Interview With a Champion: Levi Morgan Discusses Winning, Faith, Big Payouts, and the Changing World of Competitive 3D Archery

As the 2016 3D archery season kicks off, Lancaster Archery Supply took some time for a Q&A with one of the best archers the 3D game has ever seen, who had a record breaking year in 2015. Levi Morgan last year won his ninth consecutive ASA Shooter of the Year title. No other Men’s Open Pro archer has won more than three in a row.

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Morgan also became the first archer ever to win all three legs of the IBO Triple Crown National Championship, plus the IBO World Championship. That’s a feat now called the IBO Grand Slam.

Certainly Morgan is looking to keep his winning streak going into the 2016 season. But this year, he’s also tackling the task of being a shoot organizer, as he and his wife, Samantha, host the inaugural Organization of Professional Archery’s Summit Invitational tournament May 20-21 in Pennsylvania.

The Morgans have invited 400 of the best professional 3D archers in the U.S. to come to their tournament and compete for $100,000 in prize money. The top award of $30,000 will go to the men’s open pro champion. If things go well, the Morgans hope to expand this tournament into a multiple-shoot series in the future.

Here’s a look inside Levi Morgan’s world – in his own words.

LAS: How old are you?

LM: I’m 28 years old

LAS: Where do you live?

LM: I live in Uniontown, Pa., however, I grew up in the mountains of western North Carolina.

LAS: How long have you been involved in archery?

LM: I started shooting when I was 3, but competing when I was 5 years old.

LAS: Tell me about the first time you shot a bow?

LM: My dad bought me a little red wheel bow, and I drug it around the house for a month or so until I could pull it back. From what he says, my first shot hit dead center of the bull’s-eye.

LAS: Tell us your setup for the 2016 season.

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LM:  As of right now, I will be shooting the new Elite Victory 37, with a QAD prototype rest. This rest should be out very soon… I will be shooting the CBE Vertex (sight) with a .019 blue fiber up pin. I normally use a .010, but I’m playing around with a .019 right now and I like it. I’ll be using the Scott Exxus and Halo as far as releases go, and Bee Stingers for stabilizers. My go-to stabilizer set up is a 30-inch front bar with 5 oz. (of weight at the end) and a 12-inch back bar with 24 oz. (on the end).

LAS: What is your draw length? And what is your draw weight for competition?

LM: My draw length is 31 inches, and I’m shooting about 72 lbs. right now.

LAS: To the casual observer, it seems that you prefer 3D archery over spot shooting. Is this true? If so, what is it you love about 3D competition?

LM: Yes I absolutely do because you actually can plan and strategize. You have to be smart to be a good 3D shooter… You have to be able to shoot, aim at spots you can’t see, judge distance, know when to be aggressive and when to be safe, and the list goes on and on.

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Shooting spots, the only thing you have to be good at is shooting, and the more you think the worse off you are. I’ve always said that spot shooting is so easy that it’s hard… There is no risk and reward – just straight up standing there on a line pounding paper at 20 yards knowing that no matter how good you shoot, at the end you will be thrown in a group of people who also shot good. Whoever catches a streak at the right time will win…

Three-D guys compete at all games, but not the other way around, which should tell you something… Bottom line is I love strategy. I love preparing and outworking the competition. I love the rewarding feeling of having to do five things perfectly to hit a spot, and doing it for an entire weekend.

It’s hard, and that’s unfortunately why you are seeing a lot of guys moving towards the known 3D game. They either can’t or won’t put the time in that it takes to compete. I will always have the utmost respect for guys and girls that work their butt off to compete and be successful on the 3D circuit, because I know what it takes.

LAS: You are the reigning, 9-time ASA Shooter of the Year. No one else has come close to winning that many titles. Why do you think you’ve been able to stay on top for so long?

LM: I really don’t know. I worked so hard in the beginning of my career and I wanted to be the best that ever lived. You’ll never hear me say that I am the best, because that’s not up to me to decide. I’ve watched God move in my life and allow me to do and accomplish things I never thought I would do. I’m so undeserving of all of it and very humbled.

A lot of tournaments that I thought I was out of, or there was no way I could win, somehow when the dust settled, I was on top. Other times I thought I was shooting so good I couldn’t lose, and I would have it taken right out from my fingers.

So I learned to just shoot to the best of my ability til the last arrow, and know that God is in control. I want to always give Him all the glory for anything good I do, because I know without Him I am nothing.

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LAS: How do you stay motivated after this many years at the top?

LM: I can’t help but be motivated, man. I get to wake up every day and do what I love. God gave me an incredible opportunity and an awesome family to take care of.

