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'As it is, probably about $1700," says Norman Aguon.

"It" is a Martin Cougar III Magnum archery bow, which, according to the manufacturer, comes with "14-inch straight glass composite limbs... measures 42 inches between the axles, has a 6 1/4-inch brace height, and is rated at 308 fps...and draw-length modules that can be adjusted over the entire range of lengths without affecting the draw weight...75 percent letoff. Mass weight 3 lb., 15 oz."

There is more -- a Ph.D. more -- but you get the idea: bows are as complicated as anything else. Think video games, think Robin Hood mutated into a Conan the Barbarian flexing his steroid-saturated biceps and shooting arrows at 3000 mph through the bloodless heart of a 12-foot-tall titanium-plated, hammer-headed, drooling alien/bug thing.

That's the Martin Cougar III Magnum archery bow! Ta-dah!

Martin Cougar Magnum, Aguon, and a half-dozen other archers are recreating at an off-road, mountainside archery course. The course is set at the bottom of a wide gully that has a steep rise on its north side. Bales of hay are stacked 20, 30, 50, 60, and 100 yards away from the shooting line. Each bale is home to a set of four blue-and-white target bullseyes.

Participants have requested anonymity; some have snuck off from work. All have no desire to advertise their underused, well-equipped, and beautiful archery playground. Mr. Aguon has been coming here for 17 years.

Studying Aguon's bow and busting myself as an idiot rookie, I ask, "What is the purpose of different draw strings?" I have no idea what "different draw strings" means, of course; to me, the bow's cabling looks similar to the inner workings of a garage door. I am merely making noise, hoping that Norman will answer me with something that makes sense.

He does. "Well, this is a bow string," Aguon says, gently pointing out that what I saw as "strings" is actually one length. "These are the cables, and this is called the split cable. Some only have one side. Then, there's a rod that moves it up, out of the way, but it's just to maintain tension."

I nod my head as if his words perfectly explain where babies come from. There is silence. More silence. More silence.

"This is a compound bow," Aguon says. "And a compound bow has wheels on it called cams. So when you draw back, when the string rolls over the cam, you're actually holding only 20 percent of the full draw weight of the bow, and therefore you can aim longer."

I understand none of this. "And this is a level of some kind?" I'm referring to a thingy attached to the little ledge where, presumably, the arrow's shaft rests.

"No," Aguon says. "It's an adjustable sight and a scope. The sight is calibrated. All the information is in my home computer and my Palm Pilot."

Aguon pulls out a Palm Pilot from his back pocket and beams. "The aerodynamics of the arrow are the shaft diameter, and the fletching, which is kind of the wind resistance, and the weight, which includes the tip weight and the weight of the shaft. So, this arrow weighs about 271.4 grains, and my computer knows that. At full draw you measure the distance between the peep sight and the scope and the peep sight and the arrow. Once the computer knows the triangulation, knows the weight and the aerodynamics of the arrow and the speed of the arrow coming out of the bow, it can calculate how much the arrow is going to drop over distance."

Can I get a beer?

"All that information is in the computer. And, by a method of experimentation, I've been able to come up with this sight table. The speed of my bow is 237.1 feet per second; that's the exit speed. The sight table tells me what the elevation is; that's how high I have to raise the bow according to the distance to the target."

I've got to make this stop. "How accurate are your tables?"

"At 30 yards, the group is within an inch all the way around. I can shoot accurately anywhere from 7 feet all the way out to 120 yards."

I offer a long grunt, indicating agreement and belief. "How many hours a week do top archers practice?"

"Very, very good archers practice three or four hours a day," Aguon says. "They like to talk about how many arrows they shoot. The best archers shoot between 300 and 400 arrows a day. For practice. They spend a lot of time shooting into a blank bale, just to perfect their release. With archery, it's developing the right technique and then developing the right muscle memory."

I close my eyes and imagine shooting 300 arrows. Silence. More silence. "What's the fun part?"

"I like the feel of pulling a bow and shooting an arrow. And I enjoy being out here." Aguon smiles. "The outdoors and shooting."

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