Digital

By Daniel Allred

There’s long been a debate in the archery industry about where to draw the line when it comes to technological advancements. Bowhunting, after all, is a form of hunting that dates back to the dawn of man. At what point is gear too advanced, effective and therefore unfair? At what point is it no longer truly considered archery?

The technology behind bows, arrows and archery accessories has progressed more in the last hundred years than perhaps the cumulative history of the weapon. The Mongolian composite bow and English longbow come to mind as huge historical advancements, but they still seem somewhat primitive when you consider the materials and manufacturing processes that go into today’s space aged gear.

Doug Easton pro shop

A look at the pro shop of aluminum arrow pioneer Doug Easton.

These advancements came quickly, and weren’t wholeheartedly embraced right away. Many modern bowhunters will recall a handful of internal debates regarding new gear.

Aluminum arrows offer a prime example:

“When aluminum arrows were initially developed, some people believed them unfair,” Greg Easton said in a 2004 interview. “Some wanted aluminum arrow shafts outlawed. They claimed that aluminum had no place in real archery. But here we are some 50 years later, and in that time aluminum arrow shafts have proven a wonderful thing for millions of archers and for the sport.”

 

Rapid-Fire Bow

Gimmicks like rapid-fire bows seem to have been naturally phased out by consumers.

There are many other examples of today’s standard gear receiving backlash during its initial introduction. Trail cameras were criticized for being too technologically advanced during their introduction in the 1980s, but it was later found that they had little effect on hunter success rates. Similarly, compound bows faced a lot of controversy in the community, perhaps because they fundamentally altered the concept of how a bow works. But ultimately, despite the advanced tech, the archers maneuvering the bow didn’t change. Successful hunting still required dedicated scouting, tracking and shooting skills.

The free market also spoke for itself. Consumers seem to sort out what is needed and wanted very effectively. Absurd ideas like a rapid-fire bow flopped in the market as experienced hunters voted with their wallet for gear that actually gets the job done, instead of gimmicks.

 

Radio transmitter arrow

The schematics for an arrow with a built-in radio transmitter.

Consumers, manufacturers and wildlife agencies also seem effective at collectively sorting out potentially unethical products. Arrows tipped with poison, radio transmitters and even bullets made appearances on the market only to be phased out by legislation, outrage or disinterest.

Just recently, a new example was added to this long and arduous debate. After an increase in the use and availability of unmanned aerial vehicles, aka drones, the Colorado Parks and Wildlife Commission outlawed the devices for hunting. In their statement, they identified three qualities that make technology unethical for the means of hunting:

  • A technology or practice that allows a hunter or angler to locate or take wildlife without acquiring necessary hunting and angling skills or competency.
  • A technology or practice that allows a hunter or angler to pursue or take wildlife without being physically present and pursuing wildlife in the field.
  • A technology or practice that makes harvesting wildlife almost certain when the technology or practice prevents wildlife from eluding take.

These tenets seem pretty solid, and many states followed suit. They’re good standards to go by because hunters are still required to use their skills and dedication to ultimately succeed.

 

But this whole discussion begs the question: What’s next? How much lighter, faster and more accurate can archery gear get? Only time will tell, but it’s always fun to speculate.

Carbon fiber had a huge impact on the industry. Its very high strength-to-weight ratio makes it an ideal material for the specific demands of compound bows and the arrows they fire. Carbon fibers are only about 5-10 micrometers in diameter, which is about one thousandth of a millimeter. These microscopic tubes are then combined with a plastic resin to form a carbon-fiber-reinforced polymer, which is the material ultimately used to create these cutting-edge products. It took years of dedication to research this material and adapt it for the demands of bows and arrows.

How could it get more advanced than that? Well, with a long enough timeline, the sky is the limit.

Woven carbon filaments for carbon fiber arrow

This is what woven carbon filaments look like before they’re fortified and arranged into a modern carbon fiber bow or arrow.

Take, for example, the material known as graphene. It is considered the strongest, lightest thing known to man. It’s about 100 times stronger than the most durable steel, but extremely lightweight. Carbon fibers, on the one hand, are a three-dimensional collection of atoms that measure 5-10 micrometers, which is smaller than a strand of human hair. Graphene, on the other hand, is inherently stronger and only one atom thick, at a mere 0.000142 micrometers. To put this material’s strength into perspective, one square meter of graphene could support a nine-pound cat, but that atom-thick sheet would only weigh as much as one of the cat’s whiskers. Multiply that ratio with more layers, and you could have a bridge as thick and lightweight as paper that could support a tank.

Carbon fiber compared to human hair

A carbon fiber compared to human hair.

 

If time, cost and manufacturing technology permit, imagine the implications graphene could have for archery (not to mention other industries). A bow could weigh as much as a feather and still hit like a truck. And if that seems absurd, there are just as crazy bits of technology currently in the works.

Want more effective camo? How about a full-on invisibility cloak. CNN recently reported on the findings and research of various institutes that are seeking ways to make humans (or anything, for that matter) invisible by scattering light waves. The details could be delved into further, but you get the idea.

Graphene sheet on molecular level

What a single-atom thick sheet of graphene looks like on molecular level.

What about light-as-air insulation that can keep you warm anywhere on the planet? Look no further than aerogel, an ultra-light-weight gel that had its liquid replaced with gas. This material is practically weightless, and very resistant to changing temperatures. It’s used by NASA and the biomedical medical industry, and one innovative company has already begun to incorporate it in winter clothing.

Aerogel

Super lightweight and insulating aerogel.

Advancements like these will only continue to come down the pipeline, altering archery, and many other things along the way. Consider how much we’ve progressed in the last hundred years. Bows will continue shooting faster and weighing less. Sights will get brighter and more accurate. Arrows will fly faster. Broadheads will strike truer. And the debates will undoubtedly continue. Who knows? Perhaps an entirely new concept for cams will be developed, with 99 percent let off. Maybe bowstrings will be replaced with genetically engineered, super strong spider webs.

 

But there will always be traditionalists, and I think that’s something to admire and respect. Hunting stands as a reminder of our relationship to the natural world, and we can’t escape that even if technology makes it easy to forget it. Only time will tell. Maybe in a decade or two we’ll be debating the ethicality of something akin to the wookie bowcaster from Star Wars.