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Shoot your buddies instead of targets

INDIANAPOLIS — If Eugene paintball fanatic Curt Williams sees the world right, he's holding a new chocolate-in-my-peanut-butter creation that is about to leave a huge latex splat on the archery world.

Williams is the new purveyor of a contraption that turns recurve or compound bows into paintball weapons, giving offseason archers like Chad May an alternative to paper bullseyes or 3-D targets.

"It's definitely a good way to extend your season," says May, host of the "Red Arrow" bowhunting cable television show on The Sportsman's Channel. "Instead of shooting targets, you're shooting your buddies."

That's exactly the mind-set Williams hoped for while peddling his William-Tell-meets-Weekend-Warrior contraption during the Archery Trade Association show last weekend in Indianapolis, where archery big-shots like May lined up to test-drive the so-called "Airow Gun."

The Airow uses an arrow with a small piston attached where a hunter's broadhead would be. When fired into a long cylinder, it creates enough air pressure to send a paintball hurtling forward as fast as the 280 feet-per-second threshold paintballers use in team contests.

The weapon is so accurate yet so weird that Williams believes bowhunting and paintballing devotes will be crossing into each other's passion.

"With this, I have farther range, better accuracy and it really challenges my skill in paintball, instead of just spraying paint like a lot of people do now," says Williams, 44, and a 25-year paintballer who owns Paintball Palace in Eugene. "It's accuracy. It's stealth. It really makes it a game.

"My goal is to show people all over Oregon, and nationally, that this exists," Williams says.

The Airow paintball gun retails for $200. Williams also markets a $230 version that shoots .22-caliber pellets instead of Airows. Kits to convert one airow gun to another cost $110-$130.

Under Oregon hunting laws, the pellets would not be legal for use in bow seasons or any rifle seasons, says Capt. Walt Markee of the Oregon State Police's Fish and Wildlife Division.

However, they would be legal in varmint hunting, Markee says.

The Airow came to be five years ago in the garage of Spokane-area machinist Devon Romney in the way most inventions do.

"We were having a conversation about bows, and we said, 'Wouldn't it be cool if you could shoot paintballs with this?' " Romney says.

Romney tinkered a while in his shop before he created the initial prototype.

"It was a miserable failure," he says. "But I guess it worked well enough to keep me at it."

After two years of work, the Airow was good enough to draw the attention of Eugene archery giant BowTech, which bought the sales rights from Romney, who owns the design and trademark.

The Airow sat in BowTech's shadows for a while before the company brought in Williams to help market it toward the paintball industry.

About 2,000 Airows were sold worldwide before BowTech let its sales agreement with Romney lapse.

Williams jumped in and finalized a sales agreement with Romney just before last week's ATA show in Indianapolis.

Standing on the show's floor, Williams held an Airow at the front of a booth he turned into a makeshift shooting range. Rubbernecking archers who walked past booth after booth of bow and cross-bow ranges couldn't help but try their hand at the Airow.

After a few shots, archer Frank Deimler of Newville, Penn., says he's more than intrigued.

"Just the idea of doing paintball with a bow is enough to make me want to start," Deimler says.

The Airow parts are made overseas and Romney assembles them in Spokane.

The sight of an Airow hanging on Williams' Paintball Palace created the conversion of Jonathan Carraher, a Eugene paintballer who accompanied Williams to the ATA show.

"I saw that thing and I thought, 'What the heck is that?' " Williams says. "He handed it to me and I can't put it down.

"I have nine (paintball) guns, and they're all up for grabs," he says. "All I want to do is use that thing."

Reach reporter Mark Freeman at 776-4470, or e-mail mfreeman@mailtribune.com.

Curt Williams of Eugene shoots an Airbow, a cross between a bow and a paintball gun, on the floor of the Archery Trade Association show Friday in Indianapolis. - Mark Taylor / Roanoke Times