Hunting Season Preparation: Three Steps to Broadhead Tuning

Tuning your bow is an important step to ensure accuracy and confidence in your equipment. Properly tuning your bow is what ensures your arrows fly consistently and hit where you aim. It can be a time consuming process that many people find endlessly frustrating, but there are some ways to make it a bit more straightforward. At the end of the day, it will make shooting much more enjoyable and it’s a critical part of being an ethical hunter.

There are a variety of methods to tune your bow for shooting with field points, such as paper tuning and walk-back tuning, and you probably covered some of these when you purchased your bow. In the months leading up to hunting season, it’s important to spend some time practicing with the broadheads you intend to use in the field. img_3044_2Broadhead companies will boast that their products fly the same as field points and loyal customers will swear that if you use a certain broadhead, it all but eliminates the need for additional tuning; however, all bow and arrow combinations function slightly differently, so it’s crucial that you test your bow with the exact broadheads you will be using in the field. Here is a quick step-by-step to get your rig ready for season opener.

1. Purchase Practice Broadheads

Broadheads kill efficiently because they have razor sharp cutting edges and it’s important that your hunting broadheads are in perfect condition. Always purchase an additional set of your hunting broadheads for pre-season practice. Most broadheads will come with a practice broadhead for this exact purpose, but never use the ones you intend to use on your hunt.

2. Compare Broadhead and Field Point Flight

Select a distance you are comfortable and confident shooting. You don’t need to be 100 yards away for this – I recommend 20 or 30 yards. First, shoot a broadhead arrow at the target (be sure you are using a target specifically designed for broadheads). Next, shoot a field point arrow at the same spot on the target.

3. Correct Your Broadhead Flight

If your two arrows did not hit in the same spot, you are going to adjust the rest. To make the correct adjustments, “follow the field point” with your rest – move the rest in the direction of the field point arrow. Begin with the vertical adjustment until the two arrows are hitting in the same vertical position. If your arrow rest does not have vertical adjustments, you will need to adjust the nock height. In this case, you will move the nock in the opposite direction from where the field point hit. For example, if your broadhead hit above your field point, move the rest down (or adjust the nock point up).  Next, move on to the horizontal adjustments. Similarly, if your broadhead hit left of the field point, adjust the rest to the right. Continue to shoot one of each arrow until they are hitting together.

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Some Extra Tips:

  • It’s important that you treat this as a tuning issue, not a sighting issue. You want your broadheads and field points hitting in the same spot, and if you just adjust your sight to correct this difference, the broadhead may hit the target, but the gap between the arrows, and therefore the tuning problem, will not be corrected.
  • When adjusting the rest, make very small adjustment, starting with only about 1/16” at a time.
  • I recommend always shooting a broadhead arrow first, followed by a field point. As your arrows move closer together, this will avoid shaving off vanes with the broadhead every time you shoot.
  • Continue to shoot at 20 yards until your arrows are hitting as close as you can get them before you move back to 30 yards or beyond.
  • A common source of debate is whether or not you should align your broadhead blades to the arrow vanes. Some will tell you this is crucial for arrow flight. I have never done this and have been able to tune my bows just fine. I won’t say that people are wrong when they suggest you do this, but I will say that there isn’t really any scientific evidence to support the need to do this. Also, what about 2 or 4 blade broadheads? People achieve perfect tuning with those as well.
  • Be patient with this process, making only small adjustments at a time. Remember that bows, arrows, and broadheads can all interact differently. I’ve seen paper tuned bows almost robin hood arrows on the first shot with a broadhead; I’ve also seen bows take a dozen adjustments before I was satisfied with the broadhead tuning. Be prepared to invest some time in this process and your hunting experience will be much better!

Where Do You Draw the Line? Technology in Hunting

There is an issue that has become increasingly relevant in recent years as technological advances in hunting equipment have begun to outpace our conversations around its use. It’s a debate I’ve heard in different settings and for various purposes, but it comes down to a question that is personal, legal, and ethical in nature: where do we draw the line in our use of technology in hunting?

In any discussion of technology in the outdoors, there are people at both ends of the spectrum. The purists insist that the best way to experience the natural world is stripped of gadgetry, while those at the other end of the spectrum point to increased safety and comfort in embracing technological advances. In hunting, however, this debate involves another aspect that makes it all the more important to engage. Using technology to increase hunting success necessarily has an ethical question: is technology increasing our chances of success to the point and on the scale that we are moving away from what we collectively understand as the principle of “fair chase”, and if large groups of hunters are increasingly successful, will this necessitate changes to conservation and management policies?

There are three main aspects to the issue of the place of technology in hunting: personal choice, the legal obligation to regulate hunting, and the ethical implications of technology. The simple element of personal choice is certainly the most arbitrary aspect of this discussion and therefore the one that I find least interesting and compelling in my own conversations on this matter; but I’ll address it briefly.

