Editor’s Picks: 5 Favorite Bowhunting Products From ATA 2022

Each year, hunting buddies ask the author to name his favorite products from the annual Archery Trade Association (ATA) Show. These five items recently caught his attention at ATA 2022 in Louisville, Kentucky.

Editor’s Picks: 5 Favorite Bowhunting Products From ATA 2022

The Featured Products Showcase at the Archery Trade Association Show enables attendees to see much of the year’s new gear all in one place. Shown front and center in the photo above are two new tops from Code of Silence; this cold-weather apparel made the author’s list of five favorite new products.

The 2021 Archery Trade Association (ATA) Show was held virtually due to the Covid-19 pandemic, so those like me who work in the archery industry were excited to get back to normal — sort of — during the in-person ATA 2022 in Louisville, Kentucky. I say “sort of” because Show attendance was certainly lower than normal (remember normal?), and several of the biggest manufacturers of compounds, crossbows and other gear chose not to attend due to Covid concerns.

Even though ATA 2022 was smaller in terms of exhibitors and attendees, I’m happy to report that it was still interesting, informative and worthwhile. And make no mistake: The Show was still big, with my guess-timate of 475-ish exhibitors covering nearly 400,000 square feet.

As I’ve told my bowhunting buddies several times, the annual ATA Show is heaven on earth for bowhunters and target shooters. If you want to see —touch and even test — innovative archery products, the ATA Show is the place to be. During ATA 2002, many gear items caught my attention, but if I must pick only five, I’ll go with the ones below (alphabetical order).

  

ALPS Outdoorz Elite Packs

While it’s true ALPS Outdoorz hasn’t been in the hunting market as long as some of its primary competitors in the backpack space, it’s also true that the company has experienced tremendous growth, which is a direct result of building functional and durable packs for a fair price. Unfortunately, the term “value” often has a negative connotation to it, which is wrong. I look for value regardless of what product I’m buying and how much I’m spending. Stated another way, I might buy the “best of the best” and spend the most money possible on a product in some category, provided it offers the best value in my opinion.

During ATA 2022, ALPS Outdoorz revealed a series of new Elite Packs, and just like all of the company’s other products in the hunting category, value is a hallmark. The new system is based on the Elite Frame ($299.99), which can be purchased individually for hauling meat off the mountain, or as a combo with either the Elite 1800 Pack or Elite 3800 Pack. The former has a capacity of 1,800 cubic inches (20 x 10.5 x 7.5 inches), the latter measures 3,800 cubic inches (27 x 12.5 x 9.5 inches). The Elite Frame + 1800 Pack sells for $449.99; the Elite Frame + 3800 Pack is $499.99. When used as a combo, a game bag is sandwiched between the frame and pack. Total weight of the Elite Frame + 1800 Pack is only 5 pounds 6 ounces; weight of the Elite Frame + 3800 Pack is only 6 pounds 1 ounce.

ALPS Outdoorz Elite Packs (left to right): Elite Frame, Elite Frame + 1800 Pack, and Elite Frame + 3800 Pack.
ALPS Outdoorz Elite Packs (left to right): Elite Frame, Elite Frame + 1800 Pack, and Elite Frame + 3800 Pack.

If you’re shopping for a new top-notch frame pack system for an upcoming western big game hunt, check out the new Elite Packs from ALPS Outdoorz. Ask my friends and they’ll tell you I’m sort of a backpack snob; in terms of performance, I predict these new packs will rival those costing 25 percent more.

Contact: www.alpsoutdoorz.com 

 

Athens Archery Vista 31

As I stated earlier, some of the biggest names in compounds chose not to attend ATA 2022. This means I had more time to shoot bow brands that in years past I had to skip due to limited time and long lines at the shooting lanes. Such was the case with Athens Archery. I’d heard of the company before and read a couple press releases from them through the years, but I’d never held or shot one of their bows. 

An Athens Archery representative, Michael Brookhart, was happy to give me the rundown of the company’s new offerings for 2022, and he recommended I test-fire what he believed would be its best seller this year, the Vista 31. To ensure I could give the bow a fair test, he reduced the draw weight to 55 pounds, which is the exact weight I use while hunting each fall.

Michael Brookhart from Athens Archery (left), shown with the new Vista 31 compound, helped the author in one of the many shooting lanes at the 2022 ATA Show. This particular lane was located only 10 yards from the Athens Archery booth.
Michael Brookhart from Athens Archery (left), shown with the new Vista 31 compound, helped the author in one of the many shooting lanes at the 2022 ATA Show. This particular lane was located only 10 yards from the Athens Archery booth.

