Last year, as I was hanging around the shooting lanes at the ATA Show in Indy, I overheard a pair of shop owners talking about the bow another archer was shooting. It was a super-small bow, measuring a mere 18.5 inches between the axles, and it had a unique, futuristic look.
“That bow looks really cool, and that guy seems to be driving tacks,” one of the shop owners said. His buddy agreed. When the shooter finished up, the shop owners toed the line. They fired about 10 arrows each, smiled, thanked the man monitoring the lanes and then made their way to the manufacturer’s booth to place their orders.
Who made this bow? It’s a company that is starting to make some waves in the archery arena. The name is Gearhead Archery, and, as Ricky Bobby said during a post-race interview in the movie Talladega Nights, “Get used to hearing it.”
“We are overachievers,” said Paul Trpkovski, owner and president of Gearhead Archery, in a recent phone interview. “After a 20-year career in building robotics, I semi-retired. I was looking for something to do, had a lot of patents and decided, on a whim, to make a bow. My partner, Skip Peterson, and I built about 10 bows in 6 months. I drew up the designs, and Skip machined them. The bows were all crazy. We had gear-driven bows, which is where the name came from. We even had spring-powered bows. I was using the knowledge I had from robotics and just doing something different, but this allowed me to basically get my PhD in building bows.
“I sold some patents to Carbon Express, which they ended up giving back. I also sold some patents to Mathews. For about 8 years, I made a living developing patents and then selling the idea. Our plan was really never to make a bow company; it was simply to sell the patents. Then, while in Hawaii filming some videos for the T-Series of bows I was working on, Skip called me out of the blue. Long story short, I went back to Wisconsin and, for about a year and a half, managed a robotics and automation company. While there, I was able to show my T-Series design to the owner of the robotics company. He was interested and let me know he wanted to jump on this bow project with me. At that time, I had the T18 and T20 designs. He loved the fact that the bows were so small and compact.
“We started an archery business within the Wisconsin robotics factory with the help and backing of my main partner, Eric Rapp (the owner of the robotics company I was working for), and things started rolling. We had five people working for us — five people I’d known for 20-plus years — and all of them are still with us today. Now we are Gearhead Archery, and we are motivated, driven and making purposeful designs.”
AB: How has Gearhead Archery managed to climb the ladder and become such a strong force in a highly competitive marketplace?
PT: We aren’t a strong force yet, but we are rapidly growing. To be a force in the market, we need to get 25,000 to 35,000 units. However, I feel by taking an organic approach, we’ve learned a recipe for success, and we are starting to really grow. We are growing at the right pace. You get one shot in this industry. If you flop, you’re done. The compound industry is very difficult, but I’m seeing it as a me-too world. Our bow and crossbow designs are far from me-too. We are just getting started, and I feel, with the riser design we have, we are 20 to 30 years ahead of everyone else.
AB: How does the design of your bows benefit the archer and archery dealer?
PT: The riser design allows the bow to switch from right- to left-handed. It’s really amazing. Being able to take a bow and actually convert it from a true right- to left-handed model makes things simple for the archery retailer. Retailers that carry our models don’t have to order in a few left-handed models and then be worried about getting stuck with them.
Sure, our bows look different, and they are different. Imagine you ask 100 structural engineers how they would build something that had 1,000 pounds cantilevered off the end of these limbs and pulled between to make something that was structurally sound, something that was vibration-free, something that would never deflect and rotate and twist inconsistently. Our risers are that. And 99 out of 100 of those structural engineers would say that’s the way a riser should be made.
We also wanted to go after the short axle-to-axle market, and really, we own it. The T18 is the world’s shortest axle-to-axle bow, and honestly, it’s the only bow I hunt with. I don’t buy the hype that you can’t be accurate with a short axle-to-axle bow. Recently, I crawled around spotting-and-stalking mouflon sheep in Hawaii. Never, not once, was I checking for limb clearance. The bow is just so compact.
And then we have unique features like the Slider Grip. This grip has the ability to shift independently of the bow left to right and front to back. It’s amazing. If you draw back most bows and you glance up at the top cam, depending on where the grip is, the mechanics of your body will rotate the riser clockwise or counterclockwise. If you look up at your top cam and see that the string is coming off to the right or the left, you’re not on neutral axis. Neutral axis is when the string comes straight back off the bow. Different bows on the market, because each individual is different, will showcase different string angles coming off the top cam when drawn back. With the Slider, you adjust the grip so it’s dead center and then you start paper-tuning. It makes all the difference.
AB: Give us some background on some of your current bow models.
PT: Our flagship is and always will be the T18. Our No. 1 seller is the T24, but for me, I just can’t get enough of the light, short axle-to-axle nature of the T18. When I’m hunting, it’s simply an extension of my hand, and I can stack arrows out to 60, 70 and 80 yards. In a bowhunting situation, I limit myself to 60 yards, and this bow flat-out performs. The market might not be ready for it, but if you want a lightweight rig that is easy to carry, quiet and accurate, and that gives you the peace of mind to never worry about limb clearance, the Gearhead T18 is the model for you. As far as storage and traveling, I toss this bow in a duffle bag and go hunt. It’s just simplified everything for me. I truly believe it would be harder to hunt with a large bow.
