use the peep the first time.)
I tried to channel William Tell, the steady, 14th-century Swiss who shot the apple from atop his son’s head. I thought of my 10-year-old self with a drugstore longbow slaying various fruits and bushes in the back yard. I squeezed the trigger release and the arrow hit the bag almost instantaneously, though not the bulls-eye, with a satisfying thwack.
The National Field Archery Association says on its website that archery is “The Sport of Man Since Time Began.” (An NFAA official has inspected Johnston’s course for safety.) Paleolithic, 10,000 years ago.
Gunpowder made arrows obsolete, for the most part, until two Civil War veterans, Will and Maurice Thompson, revived the art. As former Confederate soldiers, the brothers were not allowed to own guns. Living in the Okefenokee Swamp in Georgia, they hunted to feed their families, and hunted with bow and arrow. Maurice’s 1878 book, The Witchery of Archery, was a bestseller, the first-ever bow-hunting manual published in English.
By the 1920s, the engineers had gotten involved, and bows evolved quickly toward the high-tech marvels of today. Johnston told me that carbon-fiber laminates from Gordon Composites in Montrose have been used since 1953 to make super-strong, super-flexible limbs. They also make materials for traditional recurve bows. Johnston’s vendors tell him “archery picked up 25 percent in the last year. It’s the fastest-growing hunting/shooting sport,” he said. He’s got bows in his shop starting at $399. The full package G5 bow I tried retails for $1,209.
After a brief rain shower, we started off, without bows, down the path to the range. Johnston sells memberships in three-, six- and 12-month packages, from $50 to $175. (Shooters under 16 are free.) He had 75 members last year, his first full year. He also has a day rate of $20.
“We give you a code to the gate,” Johnston said. “You can come any time and get unlimited use. And unlimited use of the sight-in range. There are zero other [outdoor] ranges in this area.” The closest is in Grand Junction.
We walked down over lichen-covered rock into a shady draw west of the shop. Most of the stations/shots on the range traverse back and forth across this draw.
At the first station Johnston challenged me to find the target. It wasn’t easy. Finally, I spied a life-like raccoon about 20 yards away on the far bank, partially hidden by a juniper branch.
“I encourage people to make it as hard as they want it to be. Shoot kneeling, standing, crouching. Shoot over and around and through branches. We developed the course not for competition but for family shooting. No pressure. Nobody looking over your shoulder. Just a realistic experience. Try for a good, clean, kill-zone hit. Once or twice around the course and you’re done. You’re tired, and you start missing and have to go look for your arrows. Or you break them. And they’re expensive.”
Johnston uses broken arrows as trail markers. He sells and custom cuts arrows in the shop: $4-$12 each.
Working our way up the draw, the targets might be a deer lying in the shade of a big juniper, a wild boar on the bank of the dry creek, a bear standing on its hind feet, 40 yards away, sniffing the wind.
The last part of the course is up on the flatter rim rock, where the spaces are more open and long views of the Cimarron and Sneffels ranges etch the horizon. The target at Station 13 is a Yeti, Bigfoot coming out of the trees. “Ha!” Johnston laughed. “Our supplier isn’t making them anymore. He had two, so I bought both of them. We’ve got a spare in the barn.”
Station No. 14 “is our pride and joy, a big boy,” a full-size, six-by-six bull elk with his neck stretched out, bugling. It cost Johnston $1,300. It’s 57 yards away. “You probably wouldn’t want to take this shot at more than 30 yards,” he said, noting the ethics of trying for a clean kill that doesn’t wound the animal.
“I tell people to guestimate the yardage on the range,” Johnston said. (There are no distance markers.) “You might not have time to use your rangefinder” in the wild, he said. A picture of Johnston on the Howling Coyote Facebook page shows him in full camo, with a solid three-point buck he took at 13 yards.
The last target is an antelope at about 60 yards. It looks small at that distance, but Johnston insists a skilled archer could hit a playing card on its side.
He assures me that with a bow set up to my particulars and a few days practice, I too could be hooked. Maybe not Robin Hood, but regularly hearing that satisfying thwack, and walking up to pull my arrows out of the lifelike Styrofoam.
Howling Coyote Archery, LLC. 620 County Road 22, Montrose, CO 81403. Email: howlingcoyotearchery@ yahoo.com.