For one week in 2012, Chestnut Ridge was the center of the competitive bowhunting world when some 1,400 of best archery hunters from as far as Australia visited Somerset County to draw their bows in world championship events.
They're back again this week when the Rinehart/International Bowhunters Organization World Championship and Archery Festival returns to Seven Springs Mountain Resort in Champion.
The two-day event isn't about the about the concentric circles of traditional archery trials. The IBO competition occurs in real hunting conditions on 24 ranges created among the woods and ski slopes at Seven Springs. Archers draw on more than 400 three-dimensional life-size replicas of indigenous and exotic game animals placed in brush, uphill, downhill, across water and gorges and at odd angles. Only the presence of lightening can cancel a shoot -- competition continues even in the wind and rain.
Rick Bowden of Fairchance, Fayette County, said he entered the IBO circuit to stay sharp and keep vital muscle groups well toned between hunting seasons.
"Trying to recreate some of those real-life hunting challenges is what got me interested in IBO," he said.
Bowden has competed in all of the West Virginia IBO Triple Crowns. Last year, using a long bow he made himself, he advanced in trials to the world shoot and placed eighth internationally. He'll use a recurve bow with a 40-pound draw weight in the 2013 world championship.
The fundamentals of archery have remained virtually unchanged since the invention of the bow and arrow, he said, and basic elements including aiming, form and shot placement are the same in traditional and bowhunting competitions.
"Some things are different," he said, "including anchor point, draw length and arrow length, and of course the biggest differences are in the course."
Bowhunters will recognize some of those challenges.
"Shooting downhill, like from a tree stand, you usually aim a little lower," he said. "An uphill shot, aim a little higher."
Electronic range finders are not permitted in IBO competition. Yardage estimation is critical, and the courses are designed to challenge archers' judgement.
"What I do is memorize what something looks like at 10 yards, and just multiply that out," said Bowden. "But they'll do things to really mess you up, like put a target across water or a valley where there's nothing for you to get a yardage on. A bigger target can draw you off. They'll put two smaller targets at 25 or 30 yards, then put an elk target at 20 yards. You think it's closer because it's bigger."
Bowden said judging distance and shooting too far are common problems for less experienced bow hunters.
"I know it's hard for a beginner archer to not take a long shot, especially on a big deer," he said. "It's hard to wait to let one walk up to you when you see a trophy animal. But everyone should know his maximum shot. If you can lure it in, or wait until it's within your kill zone, that's what makes a good hunter."
Bowden said 25 yards is his maximum shot.
Despite the realism of IBO competition courses, hunters face additional challenges that can't be recreated in tournaments.
"Hunting, there's always something unexpected, things you couldn't possibly include in any kind of contest," said Bowden. "That's what makes hunting so challenging."
For instance, IBO has no moving targets.
"I've shot deer that were walking," said Bowden. "The trick is to get them to stop without scaring them off. Whistle at them, call them, make a sharp noise -- sometimes that will get them to stop for a second."
There's no camouflage in IBO contests, but remaining unseen is vital in a real hunt.
"Deer are not very color perceptive. Anything that breaks up your outline will help you out," said Bowden. "What I use is seasonal, hunting for different species. In the spring I use a lot of greens; after the frost in the fall I switch over to brown and black."
There's no IBO shooting in low light conditions, but Bowden said most of the shots he takes while hunting are during the twilight of early morning and early evening. And complications brought on by other hunters -- including safety and proximity issues and unintentional interference with the hunt -- aren't a part of IBO competition.
"Sometimes you have to wait for people to get out of the way or pull their arrows before you can shoot, but it's not as bad as hunting when other people are around," he said.
More than $100,000 in prizes will be awarded in the bowhunting world championships Wednesday through Saturday at Seven Springs.
Learn more about the IBO and events at www.ibo.net.
Seven Springs Bowhunter Open
Bowhunters who are not sanctioned to shoot in the IBO tournament can get a crack at the same courses used by the world champions.
The Seven Springs Bowhunter Open will be held Friday and Saturday. Registration is $40 for adult categories, $25 for youths. No on-site registration -- get a guest pass with a free six-month IBO membership by calling 440-967-2137 prior to online registration.
Details at www.7springs.com, click on "Events."