AB: Tell us about your crossbow models. What sets them apart from the crowd?
PT: I’ve done a lot of crossbow designs. In the early days, I developed and sold a lot of crossbow patents. I couldn’t crack the nut on a better cam, and we do license our cams from Darton. It’s the Two-Track Cam, and I believe it’s the best cam ever built. I hate Y-Yokes. If you have a Y-Yoke split-cable system and you set that system down on a bush or drop the bow any which way, that cable is not guarded. It is exterior of the limb, and it’s not served. I’ve cut more Y-Yokes than you can shake a stick at. For this reason, I’m a big fan of the Two-Track Cam.
I dislike all crossbows that are on the market today, besides ours. You shoot a competitor’s bow and it’s like a bomb went off. A few years back I went to the ATA Show and shot a bunch of them. The bows are so violent, and they are a mechanical explosion waiting to happen. The crossbow industry is pushing high-poundage, short power-stroke models, and they just aren’t fun to shoot. Even with a rope cocker, most youth and small-framed women, or people like me with bad backs, can’t cock them.
When we designed our first crossbow, I wanted to break the 5-pound mark. We designed the original Carbon X16. Its finished weight was 4.2 pounds, it featured a 90-pound pull and it fired an arrow with respectable speed. Our crossbows shoot standard arrows, not bolts, at 360 fps. No other crossbow does this. Because of state crossbow laws, we came out with the 125-pound-pull model. This made us legal in most states, and now we have the only crossbow that can actually be paper-tuned because the front rest can adjust left to right and front to back. It’s quiet and can actually be cocked by hand. I hate rope cockers and wanted an easy-to-cock model. We just need the market to come around. Everyone is hyped up on speed. We could easily make a faster crossbow, but I want ours to be quiet and pleasant to shoot, one that will hold up to thousands of shots. The X16 shoots arrows cock feather up, allowing the power cables to be pulled down to a minimum. This significantly reduces stress and wear on the rig.
Something we are really proud of is that one of our crossbow shooters, Austin Jones, who is in a wheelchair, just won his class at a recent ASA shoot. He chose the bow because it’s a joy to shoot and doesn’t beat him up, and he can handle it easily. Oh, and he’s pretty dang proficient with it.
Give our crossbows a chance, and you won’t be disappointed. We aren’t a big force yet, but we are carrying a big stick.
AB: Does Gearhead Archery have any big product launches for 2019?
PT: Absolutely, the B- Series family of compounds. Our big thing this year, from dealer feedback, is adjustability, adjustability and adjustability. The B-series will consist of the B20, B24, B30, B34 and B40. The B-series compounds have up to 15 pounds of draw weight adjustment, 5 inches of draw length adjustment, are significantly faster, have a new cam design, and a number of new features. The B-series is totally adjustable, faster, and looks more aggressive. We are excited to add the B-series to our family of products with a totally new ground-up design.
We go out of our way to not obsolete product. We are not getting rid of our T-Series. If we find a way to make a better bow or crossbow, we will do it. What we are not going to do is design a new bow every year for the sake of designing a new bow. We don’t want to stick dealers with 2016, 2017 and so on models. We don’t put a date on our bows. If they were good enough to come out with a bow model, then we are going to stand by it. I compare our T-Series to the Model 1911 pistol and Ruger 10/22 rimfire rifle. Those guns are still around. They are still in circulation. That’s something I really feel sets us apart. We will keep innovating and keep growing this business.
We are going from five grips this year to six grips. We’re rolling out a new grip. We’re excited about that as well. We can customize our compounds so much that it’s almost overwhelming, but the customizations are purposeful, and each archer ends up with a bow that is perfect for them.
AB: Does Gearhead Archery have any dealer incentive programs?
PT: I don’t know how a dealer couldn’t carry us. That’s just honesty. How could we not be the go-to bow for anybody that walks through the door? We have a bow that converts from right- to left-handed, is fully customizable, is accurate and is easy to carry. We also have a buy-back program. If you sign up and maintain $5,000 in inventory, and you can’t sell those bows over an 18-month period, we will buy back that inventory. If you have an unused bow that you aren’t moving, we will replace that bow with one that will. Our MAP and our MSRP are the same, so we give good margins.
AB: Tell us about the future of Gearhead Archery. Where do you see the company 5 years down the road?
PT: We will be a household name. I would be happy with Mathews, Hoyt, Bowtech, PSE and then Gearhead. We have great products, and we want to be a very high-end brand. Our bows are not a throwaway bow. You buy a T18, and you have it for a lifetime. It has no hand shock, it’s quiet as hell, and you can pass it down from generation to generation.
For more information on Gearhead Archery, visit www.gearheadarchery.com.