A small band of archers hiked over a narrow trail in the Santa Monica Mountains, making sure to stay clear of the unwieldy, yard-long stabilizing rod protruding from Robert Goodwin's laminated Firecat bow.
The archers were all carrying state-of-the-art equipment, with Goodwin out-accessorizing the others. His bow had a scope, a calibrated elevation mechanism and a release aid in addition to the stabilizer, which archers have dubbed the "goose bar."
Around a bend, the Pacific Ocean came into view and the archers spotted a wild turkey across a gully. Drawing a bead, they pulled on their bow's complex system of wheels and cables and loosed a flurry of aluminum arrows.
Traveling at 200 feet a second, the shafts were virtually invisible as they bore through the bright sunlight. But only Goodwin had managed to figure the downdrafts and updrafts correctly and put his arrow into what would have been the turkey's white meat . . . had the turkey not been a paper cutout.
So-called "paper-punchers," the archers are members of the Malibu Mountain Archery Club, where everything is real but the targets. Located on 45 rustic, unspoiled acres in Latigo Canyon, the club enables its 75 members to simulate bow hunting without actually spilling blood. Unlike traditional target ranges--where archers stand in one place and shoot at multicolored concentric rings on round Olympic-style targets--Malibu is a field-archery range. It is laid out like a golf course, with 28 paper targets situated along a rugged trail that meanders over four miles of mountain terrain.
"This is the hardest course in the world except for the one in Australia where they hang you over a cliff by a rope," said member Vic Miller of Inglewood.
Field archery was begun by bow hunters in Redlands, Calif., in the early 1930s. Founded in 1938, Malibu is one of the oldest "roving-style" clubs in the country. It has been at its current site for nearly 40 years, has survived two brush fires and a flood, has produced a few national champions and even has a Zen archer who shoots blindfolded.
The club sponsors two major shoots a year and holds monthly shoots that are open to the public, but hitting the bull's-eye, or turkey breast, is not as important as "coming out and having a good time," said club president Bob Goodwin of Hawthorne, Robert Goodwin's father.
Archery, of course, wasn't invented for recreation. Eons ago, the bow and arrow provided man with his first big edge over other creatures. "They say that archery is one of the three most important inventions of early man, the others being speech and fire," said Jay York of Reseda, a former pro wrestler known as "The Alaskan."
"Shooting arrows is in our genes," he said
Like golf, archery is a sport that can be performed by the young and the old. "You can do it at any age," said Deborah Ervin of Culver City, a two-time national champion. "You do not have to be physically strong."
In fact, modern technology has almost taken the strength factor out of the sport. The average bow still needs about 40 pounds of pull to draw back the string, but now a cam mechanism reduces the tension to only 15 pounds at the critical moment when the archer has pulled the string as far back as possible and is looking down the arrow to sight the target.
"Freestyle archery is getting more and more technical," Robert Goodwin said. "It gives you a chance to tinker. I'm thinking of rigging a digital micrometer on my bow. You can even get lasers and computers. But it does take some of the challenge out (of the sport)."
There are traditionalists at the club who still prefer the unadorned longbow. "If I put all that crap on my bow, I'd never miss," huffed Venice's Cliff Parker, 80.
Still, "It's the person behind the bow that counts," Teresa Pearson of Agoura said. Pearson is an "instinctive" shooter, which means she does not use sighting aids. "I don't have all that cheating stuff on my bow."
The only bow that is banned at Malibu is the crossbow. "It's not safe," said Francis Peeler, 84, who teaches archery at Rancho Park. "You put your life in jeopardy if you use it. I dislike the crossbow immensely."
Despite the lethal nature of the bow, accidents are rare at the club, members say. The most common ailment is "string slap," which occurs on release of the arrow when the string whips across the underside of the forearm with enough force to peel off flesh. Laminated bows and cables occasionally "blow up" in the archer's hands from stress, causing more embarrassment than injury.
Archers at Malibu and other roving-style clubs are not allowed to hunt live game on club premises. Only about 10% of Malibu archers are hunters, but three times a year they get more than paper turkeys to shoot at. Stored inside a large shed are "3-D targets," amazingly lifelike dummies of bear, deer, pig, buffalo and other animals.
"This is our 'stealth' turkey," Bob Goodwin said, displaying a large flying bird that can be hooked onto a cable and "flown" across a target range.
The active members at Malibu frequently travel to competitions at other clubs. Rivalries do exist. Pranks get pulled. Club banners are constantly stolen and then "ransomed." Good-natured taunts are yelled across the range. "Hey, Mali boozers ," someone from the South Bay Archers will shout. "Oh, it's the Sou sed Bays," comes the reply.
"There's grudge matches between the clubs--some rivalries go back to the '40s," said Jo Goodwin, Robert's mother and secretary of the club, "but it's all done in fun. That's what helps make archery such a great time."