Proponents on one side or the other about the use of technology far too often lack clearly articulated reasoning. Too often, the debate is just one more basis for division and self-righteousness among hunters that doesn’t advance either the discipline of hunting or our understanding of its place in wildlife conservation. I’ve said before that I disagree with the proposition that we are all in this together and need to support other hunters no matter what. I just don’t think that’s true in any area of life; however, it’s also important that we don’t find superfluous reasons for division.

Bowhunting is a common site of this debate, with traditional archers  decrying the use of fancy cams and sights on compound bows and compound shooters claiming that crossbows shouldn’t even be allowed in archery seasons. Compound-Bow---Prime---RIZE-AP-L Then, we hear bowhunters in general criticize the long-range nature of rifle hunting, claiming that by enabling the hunter to shoot from far beyond the effective range of the animal’s senses, it unfairly decreases the animal’s chance for escape and thus violates principles of fair chase. Just recently, a spear hunter stated that it is “easy” for someone to shoot an animal with anything from a rifle to a bow, but being a spear hunter makes one a “true hunter”. For their part, rifle hunters have pointed to what is perceived as a disproportionately high number of wounded and unrecovered animals from archery equipment.

But the proverbial line in the sand is not drawn so easily between “primitive” and “advanced” technology. If so-called primitive weapons are unethical, should we all be striving to shoot animals with the most advanced rifles from the longest ranges possible? If rifles give too much of an advantage, should we all be hunting with nothing more advanced than a longbow? Following that line of argument, why not go back to the atlatl orpic_1 spear?

 

 

The same arguments are voiced from the non-hunting community. As opportunities to share photos on social media have exploded, one encounters comments like, “why don’t you put down the high-powered weapon and kill that animal with your bare hands?” To which the obvious reply is that this would be not only illegal, but in most cases, tremendously unethical (stabbing a bear to death is just not as physiologically effective as puncturing both lungs with an arrow). A recent story about a black bear killed with a spear sparked outrage among the anti-hunting community. Would critics have been happier to see that bear shot with a high caliber rifle? I suspect there would have still been criticism from many. Nevertheless, it demonstrates the uncertainty about how people feel about the degree to which technology is used in hunting.

So one finds all these little micro-debates that take place within the overarching issue, and perhaps aside from a general – often unarticulated – commitment to fair chase, many of the perspectives expressed appear arbitrary with a hint of self-promotion. David Petersen, a thoughtful and insightful writer I admire, has tackled this question in his book Heartsblood. David Petersen rests on another basis from which he delivers quite a damning attack on what he and Aldo Leopold refer to as the “gadgeteer” hunter. In Leopold’s and Petersen’s minds, relying too heavily on technology is an erosion of the very values upon which the culture of hunting has been built. Leopold says that the increase in hunting technology has “draped the American outdoorsman with an infinity of contraptions, all offered as aids to self-reliance, hardihood, woodcraft, or marksmanship, but too often functioning as substitutes for them”. While Petersen’s focus on maintaining the values of “naturalistic hunting” is noble, his all out attack on any form of technology, such as the “space-age compound bow”, which he argues requires “far less skill and practice as an archer”, is disappointing and in my view falls victim to the divisiveness of which I have grown jaded.

Hopefully we can all see at this point that this line of argument is ridiculously circular and in most cases completely unproductive.

Therefore, my first point in this piece is this: we need to be more selective and methodical with our positions on this matter. As hunters, we need to choose more carefully when to criticize other approaches and when the divisiveness is truly warranted, because there are times that it is warranted. To do so, we need a strong understanding of both our own foundations from which we develop our perspectives and the overall purpose we are working towards – why does it even matter?

Here’s why it matters. Eventually, advancements in technology lead to a need to legislate that technology’s use in the hunting woods, so we need to find something more tangible on which to base our positions on these matters. It’s also important to remember that local ecological and cultural contexts play an important role in this conversation. What might be culturally acceptable in one place may be completely unacceptable elsewhere (e.g. the use of dogs). Likewise, what might give an unfair advantage in one type of ecosystem may be completely ineffectual in another (e.g. long-range optics). Therefore, it’s not enough to just cite our own individual methods as the right choice.

To me, the issue isn’t really about how much of an advantage I want to give myself through technologically advanced products. The crux of the matter for me, in deciding whether to use certain products and more broadly what kind of regulations I support, really comes down to whether a given technology contributes to making us more ethical hunters or undermines principles of fair chase. This gives me a somewhat more objective lens through which to examine the issue: rather than relying on my own personal preferences, I maintain a focus on ethical principles that are based on my beliefs about the important role of hunting in conservation. Now, I realize that ethics are also highly personally variable and there is no universally objective measure of what is ethical; however, I’ll assume that at the very least we can all agree that hunting strategies that make us more ethical are those that reduce the chances of poor shots and therefore wounded or unrecovered animals. In this way, I use an ethical principle as a proxy for what others might frame as an increased advantage over the animal.

