The Quest to Shoot an Arrow Farther Than Anyone Has Before

Alan Case, an engineer and designer from Beaverton, Oregon, has spent the past 15 years chasing an archery distance record that was set in 1971 by an archer named Harry Drake, who used a muscle-powered device called a footbow to shoot an arrow 2,208 yards — one mile and 268 yards. On Nov. 22, 55-year-old Case traveled to a Nevada salt flat to finally attempt to break the record. Case’s footbow was not only the hardest to shoot, but also the most unpredictable and dangerous. It requires an archer to place his feet in stirrups and push outward with his legs while straining to pull back on the bowstring with his hands, creating a draw weight of up to 325 pounds. That’s a tremendous amount of brute force to launch an arrow that weighs little more than a couple of pencils at up to 800 feet per second, roughly the same speed as a .45-caliber bullet. If a bow limb breaks, the entire apparatus seeks the quickest way to dissipate its tremendous energy. At just the right time, Case sat down on his shooting blanket, He pushed outward on the bow with his feet — struggling to aim — strained to pull back on the bowstring, then released. The next sound he made consisted of equal parts pain, surprise and intense anger. In a split second his arrow has bored itself deep into the top of his right foot and shattered a bone. Alan Case’s quest for the official title is ended, at least for now. “I don’t know what happened,” he says. “It’s crazy. I was starting to feel good. Just keeping it on the target.” Ever the scientist, he calculates that the entire incident probably lasted no more than 0.005 of a second. “It doesn’t take much to deflect an arrow, but it takes a lot to stop one head-on.” He vows to be back, and those who know him say there’s little doubt he will eventually break the world record.