SUPERIOR, Wis. — Neal Kregamaki peered intently through the sights of a freshly assembled Ravin crossbow on Wednesday morning. Kregamaki, of South Superior, works at the Ravin manufacturing facility in Superior’s Mariner Mall.
It’s his job as an inspector at Ravin Crossbows to test-fire the weapons. He squeezed the trigger. An arrow flew from the crossbow and almost instantly smacked a target 20 feet away. On its way, the arrow had passed through an optical chronograph, which measured its speed — 393 feet per second.
Right on the money. Kregamaki nodded his approval.
The new crossbow, which turned heads at two national trade shows in January, is the latest archery product brought to market by entrepreneur Larry Pulkrabek. His previous archery products, including the popular Field Logic block targets and Rage broadheads, gained large market shares in short order, but none has captivated the imagination of hunters and archery retailers as quickly as the Ravin.
Randy Graber of Custom Archery and Outdoors in Superior saw the crossbow wow attendees at the Archery Trade Association show in Indianapolis in January.
“It was pretty much one of the biggest things at the ATA,” Graber said. “You’d be walking down the aisles and hear these groups of people saying, ‘Did you see the Ravin crossbow?’ You’d go 20 feet and hear someone else say the same thing.”
It took only a couple of years before Pulkrabek’s Rage broadhead cemented itself as the market leader among broadheads. (A broadhead is the assembly of sharp blades affixed to the tip of an arrow.)
The Ravin’s rise to popularity has been even faster, he said.
“It was instantaneous,” said Pulkrabek, 56, who makes his home in Iowa. “It’s been pretty fun.”
On range day in January at the SHOT Show — primarily a gun show — in Las Vegas, Pulkrabek let showgoers try the Ravin at 100 yards — the target a complete football field away. The website guns.com wrote that the crossbow “stole range day.”
“So how on earth did a crossbow even make it into the mix, much less win the day?” the website wrote. “It’s not your average crossbow, that’s how. This little booth at the range… had the longest line of any on the firing line.”
“We had people come up and take two shots from 100 yards at a 6-inch diameter target,” Pulkrabek said. “Ninety percent hit the target with at least one of two shots.”
The only problem crossbow hunters are having with the Ravin is getting their hands on one. Graber, at his shop in Superior, has just one — a demo.
“I’m letting people shoot that one,” he said. “Everything else is pre-ordered. We should start seeing them the end of March.”
“We have huge backorders,” Pulkrabek said. “We’re shipping as fast as we can.”
Crossbows — mechanically aided bows held horizontally and fired with triggers — are popular with older hunters and people who have disabilities that prevent them from pulling back and holding a bowstring. Crossbow acceptance is growing, although proponents of conventional bows are wary of inroads they feel crossbows might make in the marketplace.
In Minnesota, a hunter must be over 60 or have a disability to use a crossbow. In Wisconsin, any bowhunter may use a crossbow.
While modern crossbows have been around for years, the Ravin’s design and features are unlike those of typical crossbows, say those who have used it. It is narrower and lighter than most other crossbows. Its cables travel around cams that generate propulsion of the arrow in an unconventional way. The Ravin launches arrows at 390 or 425 feet per second, depending on the model.
“We have 20 patents either issued or pending,” Pulkrabek said. “The primary difference is the Helicoil (cable) system. You don’t have to cross cables. It’s accurate, efficient and very small.”
The arrow it shoots, rather than resting in a groove, is completely suspended, resulting in less friction as it is launched.
Research and design
The Ravin has been in development for two years, Pulkrabek said.
“What we wanted was a weapon that gave you the capability of long-range accuracy,” he said.
Reaction has been swift and positive, Graber said.
“Everybody’s ‘wow’ — in shock — over how easy it is to use,” he said. “I can shoot it at 100 yards more accurately than a muzzleloader. The revolutionary aspect is their cam system. I think you’re going to see it in your standard bows.”
“So far, the response has been almost crazy,” said archery rep Bill Volkert of Hammond, Wis., with Steve Kaufman and Associates. “Even the guys who don’t like crossbows, they’re like, ‘Oh, my God. This is the most revolutionary thing I’ve ever seen.’ ”
Pulkrabek’s friend and fellow bowhunter Larry Kline of Solon Springs has seen the same reaction among hunters.
“The whole hunting industry is dying for new products. There’s nothing in years that’s been this exciting,” Kline said. “This is the hottest new thing in archery — in hunting — for years.”
History of success
The Ravin is merely the latest in a quiver of archery-related successes for Pulkrabek, who, with his wife, also owns Mont du Lac Resort near Superior.
The son of a plumber, Pulkrabek attended high school in Pequot Lakes, Minn., near Brainerd. After graduating from the University of Minnesota Duluth with a degree in business and marketing, he began making Field Logic block targets from his garage in White Bear Lake, Minn., and brought them to market in 1997. The layered foam targets proved ideal for the industry’s faster and more powerful bows. Within six months, he had outgrown his garage. In 2001, he moved the whole operation to Superior, adding a life-size 3D foam deer called the GlenDel to his line
“We ended up taking over the target market in many respects,” Pulkrabek said. “We were the dominant player by far.”
He bought two more archery-related companies, one of which included a patent for an expanding broadhead. Using that patent, he developed the Rage broadhead.
“Within three years, it was the best-selling broadhead in North America,” Pulkrabek said. “That was kind of ‘hang onto your hat.’ I had no idea it would become so popular.”
The way the Rage broadhead expanded upon contact resulted in fewer arrow deflections and less loss of kinetic energy, he said.
One of Pulkrabek’s strengths, Kline said, is the way he approaches manufacturing issues.
“I can’t exactly put my finger on it, but he just has a different way of looking at things,” Kline said. “He just seems to have an insight on what’s exciting and what people will buy.”
Pulkrabek says his success is a result of several factors.
“I have the education behind me,” he said, “but that only goes so far. I think I’m a risk-taker. I’m fairly good at seeing a problem and finding a solution to it. But the biggest thing is the people I have with me. I’ve been able to keep some key people. At Ravin, it’s myself and three other high-end managers in production, sales and management. It’s kind of hard to do, to keep that key group of people.”
Pulkrabek sold Rage broadheads to Feradyne, an investment firm, in 2011.
“That allowed me to become debt-free,” he said.
He sold Field Logic and several other lines to FeraDyne in 2015. Now FeraDyne is manufacturing most of those products in Superior.
“It ended up turning out pretty good for me and for the town,” Pulkrabek said.