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An archer draws a compound bow equipped with an Airow Gun, a bow-blowgun hybrid that comes in two versions: One launches the .689 caliber paintballs that gamers fire by the millions each year. The other shoots .22-caliber pellets.Eugene Register-Guard (Eugene Register-Guard / The Spokesman-Review)
An archer draws a compound bow equipped with an Airow Gun, a bow-blowgun hybrid that comes in two versions: One launches the .689 caliber paintballs that gamers fire by the millions each year. The other shoots .22-caliber pellets.Eugene Register-Guard (Eugene Register-Guard / The Spokesman-Review)

Part bow, part blowgun, the Airow Gun shoots paintballs or hunts varmints

Developed by a Spokane Valley machinist, the devise is a bow without arrows and a blowgun that requires no huffing and puffing, yet it shoots just fine.

Archers aiming to extend their seasons are equipping their bows with the Airow Gun, which allows them to hold their own in paintball games or even shoot projectiles capable of killing varmints.

Curt Williams, a Eugene paintball fanatic who last month acquired the distribution rights for the Airow Gun, said the innovative bow-blowgun hybrid is made in two versions:

•One launches the .689-inch paintballs that gamers fire by the millions each year.

•The other shoots .22-caliber pellets, standard issue for air guns used by plinkers.

Normally, the compressed air needed to propel paintballs and pellets is provided by CO2 cartridges.

With the Airow Gun, a plastic piston powered by the release of the bow string compresses air to propel the projectile out the barrel at high speed.

The device was invented by Devon Romney, of Romney Motion in Otis Orchards, who started tinkering with the idea after he and several friends joked about how “cool” it would be to shoot paintballs with a bow.

“It’s a relatively simple air piston,” said Josh Jones of Spokane Valley Archery. Although he hasn’t fired one himself, he’s observed that the unit he carries for paintballs is “fairly accurate.”

“Paintballs aren’t the most accurate projectiles, since they’re not always perfectly round,” Romney said. “But with pellets, good shooters can really dial them in.”

Clerks at Sportsman’s Warehouse in Spokane Valley called the pellet version “very accurate.”

The device, which sells for just less than $200, can be attached to virtually any compound or recurve bow with a minimum of about 40 pounds pull. The bow reverts to normal arrow mode when the unit is removed by undoing a couple of screws.

For bow hunters, the pellet version makes it feasible to hunt rabbits or small varmints – on which most bow hunters are loath to risk breaking or losing expensive arrows.

The Airow Gun also provides a practical basement or backyard practice tool.

The paintball version has many advantages, Williams said, not the least of which is the low rate of fire that, at first blush, would appear to be a serious disadvantage in paintball battles. The Airow Gun requires the user to pull a cocking nob, which advances a paintball from a feeder tube holding up to 10 rounds, before every shot.

That means a shot can be fired every 2 or 3 seconds, at best.

By comparison, the latest high-tech paintball guns can launch more than a dozen rounds per second.

Williams said using a bow requires a back-to-basics approach to paintball, which originally was a game of much strategy and stealth and relatively few rounds fired.

“This really challenges my skill in paintball,” he said. “You have to think about your strategy instead of just spraying and praying, like a lot of people do now. It’s making your shot count — quality, not quantity.”

The Airow gun is significantly quieter than standard paintball guns, Williams said, meaning an opponent has more difficulty figuring out where an incoming round originated.

In addition to being stealthy, the Airow Gun’s advantages are that it’s more accurate, and it shoots farther, Williams said.

“I’m getting 20 to 30 feet extra range over most paintball guns,” he said. “And that’s a big advantage. Plus, these are way more accurate than paintball guns are.”

The Airow Gun paintball unit has received favorable reviews in several paintball publications, including a “Scenario Product of The Year” award from Splat Magazine. It also drew lots of attention at a recent Archery Trade Association show in Indianapolis.

“It’s definitely a good way to extend your season,” host Chad May of the Red Arrow cable television show told a reporter after trying the Airow Gun. “Instead of shooting paper or 3-D targets, you’re shooting your buddies.”

Meanwhile, the pellet version was evaluated on another cable television show aimed at bow hunters.

Scott Haugen, a Walterville, Ore., outdoor writer and television show host, used an Airow Gun on a “sage rat” hunt filmed for the BowTech Western Adventures program (the YouTube version of the segment is posted at ).

“I don’t think the Airow Gun is something you’re going to put on your bow and come out and rack up a lot of kills with,” said Haugen. “More importantly, I think it’s a really good tool to practice with. It’s a great way to come out and get an incredible amount of practice in a short time and hone your bow hunting skills.”

The Airow Gun is capable of firing pellets at nearly 700 feet per second, which is faster than some CO2-powered airguns, Haugen said. It can be loaded with up to eight pellets at a time in a revolver-style cylinder.

Until being purchased by Williams, the distribution rights for the Airow Gun were held by BowTech, a Eugene-based archery equipment manufacturer that did not specifically court the paintball crowd. “I believe a lot in this product,” Williams said. “It’s the first time something new and revolutionary has been created for paintball.”

“At first, we shot ourselves in the foot with some quality problems from China,” Romney said this week. “But we have those manufacturing issues under control.”

Only about 2,000 Airow Gun units have been sold so far, Williams said. But he noted that the Sporting Goods Manufacturers Association estimates that 5.4 million people played paintball in the United States in 2007, with more than 1.5 million of those playing at least 15 times during the year.

Bowhunters number about 7 million in the U.S., according to statistics compiled by the National Shooting Sports Foundation.

And all of those are potential customers for an unlikely device that fires projectiles from a bow with a rifle barrel.

(Outdoors editor Rich Landers contributed to this story.)