With an electric carving knife, glue gun and some Styrofoam, Kevin Peterson’s dream finally took physical form.
“It started out like an arts and crafts project at home,” he said.
But instead of some new Pinterest creation, Peterson was giving shape to his dream archery target so a patent attorney could describe the creation. Eight years after first conceiving the idea, he’s finally ready to bring his Matrix Targets to the public, showing them off at this weekend’s Montana Bowhunters Association state convention at the Northern Hotel.
“It’s very rewarding to get to this point because we had some bumps in the road,” Peterson said.
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He had a lot of help traveling this far. His son, also named Kevin, is a civil engineer and did the mechanical drawing for the target. His brother, John, created the company’s logo. His wife, Amy, helped with the prototype. One of his daughters, Lindsay Lambert, is the model featured in some of Matrix’s advertising.
A retired gaming worker, the 55-year-old Peterson said he has often come up with new ideas for inventions in the past but was never quick enough to get them off the ground. A hunter for 45 years and bowhunter for 15, he was disappointed with commercial archery targets that would get quickly shredded by arrows shot into their center.
“The problem with the target business is that once you tap out the center, it renders the target useless unless you want to tap out the corners and risk losing arrows,” he said.
Amy has been shooting archery for about 10 years. In fact, the whole Peterson family shoots bows — they have four children — so their old targets would have to be thrown away every year after being riddled with arrows.
“That was always frustrating, especially when you are a single-income family,” Amy said.
Peterson’s “aha” moment came one day when he was commuting from work in Billings to his Worden home.
“I was inspired by all of the stacks of round hay bales thinking: ‘You know, why can’t we come up with something where every part is interchangeable?’” he wrote in an email.
So Peterson dreamed up a honeycomb design of seven interlocking six-sided cubes of dense foam that are 14 inches deep, held together by a tongue-and-groove design as well as two heavy-duty nylon 2-inch straps.
“As you tap one out, you can rotate another into the middle,” he said. “The slogan is: Always shoot the center.”
Once a module is shot up on both sides, a new section can be bought so the whole target doesn’t have to be replaced.
Peterson said the 500-square-inch target has already handle 2,500 shots — 300 of those broadheads — on one side and still isn't shot out. The ideal but hard-to-find self-healing foam he uses is durable, yet releases the arrows easily.
The target is also portable and can be downsized to fewer segments for hauling to archery camp. At full size, it weighs 40 pounds, plenty sturdy to withstand the force of arrows striking it without tipping over.
Peterson is looking to tap into a market that is estimated at almost 19 million archers in the U.S. alone. That number has seen a boost thanks to a popular movie series about a bow-and-arrow wielding teenage heroine, Katniss Everdeen of “The Hunger Games.”
The sport of bowhunting has continued to grow in Montana, partly because of the variety it offers hunters — like hunting during the elk rut — and because it allows hunters to extend their season.
Peterson said development of the target got serious about a year ago.
“I had no idea the challenge of finding the right material,” he said. “You can’t just Google self-healing foam and come up with a bunch of manufacturers.”
Amy said that since he dove into the project, he has been obsessed, working on the targets three to four hours a night after everyone else has gone to bed.
“I guess it’s different when you have a passion,” she said. “It’s been really exciting to see all of the transformations it’s gone through.”
Before commercial production can start, Peterson is waiting for the aluminum molds to be finished at Forbidn Manufacturing in Billings. The originals were made by Silesia’s Gary Burrow, of HA Burrow Pattern Works. The blocks will be cast at a company in Wisconsin. Once the targets are painted, the final assembly is easy: stack the blocks into one large hexagon and strap them together.
“Part of the beauty of this package is I don’t need a lot of inventory,” Peterson said.
For now, he’s taking pre-orders for the first shipment of targets and will only be selling them through his website and at local conservation group gatherings or sporting shows. The pre-order price is $295 plus $25 for shipping. Peterson wants to keep the business manageable enough that he can do the work and ship directly to his consumers.
“I don’t want a boss,” he said.
Although the target has taken a while to get to this point, Peterson said he’s really enjoyed building the product, and the brand, from the ground up.
“I really think that after people shoot it, it will match or exceed any material on the market,” he said