Before I get to my impressions on the Vista 31, you should know that it was stripped down; no bowsight, quiver or stabilizer. That said, the bow balanced beautifully, and the grip was as comfortable as they come; not too thick or too skinny, it was just right (for me at least). As I pulled back the 55-pound-draw bow and the cams rotated (it was set at 90 percent let-off), I was shocked at the buttery-smooth feel. “Are you sure this isn’t 45 pounds instead of 55?” I asked. Brookhart laughed, and said, “Yeah, it’s smooth on the draw.”

Because I didn’t have to worry about placing sights on the massive foam target from only 5 yards, I closed my eyes to focus and feel the release. I used my back muscles to trip the index-style release, the bow fired, and I was equally impressed with the lack of hand shock.

Make no mistake: The Vista 31 is a flagship bow in every sense of the word, but at $1,099 to $1,149, it’s priced a couple hundred dollars less than many flagships from other manufacturers.

Visit the website below to learn more about the Vista 31’s features and how they contribute to a truly exceptional shooting experience. The bow measures 31 inches axle to axle, weighs 4.2 pounds, has a 6.5-inch brace height, has draw lengths of 24.5 to 30.5 inches in half-inch increments, 80 or 90 percent let-off, and peak draw weight options of 40, 50, 60, 65, 70 and even 80 pounds. IBO rated up to 340 fps.

Contact: www.athensarchery.com

  

Code of Silence Cold-Weather Apparel

The ATA Show is home to a lot of outdoor apparel, and much of it is from brands that are household names to hunters. This is a very competitive category.

As I hiked from one meeting to another, I rounded a corner and noticed a small but good-looking booth from Code of Silence. On a poster was the slogan: “Embracing better. Unnoticed. Unheard. Absolute zero presence.”

I stopped in my tracks. I was 10 minutes early for my next meeting, and I’d spend it here.

I ran my fingers through several of the garments and the company slogan wasn’t an exaggeration. As a Midwest bowhunter who stays in the field in pursuit of whitetails well into December (and even January in Wisconsin), I demand the quietest outerwear available, and the garments in front of me were better than anything in my clothing bins at home.

The author (left) learns more about Code of Silence apparel from company co-founder Ev Tarrell.
The author (left) learns more about Code of Silence apparel from company co-founder Ev Tarrell.

“Thanks for taking the time to visit our booth,” said Ev Tarrell, who I learned a few minutes later founded the new company with a partner.

I told him how impressed I was with his apparel, and Tarrell explained that this wasn’t his first rodeo. He had a long and successful career in product development with Cabela’s, creating the Zonz Camo line and other well-known products. He handed me his business card and I noticed the address: Sidney, Nebraska (also home to Cabela’s headquarters). It was all making sense.

“This is our first ATA Show,” Tarrell said, “and I’m interested in getting feedback from attendees. We’ve already had some success getting our clothing line into a few major retailers, so I think we’re on the right track.”

I couldn’t agree more. So you understand just how new this company is, I’m listing the correct website address below, but it’s not up and running at the time of my writing (January 12). I expect it will be soon.

Code of Silence currently offers three tops: the Verdigre Hoodie ($140), which is rated for 20 to 50 degrees Fahrenheit, the Zone7-Versa Hoodie $170), rated for 10 to 40 degrees, and the ColdFjall Parka ($250), rated for minus 10 to 20 degrees. The Verdigre is made from a 100 percent Fleece-Wool shell; it has a “flatter” felt-type fabric and is totally quiet. The two warmer tops have a Berber-Wool shell. Don’t make the mistake of thinking of the two tops with the word “Hoodie” in name to be nothing more than thicker-than-standard hoodies. These are full-fledged technical jackets (with attached hoods) and built with exceptional quality.

Matching the lineup of tops are the Verdigre Pants ($130), Zone7-Versa Pants ($160) and finally ColdFjall Bibs ($240). They have the same temperature rating as their respective tops.

Everything I’ve discussed thus far has to do with silence and warm, but what about camo? “Our camo design is something I call S-18,” Tarrell said. “I surveyed dozens and dozens of hunters from across the country and arrived at an average treestand height of 17.8 (18) feet. Next, I surveyed over 100 trees of multiple species and arrived at an average branch size and density at this 18-foot mark. The foreground shapes in S-18 closely mimic this average limb size, as well as branch frequency.”

As for colors, think natural/neutral drab composition. The dark, light and medium brownish colors work in harmony to hide a hunter in the background. The featured (top) photo for this article shows the S-18 camo well.

Last but not least, Tarrell hit it out of the ballpark with his offering of accessories (two caps, one balaclava and two pair of gloves). The thickest and warmest gloves, what he calls his Closure Glove, has a Fleece-Wool palm, Wool-Berber back, 100-gram QuietLoft Insulation, and fleece-lined cuff. I’m not exaggerating: I own close to a dozen pairs of cold-weather gloves, and I’ve never tried on anything that approaches the quality of the Closure Glove. “Guess the MSRP,” Tarrell teased.

“I want to say $129, but I can tell by the look on your face it must be a great value, like your other offerings. So I’ll say $99.”

