International bowhunting championship tests archers in challenging real-life field conditions


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The London Olympics spotlighted some of the world's best archers. But not all of them.

About 1,000 bowhunters from more than 20 countries will converge on the aptly named town of Champion, Westmoreland County, Wednesday through Saturday when Seven Springs Mountain Resort hosts the 2012 McKenzie International Bowhunters Organization World Championship and Archery Festival.

It's a high-stakes series of 30 shooting classes including 24 ranges, some 400 life-size 3D targets and $200,000 in cash and prizes, as well as bragging rights to the title of world champion.

Olympic archery, like most bow and arrow contests, is a challenge of marked distances and set shooting. The International Bowhunters Organization (IBO) circuit sends archers afield in complicated simulated-hunting situations. Teams of four to five shooters are assigned to three ranges per day and shoot from designated spots. Instead of scoring on targets of concentric circles, IBO archers face life-size foam replicas of indigenous and exotic animals with scoring rings over the anatomically correct locations of vital organs.

"At distances of 20 to 50 yards, you can't see the rings you're shooting at," said IBO president Ken Watkins, a bowhunter for 42 years. "You have to have a good working knowledge of hunting and of the animals. There's an educational element to our competitions. We want the hunter to learn what a good ethical shot would be -- not shooting through brush or too far. The last time we did a poll, 97 percent of [IBO archers] hunted."

Unlike real-life bowhunting, the championship does not include scent reduction, camouflage or elevated deer stands. But IBO officials and Seven Springs course designers used existing ski runs and terrain features to create dozens of challenging ranges that will test the balance and distance judgement of some of the world's best archers.

"We put together a team to work solely on the shooting ranges for this competition," said Anna Weltz, Seven Springs communications manager. "They worked diligently to weave the courses into the existing environment without disturbing too much. They did have to clear some brush, but no major renovations."

Course designers used the rolling Chestnut Ridge terrain to create uphill and downhill challenges, bright spots and low-light woodland characteristics, natural flora and some uneven shooting positions to replicate hunting situations -- conditions not faced by Olympic archers.

"Guys I shoot against are competing this summer at the Olympics. In fact, a few I beat [at the National Field Archery Association Indoor Championships] are on the U.S. team," said Levi Morgan, reigning IBO world champion and eight-time world record holder, in a recent interview with the cable TV Sportsman Channel where Morgan hosts a new bowhunting show, "Gold Tip's Name the Game."

"I want to shoot for my country at the Olympics one day," he said, "but just don't have the time now to dedicate to it with the new show. But 2016 could be different."

Watkins said Seven Springs has been considered for an IBO world championship since the resort hosted a Pennsylvania state archery championship.

"It's a beautiful facility," he said. "You can't do an event of this scope without the desire of the host to put on a great event. They're very good at handling crowds of people."

Spectators are invited to ride the ski lifts up the mountain to view the finals Saturday. The championship includes an archery trade show that begins at noon Wednesday.

The Seven Springs Bowhunters' Open, Friday and Saturday, lets non-qualified archers get in on the action on the same ranges used by the world-class qualifiers. The open includes multiple classes, trophies will be awarded and IBO membership is not required. Get registration details at www.7springs.com.

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