New radio-transmitted system helps track down bowhunting target

09/14/2013 2:00 PM

09/22/2013 11:26 AM

The November night in 2009 was probably the low point in Dennis Steinman’s 30-plus years of bowhunting. That morning, he’d shot the buck of many lifetimes and though he knew the arrow was fatal, and he looked all day, he hadn’t found the deer. The frustration and guilt were so extreme, he contemplated never hunting again.

“You get used to all of those times the recovery is so easy, so you go through a lot of emotions when it’s not,” Steinman said. “As I looked, I figured there had to be a better way.”

Through a little luck and a lot of legwork, the next day he found the buck that netted about 210 non-typical Boone & Crockett inches.

He has since worked on a system that he thinks is “a better way.” It attaches a radio transmitter first to the arrow, and then to the animal that is shot. He’s hoping it will eventually help thousands of deer hunters more easily recover arrow-shot animals.

The Game Vector Deer Recovery System hit the market July 1. Though this will be the first season it sees wide-spread use, there are those who think it could help bowhunters.

“From the testing we’ve done, we think it’s going to work,” said Brandon Boldra, Smoky Valley Shooting Sports archery manager in Lindsborg. “So far it’s done everything they said it would do. We’ll know a lot more when the hunting seasons get started.”

Designing a system

As well as being an avid archer, Steinman had spent about 30 years in the electronics business when he began this project. The circuit board company he owned in Chanute had worked with such heavies as the military and Cessna. As well as what he learned, those years introduced him to experts in nearly every aspect of electronics. Several of those are now investors in his company, having invested money and know-how.

“It was really two challenges,” Steinman said. “The electronics had to be very small and very powerful, with the least amount of battery consumption as possible. The other part was the delivery system that gets it to the deer. The plastics had to be lightweight, but durable. We went through a lot of different designs.”

What’s on the market is a system that features a plastic transmitter compartment that attaches to an arrow, right behind the broadhead. A sturdy barb sticks from the front, and attaches to an animal’s hide when the arrow strikes. It’s designed to part from the arrow as it continues past the skin.

A small, hand-held receiver is used to pick up the transmitter’s radio signal. A row of flashing lights and tones heard through a headset (not included) lead the user in an electronic version of the “warmer-colder” game.

Heading afield, the hunter engages the transmitter’s battery, which is about as big as an inch-long wooden matchstick. After two minutes the transmitter goes to sleep to conserve energy, but is still on. It powers up again at the rush of the shot arrow.

Steinman said the system is designed to send a signal for 48 to 72 hours after the arrow is shot. The receiver is powered by two AA batteries and picks up no other frequencies than that of a Game Vector transmitter.

Under ideal conditions, Steinman said the receiver has picked up transmitters up to two miles away. He cautions that much depends on the conditions and the terrain.

“Steep hills or heavy brush will reduce the distance,” he said. “In some places it may be down to 100 or 200 yards, but that would still be a big help.”

Boldra said he and others spent quite a bit of the summer testing how well the transmitter and receiver worked together. They did their best to test it in realistic conditions, such as in heavily-timbered creekbottoms and super-dense brush and tall grasses.

“We could usually get 250 to 300 yards,” he said. “In my mind, that’s a big help. We have CRP grass where you could pass 10 feet or less from a deer and never see it. I think (the reception distance) will get better as the foliage drops in the fall.”

Steinman said about 12 animals, including deer, elk, bears and wild hogs, have been shot with prototypes with no problems. They’ve been shot scores of times through deer hides to make sure the attaching system was working properly.

Maintaining accurate arrows

Designing a transmitter that didn’t have a negative impact on the aerodynamics of a hunting arrow was also a challenge. Steinman built a machine that can draw a bow and release the string with no human error for the process that’s taken thousands of shots.

Their current transmitter system, called a HideRider, weighs about 45 grains, which is about 1/10th of an ounce. That’s a decent addition to a broadhead/arrow combination that normally averages around 425 grains. It’s designed to be well-balanced and fit snugly behind the broadhead. A plastic module of the same weight, shape and size is provided for practice shooting.

Boldra has yet to shoot a true transmitter for fear of damage. He’s impressed with the practice version.

“From all of our shooting, everything seems to be right there. They shoot about as well as field points,” he said. “We’re getting three-inch groups out to 50 yards.”

Boldra also said it’s important to follow printed directions for attaching the practice modules. He had also added a bit of weight to the nock-end of the arrow for better balance.

Last week in Wichita, Blake Nowak, of Diamond Archery, took some shots with the module behind his regular 100-grain practice points. At 20 yards, all impacted at about the same spot. At 30 yards, the arrow with the module impacted about two or three inches below the others. At 35 yards, the arrow with the module was low and left of the others by several inches, which could have been because the module wasn’t attached properly.

“Most bowhunters probably wouldn’t notice much of difference since most shots are under 30 yards,” Nowak said. “It was pretty good at those distances.”

Steinman also said the set ups are primarily designed for common deer hunting ranges under 40 yards.

While Game Vectors are designed to fit most popular arrow sizes, there are some shafts that are too large or too small.

Steinman said the units aren’t recommended for bows that shoot arrows at more than 300 feet per second. There currently is not a model that will work on crossbows, though that may change. Steinman said arrows from such super-fast bows and crossbows may accelerate so fast that the transmitter leaves the arrows early.

Thanks to a recent regulation change that allows electronics on bows and arrows, Game Vectors are legal in Kansas. Steinman said his research shows they’re legal in about 37 other states, too.

Animals shot with the Game Vector system will not be eligible for the Pope & Young record book, according to Kevin Hisey, the group’s executive secretary.

“We have a rule that says no electronics attached to the bow or arrow,” Hisey said. “It’s a blanket rule, and we feel it’s in the best interest of the future of bowhunting.”

It is the same rule that prohibits animals shot with arrows with lighted nocks and bows with cameras attached from being recognized by Pope & Young, too.

Working for acceptance

Nowak and Boldra predict it may take awhile before bowhunters openly embrace the Game Vector. One reason is because of its uniqueness, and it also hasn’t had much publicity. Steinman plans to send them afield with about 40 hunters who will be recording their hunts and putting the video online this fall.

There may also be a matter of sticker shock, too. On the company’s website, kits with a receiver, one fully-rigged transmitter and two practice modules retails for $389.

Steinman thinks bowhunters may pool their money to buy a receiver to share, while each purchases their own transmitters. Any Game Vector receiver will detect any of their transmitters.

Boldra said when considered, the price is pretty relative. He said high quality bows sold at his shop, when totally rigged, often sell for up to $1,200. Rigged with broadheads, many arrows are worth $20 to $40. “Just being able to recover an arrow you otherwise might have lost helps pay for the investment,” he said.

Steinman said the Game Vector systems have received attention when displayed at hunting shows.

“A lot of people I talk to at the shows are intrigued and interested, but they’re skeptical,” he said. “The way I look at it if they lose a deer this fall, they’ll be back …that’s not any fun.”

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