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Radio transmitter helps archers find game

The Game Vector transmitter helps archers retrieve wounded game.
The Game Vector transmitter helps archers retrieve wounded game.

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 a lifetime in Kansas. Although he knew the arrow was fatal, he looked all day and 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 help deer hunters more easily recover arrow-shot animals.

The Game Vector Deer Recovery System hit the market July 1. Some hunters say it could help bowhunters in states that would allow this technology in primitive weapons seasons.

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

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 had worked with the military and Cessna. Those years introduced him to experts in nearly every aspect of electronics. Several of them invested know-how and money in his company.

“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.”

The system features a plastic transmitter compartment that attaches to an arrow behind the broadhead. A 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 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 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 only the Game Vector transmitter frequency.

Under ideal conditions, Steinman said the receiver has picked up transmitters up to 2 miles away. “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 much of the summer testing the transmitter and receiver in realistic conditions, such as in heavily-timbered creek bottoms 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, had been shot with prototypes with no problems. Transmitters were shot scores of times through deer hides to make sure the attaching system worked.

Maintaining accuracy

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 one-tenth 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.

“From all of our shooting, everything seems to be right there. They shoot about as well as field points,” Boldra said. “We’re getting 3-inch groups out to 50 yards.”

Boldra also said he added a bit of weight to the nock-end of the arrow for better balance.

Blake Nowak, of Diamond Archery in Wichita, 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 2 or 3 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 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. No model works on crossbows, but that may change. Steinman said arrows from super-fast bows and crossbows may accelerate so fast that the transmitter leaves the arrows early.

Working for acceptance

Nowak and Boldra predict it may take awhile before bowhunters openly embrace Game Vectors. Steinman has sent them afield with about 40 hunters who will be recording their hunts and putting the video online this fall.

Then there’s the sticker shock. Kits with a receiver, transmitter and two practice modules retail for $389.

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

Boldra 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.

“A lot of people I talk to at sport shows are intrigued and interested, but they’re skeptical,” Steinman said. “The way I look at it if they lose a deer this fall, they’ll be back.”