If that isn’t motivation, I don’t know what is.

LAS: When you are standing on the line, how do you determine a target is 43 yards out instead of 41?

LM: Sometimes I don’t know if its 43 or 41 so I put it on 42 and hold at the top of the 12. For real, that’s another thing I love about 3D. It’s all about decisions you make. You can never master judging distance, but you do learn how to avoid disasters. That’s the name of the game.

LAS: Do you have a special practice routine for judging distance?

LM: I used to log everything I did when I judged in practice. I would log the date, the time, the target, the weather, the terrain, my guess, and what it ranged. After a couple months, you really start to see what targets or conditions give you trouble. You can’t work on your weaknesses until you know what they are.

LAS: How much time do you spend each day/week/month shooting your bow?

LM: I used to shoot every spare minute morning noon and night. Now I have so much going on that I don’t have nearly as much time as I used to and now every spare minute I have I want to be with my family. I’d say at best I get to shoot for about an hour a day 3 days a week.

LAS: Do you ever take days off from practice?

LM: I actually take months off. I love to hunt and that’s what I do from August to January, nonstop. While I am shooting a little throughout the season, it’s not what I would call practice for competition.

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LAS: You and Samantha are running the OPA Summit Invitational in May. There already are ASA and IBO tournaments. Why is this one needed?

LM: Well there have always been your 3D people, NFAA people, FITA people, known-3D people, etc. I wanted to create a venue that is fun to shoot, fun to watch, and all the top shooters can come compete for huge money, and have a great shot at winning. We want to bring a new demographic of people to watch these events… I can’t wait.

LAS: You say in your video about the event that you “don’t want to step on anyone’s toes.” How has the reaction from the archery community been to your event? How does having another tournament out there grow archery?

LM: What I meant by that was I’m not trying to replace anything that’s out there. I’m growing archery by creating a professional platform that amateurs and kids can look at and aspire to be. We have to create something that people want to be a part of and want to work towards. I want more people to be able to make a living at this sport.

Every other sport has a professional tour. Why not archery? I’ve always wondered that.

LAS: The payout for the Men’s Pro Champion (at your tournament) is $30,000. Last year, you won $1,600 at the IBO World Championships and $4,000 for being ASA Shooter of the Year (not counting manufacturer contingencies). Why the huge payout at your event? Are you making some sort of statement about the economics of professional archery?

LM: I absolutely want to make a statement. Guys used to make $50,000 to win shooter of the year, and with the amount of work it takes to do that, they should win $50,000. If it wasn’t for the bow companies supporting shooters with great contingency programs, then most pros wouldn’t or couldn’t afford to show up.

I want to make it where you don’t have to win to make money. At the OPA shoot you win $30,000, $20,000, and $10,000 for first second and third, but you also get paid if you get 40th. That’s a big deal in getting a turnout.

I’m not taking a dime of the shooters’ money – 100 percent payback. That’s the way I wanted to do it because they deserve it. Making a top ten is a huge accomplishment, and right now if you get 10th at the biggest shoot in the world you can’t really pay for your travel expenses.

LAS: You’ve made your name on the ASA and IBO circuits, shooting targets at unknown distances, yet your tournament will have known distances. Why?

LM: While I love 3D, and a lot of guys do, I’m also not too stubborn to realize that the future of archery is in known (distance). Facts are, people are just not going to work at judging distance. It breaks my heart to think that the future isn’t what I’ve worked my whole life at, but I love archery and I want to do what’s best for the sport – not what’s best for Levi.

I am marking the distance, but I’m also bringing in risk and reward with 12s and 14s. People are going to have to really strategize here, and actually shoot a score. (They can’t) go in thinking, “I can’t miss,” but rather, “How do I hit the middle more than everyone else?”

Way more fun to shoot and watch.

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LAS: There is much debate in the archery community about known vs. unknown distance. Which side of the fence are you on?

LM: I personally love unknown, but I also see that a lot of people struggle with it. Unknown 3D will always have the biggest place in my heart, and it’s what I think is the hardest game in archery to win. No one can argue with that. However, I believe that the future and where we can really grow archery is in known distance because of the number of people able to compete.

LAS: I understand you will not be competing at your tournament. How do you think it is going to feel standing back to watch everyone compete for such big stakes?

LM: Honestly I can’t wait. Yea I love to compete, and it might be a little bittersweet for me. I just want to grow archery to where we’ve always thought it could go. If that means I have to stop shooting to do it, then I’ll do it with a smile on my face.

This sport has given me so much, and I’m happy to give something back. The guys and girls that love archery are awesome and they deserve this. This is for them, and while I’m sure it won’t be perfect, I promise to do my best.

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