Okeechobee woman takes archery to a new level

Okeechobee archery shop owner Kristine Sweatt has broken a lot of stereotypes in her 40 years. The petite blond wearing a pink-fringed camouflage jacket started breaking barriers by joining the Navy three weeks out of high school - all five feet one inch of her. On top of that, she signed on to be an engineman, or diesel mechanic, for 10 years. She was the only woman in the engine room.

"The Navy is the best thing I ever did. It really does broaden your horizons," said Sweatt.

She was one of only three servicewomen on board. Despite the approximately 10 to one ratio of men to women, the Okeechobee native said she really enjoyed her time in the service. "The guys were great. They treat you like little sisters," she recalled.

Thirteen years later, after a civilian career in retail, Kristine met her husband, David Sweatt, who introduced her to archery. They purchased a bow for her and went deer hunting. It took her a little while to become sure of herself, Kristine said, but after some practice, she shot her first deer - a coveted eight-point buck. "He had a nice spread on him. His antlers from horn to horn measured 18 inches," she recalled.

But the next season didn't go so well. Kristine tried to take a doe. She got her arrow in, but the animal ran off. "I heard her run behind me and I thought 'she'll go lie down'," she recounted, fighting back her emotions. But even with the help of a trail dog, they weren't able to find the injured doe.

"When you're a hunter and you lose an animal, it's very emotional," Kristine said, challenging yet another stereotype. "I knew I shot her. She was 30 yards from me. It's very heartbreaking. I don't want her to suffer," A week later the couple came across the animal, still suffering from her injury, but she ran off again. Kristine wiped away tears at the memory. "I said, 'I'm not doing that again. I can't do that.'"

Her understanding husband didn't pressure her. But after one hunting season passed with Kristine avoiding the sport, he brought up the subject the following year: "He said, 'Are you going to shoot your bow?' I said 'No, you can sell it.'"

But David suggested Kristine try again, this time with a crossbow, which would allow someone of her short stature to put more power behind the arrow, reducing the chance that a good shot would only injure and not kill the prey. While she was able to pull back only 40 pounds of force on her regular bow, the crossbow, which allows a person to use two hands, would pack 150 pounds. Kristine decided to give it a go.

Practicing with her new crossbow, she felt more confident in her ability to hunt humanely. She could feel the force of the shot, hear the more powerful sound of the arrow parting the air, and noted how much more deeply the arrows embedded themselves in the practice targets. At that time, the only archery shop in Okeechobee wasn't selling crossbows. They had to order hers online.

Kristine suggested to her husband that they start selling them. She felt there were people out there like herself, who wanted more power behind their arrow, including older hunters who no longer had the strength to pull back enough force with one arm. David already had a custom gun making business called Yetti Gunworks (named after an enormous, elusive buck on his family's camp he named Yeti with an extra T to match his last name). Kristine suggested the name Yetti Outfitters, and the couple opened up their showroom a year later.

They started out selling only crossbows, but when the other local archery business closed up shop, the Sweatts took over selling regular bows. They now sell full lines of archery accessories, guns, affordable bows for kids, adjustable bows that grow with kids, and even bowfishing equipment.

Bowfishing is a sport where non-native fish species are shot in the water using a special bow. The equipment can also double for gator-hunting. "You can't shoot gamefish with bowfishing," Kristine explained. But bowfishing can be used to hunt invasives like catfish, tilapia and garfish.

She also noted that the shop sells more kids' bows than adult bows. Some of that demand has been driven by popular movies like Brave and The Hunger Games. The Sweatts have also begun moving into the niche market of target shooters, who value precision.

"We are sponsoring a shooting team. We just went and watched their first match this past weekend," said Kristine. "I think it is something (David and I) can enjoy together. It will make me a better archer and a better archery shop owner."