Aug. 15, 2012 -- Paul Ryan might've been an early long shot to get the Republican vice presidential nod, but according to an old friend -- who just happens to be the president and CEO of the country's largest archers' organization -- Ryan has always been a sure shot with his hunting bow.
Ryan is a proper hunter, an "aficionado" who's "always consumed with trying this and trying that," Archery Trade Association chief Jay McAninch tells ABC News.
The Washington-based group has "given him a refuge at some of the more, you could say, high-falutin' events to step aside and talk about gadgets and new equipment," McAninch said. "When Paul came down to Congress in 1999 he was very active as a Wisconsinite in bowhunting, so he joined the Congressional Sportsmen's Caucus." McAninch was head of the Congressional Sportsmen's Foundation at the time, "so we got to know each other that way."
Ryan also made friends with his fellow bowhunters when a bill he pushed for years, one of the two he's passed during his dozen years in Congress, lowered the taxes on domestic arrow producers.
In his blog, McAncich praised Ryan's effort, saying they "level the playing field for arrow manufacturers, especially those making arrows on American soil."
Ryan's nose for the hunt, like his conservative credentials, also helped make him a real catch for Mitt Romney, who's never really won over the outdoorsmen and women who are among Republicans' core constituencies. The problem was underlined during a campaign stop in Indiana during his 2008 primary run, when Romney was asked about his background in hunting and gaming.
"I'm not a big-game hunter. I've made that very clear," the candidate told reporters. "I've always been a rodent and rabbit hunter. Small varmints, if you will."
That awkward explanation has followed Romney ever since, and the campaign is now surely taking comfort in his running mate's unquestioned place in the community.
(Not that simply knowing how to shoot grants you entry. Tim Pawlenty didn't make any friends with his "unsportsmanlike" decision to leave for a fundraiser before his hunting party could find a buck he wounded in 2009.)
For the Ryans, bowhunting is a family affair. The congressman's wife, Janna, is from a small town in Oklahoma and has been known to join her husband on the "tree stand" (or "perch" hunters use to give themselves a better view and clearer a shot through what's usually dense surrounding greenery.)
In their wedding announcement, Ryan said his bride-to-be "shared some of his love of the outdoors," and that he was "an avid hunter and fisherman who does his own skinning and butchering and makes his own Polish sausage and bratwurst."
Bowhunters love to talk shop, McAninch said, spending hours discussing the newest equipment and technology on the market the way golfers talk about their clubs and swings. But even then, the pursuit remains "a solitary activity. One of the things that a lot us feel is that the time a hunter spends on a bowhunting stand is some of best time of his life. It's not a social sport, although Paul is known to text from his stand."
Those texts are delivered, traditionally, from 15 to 20 feet off the ground, the height at which most bowhunters will seek to bind their platforms to what they hope are strongly-rooted trees.
White-tailed deer are only in season for four months across most of the northern and eastern states, usually from mid-September through early January, meaning Ryan will miss out on the bulk of this year's schedule. September, which figures to be an especially busy month for Ryan, is the most popular for hunters. It's mating season, McAninch says, so the deer are out and about and hunters will spend hours in their stands sitting on a clean shot.
Bowhunting takes patience, he says, and even experienced archers like Ryan are unlikely to have a target range outside 40 feet (inside that, "he could shoot six or eight and put them all in inside a CD or DVD"). Hunters with guns, by contrast, are usually more mobile and can strike from as far as 100 yards out.
Because they need to be so close to the deer, wardrobe selection can be as important as one's ability to crank a bow.
"People like Paul will try to wear deer scents," McAninch says. They'll also make sure to plant their stands downwind from the deer, so they don't give away their positions. "Bowhunters will spend weeks in advance trying to understand where the deer feeds. He'll look for all those type of things based on the prevailing winds."
So how's Ryan's shot?
"Most bowhunters won't brag," McAninch replies with a laugh. "but he'd probably say he's pretty good. He can shoot well."