“Nope,” he said, smiling. “$40. Think we’ll sell any?”

Contact: www.codeofsilence.com

 

Flambeau Scrapper Buck

When it comes to bowhunting whitetails, nothing beats luring a buck into point-blank range with a decoy. For decades I’ve had tremendous success with the Flambeau Boss Babe Regal Whitetail Doe, so it’s no surprise that the new-for-2022 Scrapper Buck ($149.99) caught my eye.

Scrapper Buck is built on the same body as the freestanding Boss Babe, so it mimics a 1.5- or 2.5 -year-old buck with a small 4x4 rack. Like the sell sheet I grabbed at ATA says, Scrapper is “born to agitate, not intimidate.”

From nose to tail, it measures 44 inches; the shoulder height is 32 inches, and widest point of the body is only 13 inches. If I had to guess, a live buck of this size would field dress at only 100 pounds.

It’s not big, but that’s okay. Older, bigger bucks often will walk a beeline toward a lesser rival to run him off. And that’s when you take the shot!

The author tests antler fit in the new Flambeau Scrapper Buck decoy.
The author tests antler fit in the new Flambeau Scrapper Buck decoy.

This decoy is based on a carving by award-winning sculptor Chris Schiller. The legs, head/neck, ears and antlers all pack into the body cavity, which fits in the included blaze-orange carry bag. The decoy weight is only 13 pounds, so it’s easy to haul no matter how far you want to hike. Without breaking a sweat, I’ve carried my Flambeau Boss Babe (same size) a half-mile one way to a treestand in a South Dakota river-bottom at least 25 times through the years. 

Four leg stakes are included with Scrapper, but you won’t need them except on the windiest days. My Boss Babe (no stakes for mine) stands just fine until the winds are cranking at 20 mph or more. (When this happens, I simply find a 4-foot-long branch on the ground and lean it against the standing decoy, which effectively pins it to the ground. It still looks perfectly natural to whitetails.)

Another feature of Scrappy Buck that I really like is the faux tail. It looks tremendous and should do an outstanding job fooling the real deal, even in a slight breeze. One more positive: The antlers pop on and off easily, so you can use Scrapper as a buck or doe. Your choice.

At the time of this writing, the Flambeau Outdoors website hadn’t been updated with the new Scrapper Buck, but I assume it will be soon.

Contact: www.flambeauoutdoors.com

 

Swhacker Long Range Performance System

The last item on my top five list, the Swhacker LRP (Long Range Performance) System, is in prototype stage, and it was explained to me by its designer, Rick Forrest. 

According to Forrest, legendary shooter Levi Morgan, who has several expandable broadheads in the Swhacker lineup — Levi Morgan Signature Series — was expressing his frustration with the amount of wiggle room when broadheads are threaded into arrow inserts. He was also frustrated in the inability to align the closed blades of his Signature Series heads a certain way with his arrow vanes. As I recall, Forrest said that Morgan prefers the blades to be vertical, whereas Forrest likes the blades in a horizontal orientation. Interesting.

Rick Forrest of Swhacker explains his latest innovation, the LRP (Long Range Performance) System.
Rick Forrest of Swhacker explains his latest innovation, the LRP (Long Range Performance) System.

With these two problems in mind — broadhead wiggle room with insert, and orientation with vanes — Forrest went back to the drawing board. He knew the key to solving both problems was to work off the tight tolerances of the arrow shaft itself. The solution was to build an insert, which glues in the arrow shaft, that includes the broadhead ferrule. In other words, the Swhacker LRP expandable broadhead will screw onto the insert/ferrule hybrid, not into a standard insert.

He experimented with collars (outserts) to find one that strengthened a micro-diameter arrow properly, too. The insert/ferrule hybrid that he designed includes threads on the nock side for hunters to add additional weight to achieve a desired F.O.C. number. In addition, the insert/ferrule hybrid would include an indicator that showed where the broadhead would stop screwing, meaning you could make sure this indicator was orientated with your vanes when you glued it in place, which would then ensure your broadhead blades were exactly vertical or horizontal on the finished broadhead-tipped arrow. The insert/ferrule hybrid will weigh 60 grains; the aluminum collar/outsert weighs 16 grains.

It’ a smart system that should be foolproof. Forrest says he’ll work with Gold Tip on offering a complete pre-built arrow (insert/ferrule hybrid glued into arrows of a desired length) to hunters and archery shops. Forrest says it will likely be a Gold Tip Pierce Platinum shaft fletched with TAC vanes (three or four vanes).

Stay tuned for more info! Note: Don’t hold your breath on having the Swhacker LRB show up on the website below. The product I described is well into development stage, but I don’t think Levi Morgan will put his name and reputation behind it until it’s thoroughly tested. Forrest said the earliest it could be available is early July.

Contact: www.swhacker.com

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