There’s no doubt the cyclical world of bowhunting has seen a whole lot of change over the years. Fred Bear probably wouldn’t have had much need for all the gadgets on the shelves nowadays, and his feathered fedora would’ve seemed weird alongside the studded jeans, black bows and tribal-style tattoos at the 2013 ATA show.
In the burgeoning years of our sport—the first bowhunting season was held in Wisconsin in 1934—carbon and plastic were used for space shuttles and Tupperware, and the long bow was the only game in town. Then came the recurve, only to be steamrolled years later by Holless Wilber Allen’s compound bow, which was approved for patent in 1969.
Most of the early innovations in bowhunting—aluminum arrows, plastic fletchings, stabilizers and the like—were met with excitement, but in an industry that prides itself on a traditionally minimalist approach, there’s been a fair share of new introductions that have gotten the shaft…literally.
The rules of fair chase and ethics in bowhunting are frequently up for debate, but there’s no doubt that these bowhunting innovations have caused the biggest stir.
Traditional archers maintain that the reliability and precision of a fixed blade provides a truer flight and cut than the mechanicals, which have been known to malfunction or fail to open after deployment. But the wider wound channels and quicker recoveries experienced with modern slip cam broadheads, among others, is starting to turn the tides in recent years. No doubt the innovations will continue to progress with the debate, but we can say for sure that bowhunting has come a long way since Greg Johnson introduced the first Rocket Aeroheads in the late 1980s.
When Arkansas made crossbows legal during bow seasons in 1973 (Wyoming had always allowed crossbows during archery season) the popularity and proliferation of the technology was nowhere near its peak.
But with companies like TenPoint, Barnett and PSE stepping to the forefront to mass-produce them and more states legalizing their use, crossbows slowly became more prevalent. Fast-forward nearly four decades and, according to the ATA, crossbows sales have risen 70 to 80 percent in five years.
But even this revolutionary design had its detractors in the beginning. Traditionalists have always maintained that this complicated cam system has made archery more cumbersome, requiring a bow press to make adjustments to let-off and draw length or even to simply replace a string. While we wouldn't even recognize bowhunting today without Allen's invention, we can all be sure that the recurve loyalist will always have their say in this debate.