Matt Stutzman might be the only man in the world who shoots a bow with no arms. Stutzman, 28, was born without arms and learned how to do everything from drive a car to shoot a gun with his own two feet. Even as a little kid Stutzman had a gift for focusing his attention on a task and figuring out his own way to get it done. Now his focus has turned to archery and qualifying for the 2012 Paralympic games. Photos by: Josie Hannes
Matt didn’t take archery seriously until two years ago when a friend talked him into a whitetail bowhunt. Matt quickly figured out that he could draw and shoot a bow easily enough, and he killed a doe that first season. He was immediately hooked. It wasn’t long until he signed up to shoot in his first tournament. When an armless man signs up for an archery tournament in small-town Iowa (where Matt grew up), people turn out. Stutzman shot the tournament as local news cameras rolled and two days later Mathews called. The company wanted to sponsor him. Stutzman gladly took the sponsorship, but he felt like he needed to earn his keep. “I didn’t want to be sponsored because I had no arms, I wanted to be sponsored because I was good,” he said. So for the next year and a half he dedicated his life to archery, going to shooting camps and practicing for three hours a day. Last month he made the Para United States Archery Team and shot the highest score at 70 meters out of all the competitors in his group. If he finishes in the top three at the team trials competition next year, he’ll qualify for the 2012 Paralympic Summer Games in London. “It’s all I think about now,” he says. “I’m very motivated to win that tournament … I’m not taking this lightly.” Here’s Stutzman’s shooting process …
It all starts with the feet. He holds the bow between his big toe and middle toe. Since he was a kid his feet have worked double duty, so they’re extremely dexterous. He uses them to write, type, change break pads and do anything else he needs to do. He tried prosthetic arms when he was a kid, but gave them up after a few days. “Prosthetic arms are mechanical, so eventually they’ll break, and then what am I going to do? Sit around for days until I can get new ones?” he says.
Stutzman has to sit down to shoot and chair height is actually an important factor. If a chair is too short or too tall, it forces him to tweak his form, which can hurt accuracy.
He wears a strap around his chest that attaches to a normal arrow release slung over his right shoulder. The strap is the only piece of modified gear he uses to draw the bow.
Want to shoot a bow with your feet? You better be flexible. With his right foot Stutzman brings the bow up until he can attach the release to the string with his mouth.
From there he’s ready to draw. Stutzman can comfortably pull back 74 pounds. He actually prefers drawing 60 pounds or more, because the heavier draw weights make it easier for him to keep his balance.
Stutzman usually deer hunts from the ground, with his back to a tree (although he can climb a ladder stand). To shoot, he always leaves his right foot bare to get a better feel for the bow, but when it gets cold he slips his foot into a wool sock with hand warmers. “It’s weird, my hands never get cold when I go hunting, but my feet do sometimes,” he says.
At full draw the basics, like steady breathing, relaxed grip and consistent form, are the same for Stutzman as they are for any archer.
But there are things that Stutzman has to deal with that other shooters don’t, like extra attention from crowds. People are understandably curious to see Stutzman shoot, but the attention and the burning flashbulbs every time he draws back can easily turn into distractions.
Another challenge was figuring out what “good form” actually meant. There isn’t exactly a wealth of literature out there on how to properly shoot a bow without arms, so Stutzman had to figure out his own way of shooting through trial and error.
Randi Smith, Stutzman’s new coach, has been the National Para Archery head coach since 2005 and has worked in the archery world since 1986. She had never seen someone shoot with their feet until she met Stutzman. Most para archers use one arm to shoot or utilize prosthetics. Smith says that there’s always experimenting with new archers but the basics are still the basics. “We have to figure out the best way to get there with each athlete, but then we work on the basics of consistency, stability, and repeatability. We look for straight lines, balance on both sides (the release side and the bow side), and a strong follow through.”
Stutzman has an anchor point that’s moved slightly toward the middle of his face, compared to most archers. He releases the arrow by moving his jaw back toward his neck. If you look close, you can see the trigger (which is set at just 1.5 pounds) tucked beneath his chin. The movement when Stutzman pulls the trigger is so subtle that it’s almost impossible to see in real time.
The only major modification made to Stutzman’s competition bow is the stabilizer. Doinker built him a stabilizer that doubles as a bow kickstand. This way Stutzman can use the stabilizer to prop up the bow after a shot and nock another arrow with his right foot. Before he had to hold the bow with his right foot and nock the arrow with his left foot.
While many para archers make modifications to their gear, Stutzman made a point to try to use the same equipment archers with two hands use. “I take pride in being able to adapt to things around me, instead of having things adapted for me,” Stutzman says.
Stutzman’s shooting style is incredibly accurate. He can easily bust balloons at 100 yards and he regularly splits his arrows at 20 yards. He competes in a handful of tournaments around the country against non-disabled archers and beats most of them. Last year in a national tournament in Las Vegas he took 33rd place out of 670 shooters.
Besides archery, Stutzman works as a motivational speaker, talking to churches, schools and archery clubs around the Midwest. He also does shooting demonstrations. To see Stutzman’s website got to Inspirational Archer.
The key to Stutzman’s success is his attitude. He arrowed this buck with a deformed rack during the last day of the disabled season in Iowa last year (those are his two sons Carter and Cameron). Like any good outdoorsman, he’s not afraid to laugh at himself. “I shot a disabled deer on the last day of the disabled deer season,” he jokes. To see video of Matt shooting go to:
Video: Para Archer Matt Stutzman Shoots a Bow With His Feet
Matt Stutzman was born without arms, but that didn’t stop him from turning into a sharp shooter with the stick and string. Now he’s set on qualifying for the 2012 Paralympic Games.