St. Paul, Minn. Joe Grochowski stood before an archery range last week in St. Paul, running arrows through several new compound bows and watching as the practice tips went thunk, thunk, thunk into paper targets.
Bowhunting season is two months away, but Grochowski was doing what every first-time bowhunter should be doing this time of year: picking out a weapon and beginning to practice.
"I think I'll have much more satisfaction bowhunting than hunting with a rifle," said the 24-year-old recent college graduate who lives in Hugo. "There's a lot of preparation, a lot of working to get an animal into range. With a rifle, you can sight it in for 200 yards and sit in a heated stand. I like the idea of trying bowhunting."
John Larson, longtime owner of Bwana Archery, where Grochowski was shopping, has seen a lot of first-time archery hunters come through his doors.
"A novice archer should be buying his or her bow right now and beginning to practice," he said. "The more time you put into it during the summer, the better your odds of being successful this fall."
Grochowski said he never had hunted with a bow, but he had sat in deer stands with his buddies and watched them. In the past few weeks, he has visited four archery shops and tested at least a dozen models of compound bows. He has settled on a model that sells for $729, a bit steep for his tastes, but he was shopping some more to complete his "homework."
"Some of these bows here," he said, lifting a model made by Archery Research, "seem like quite a steal for $500. I like the way they feel."
The world of archery hunting, which has expanded like a mushroom in recent years with new technology and accessories, doesn't have to be complicated or expensive for novice archers, Larson said.
"A lot of first-time archers will come and want to buy the cheapest thing on the rack," he said. "That's fine to some degree, but if they decide they really like bowhunting, they'll be back in wanting to upgrade in a year or two. The thing is, you don't really have to spend a fortune."
Larson said he carried entry-level bow packages starting at $319, which includes the bow, quiver, peep, six arrows and sights. But similar packages with new technology such as machined aluminum risers (the main part of the bow that you grip) aren't much more expensive. Other entry-level packages cost as little as $500.
Don Sjoblom of Maple Grove shot archery in the 1970s but left the sport until two years ago, when he began bowhunting with his son Danny and wife Val.
"I think we were looking at spending about $400 to $500," Sjoblom said. "But after we bought all our accessories, I think it came to about $1,000 (for his bow)."
Price aside, first-time bow purchasers are confronted with a dizzying array of considerations, such as weight of the bow, number of cams, type and shape of riser and limbs (limbs are the upper and lower pieces of the compound bow that attach to the riser), types of sights and arrow rests.
All of this specialized lingo and equipment can be confusing to new archers and some get hung up on their equipment needs, Larson said.
"The thing is, archery equipment today is so much better than it was 20 years ago," he said. "You read all those articles and they can baffle the hell out of you. We try not to overload folks with too much information."
Sjoblom said he bought his son Danny a bow from a discount store with disappointing results. "They basically just handed the bow to us and said, 'There you go.' You really need someone to set up your bow properly and size it for you."
Sizing a bow for an individual archer is important. The length of your arms and the width of your shoulders help determine draw length, and it varies, of course, with every individual. Draw weight, the amount of weight need to draw the bow, will also vary with individuals.
Eye dominance is another consideration. "About 25 percent of people have eye dominance that's different than their hand dominance," Larson said.
Because bows come as right and left-handed models, establishing which eye is dominant in a person is important.
Danny Sjoblom started shooting when he was 91/2, and today he's 12 and has a new bow on order because he has outgrown his other bow. Last year, he shot his first deer, a button buck with small antlers.
Sjoblom described his new bow's characteristics. "It's the perfect size for me," he said. "It's also quiet. And it's going to look a lot cooler."