The story of Precision Shooting Equipment (PSE) has a familiar beginning. An individual has an idea and through hard work, innovation and determination, becomes a success. It’s a story that while not exclusively American, is one that has been the overarching inspiration for so many successful companies. From the start, PSE founder and CEO Pete Shepley has kept the personal, hands-on approach to designing and building bows while building a reputation for quality and making PSE the largest privately owned archery manufacturing company in the United States.
I was lucky enough to be invited to join a tour of PSE’s Tucson, Arizona manufacturing facility, along with representatives of Arizona Game & Fish Department, headed by Commissioner Eric Sparks. Pete Shepley and his son Jonathan were our guides for the tour and pointed out the more than 40 operations that occur to turn a chunk of solid aluminum into a functional and accurate bow.
Covering an entire city block, the PSE facility is where ideas become reality. New designs for cams, releases, bows, virtually anything that can be used in archery is prototyped, tested, tweaked and redesigned until it becomes a product ready to be released to the public.
While I expected a majority of the steps to create a PSE bow to be automated, I was struck by the number of steps that are done by hand when crafting a PSE bow.
All bow handles begin as a solid piece of aluminum. For the entry-level bows, this starts as a cast aluminum handle that is fed into a machine that mills out the overall shape of the handle and makes the correct cuts to lighten the overall weight. Higher end bows start with a 23-pound solid billet of aluminum and the entire piece is milled from bar stock. According to Jonathan Shepley, the process takes about 10 minutes for the less expensive bows, to more than an hour for the higher end bows.
Smaller machines are busy milling round aluminum stock to create modules for the cams to allow draw length adjustment and other small parts that make up a finished product. PSE makes their own tooling and molds and helps develop new techniques for producing carbon fiber elements for use in their products.
All of this production creates a lot of aluminum scrap. Scrap that recyclers are clamoring for. “Because PSE uses water based coolants and lubricants in the production process, recyclers are eager to bid on our scrap,” said Jonathan Shepley. “All they have to do is rinse the raw material and it’s ready for reuse. About 3% of our revenue comes from the sale of aluminum scrap.”
Each of the machines are dedicated to a specific purpose. While the number of tools used and the exact finished product may differ, depending on which product is being produced. Because the PSE line is so diverse, full automation in the manufacture process is difficult. Changes in design, number of models being produced and the sheer volume of parts require a human touch. Bow risers are deburred by hand and smoothed in a large shaker filled with media similar to a brass polisher for handloaders. Bowstrings are made with a proprietary system in-house that ensures consistent performance from first to last. Paint and pattern application is done in small batches to ensure consistent coating and appearance. Even packing the bows for shipping is done by hand.
Bows are tested at random for strength and durability. During the tour, a bow was undergoing testing for string strength and limb durability. This particular bow had already endured more than 50,000 pulls and releases and was still going strong. According to Shepley, even the most avid hunter or target shooter would only reach the 10,000 mark, with the average shooter/hunter being in the 5,000 range.
PSE has also expanded into the crossbow market as many bowhunters have reached an age where they are no longer able to hold at full draw long enough to ensure a well placed shot. PSE invented the compound crossbow more than 30 years ago, and as with all of their products, have expanded the line to meet the growing demand.
PSE sells its bows online and in its Pro Shop in Tucson, but it also enjoys a worldwide distribution as well. Cabelas, Bass Pro Shops, Sportsmans Warehouse and many others carry PSE bows and accessories. In fact, Alberta Canada is one of PSE’s largest areas of distribution. Walking through the warehouse, I was impressed by the sight of more than 10,000 bows ready for shipment. Literally floor to ceiling shelves stacked with bows waiting to ship to hunters and shooters worldwide.
While Shepley noted that the archery market is currently in a slump, there are some bright spots. The popularity of movies that feature archery such as Hunger Games and Rambo create flashes of interest in the sport and curiously bow fishing has edged out target archery in popularity recently. In addition, many hunters are discovering the advantage of both bow and rifle seasons to increase their chances in the field.
All in all, PSE is unique in not only the world of archery but also the world of manufacturing. In a time when most sporting goods companies are a part of mega corporations with manufacturing spread out from the center, PSE insists on keeping their processes under one roof. This is what makes PSE an industry leader and keeps them driven to develop new and exciting innovations for both pros and the casual shooter now and in the years to come.