Therefore, let’s think of this matter as the constant need to reevaluate in order to find that optimal place between increasing ethics and maintaining fair chase. I visualize this issue as a kind of bell curve, normal where the bulk of technology in the middle of the curve is completely ethically acceptable. On the lower end of the curve, we find such a stripped down level of technology to the point that we may actually be reducing kill efficacy or reliability (relative to what we have available to us); on the higher end of the curve, an intensification of technology gives us a disproportionate advantage over the animal and begins to undermine fair chase.

Having said this, I realize that human societies have been hunting with the most primitive weapons for centuries, but remember, the modern North American model of wildlife conservation is intimately tied with ethical hunting. Remember also that I’ve just defined ethical hunting as using approaches that lead to quick, clean, and reliable kills. A good friend of mine who I have great respect for uses primitive methods to hunt. I’m not denouncing primitive weapons in a philosophical sense, only pointing out that in a very general sense, we have methods that are more consistently reliable in their ability to ensure shot placement and killing efficacy for the wider hunting public.

We could spend hours going through every possible example of hunting gear and debating where it falls on my imaginary bell curve and still not cover everything. There are a couple examples, however, that I think illustrate the points reasonably well. $_35First, there’s no doubt that the invention of affordable range finders changed hunting.  Some might argue that range finders encourage longer range shooting by enabling hunters to take shots from distances that would otherwise be well beyond what someone could reliably estimate with the naked eye. On the other hand, my argument would be that electronic range finders provide more precise knowledge about shooting distances (including compensating for angled shots) and therefore help ensure proper shot placement and quicker kills. Here’s an example of using electronics in hunting that I would suggest makes us more ethical hunters while not eliminating the need for extensive practice with whatever you are using to hunt.

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On the other hand, it wasn’t too long after drones started to become more commercially available and affordable that discussions around the ethics of their use in hunting emerged. Relatively quickly, hunting organizations spoke out against the use of drones and multiple jurisdictions have banned their use in hunting (in Canada these include both British Columbia and Saskatchewan). I can’t think of a particular group that has steadfastly defended the use of drones in hunting across the board, though I’m sure there are groups that are less opposed to their use in certain contexts. The argument against drones is that they cross that threshold into giving hunters an unfair advantage over animals, reducing principles of fair chase.

I don’t claim to have a solution or some kind of quantifiable metric against which to measure all technology. On the contrary, my point is that this issue is complex and much more important than the micro-debates between individual hunters. I’ve definitely thought about a whole range of advancements in hunting and how I feel about them based on this premise. From high-fence hunting and game farms to two-way radios and hand-held GPS units to safari and helicopter hunts to the use of baiting and artificial scents, I know where I come down. To do this, I’ve had to develop a line of thinking that I can apply to a range of issues.

As technology continues to advance, we’re going to need to continue to address it both culturally and legislatively. The technological advancements that we’re going to see in the future will be wide ranging in nature and application, so what we need to strive for is not a one-size-fits-all approach, but a philosophical basis as a guide to navigate our understandings and responses. It’s not going to be enough to address new technologies on an ad hoc basis without some kind of larger guiding principle. I suggest that that guiding principle should be finding a balance between using technology to make us more ethical hunters while not eroding our commitment to fair chase.

It’s fine to adopt new strategies and products that increase our chances of success, but in doing so, let’s not lose sight of the importance in the chance to be unsuccessful, too.

Introduction to Archery: Terminology, Definitions, and Specifications

I’ve posted reviews on here about both my Hoyt Charger and my Prime Rize. In those posts, I bounced around a little between straight up reflections on the equipment I use and background information on some of the terminology and specifications I was describing. Many people who were reading those posts probably wanted to skip right to the gear talk, while others could probably use a primer on the lingo, so I decided to separate the posts and create one that is just a backgrounder on the terminology you will encounter when beginning archery.

I shoot mainly compound bow. I have a longbow made by Rudder Bows, but I have to admit I don’t shoot it as much as I should. So this post mainly focuses on compound bow archery, with a slant towards bowhunting applications.

Parts of a Compound Bow 

Compound bows take the standard components of a bow and add some pieces of technology to make them more efficient at storing and releasing energy. Longbows and recurve bows have two or three main parts: a string, limbs, and a grip.

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Parts of a longbow. Source: Michigan Hunter Ed Course

Compound bows have a riser (the vertical part you hold, with the grip), limbs (the pieces that attach to the riser and hold the cams), cams (the wheels at the top and bottom of the bow), a string (the part the arrow attaches to), and cables (the pieces that connect the cams to each other or to the limbs). The cams are what give compound bows the ability to shoot with much more power than the shooter actually holds – like any pulley system, they increase the efficiency of energy storage and reduce the amount of effort the user needs to put in. There are different styles of cams that all have their own advantages.

The axle-to-axle (ATA) length is the distance between the tips of the limbs, at the points where the cams attach. The brace height is the distance from the riser to the string when the bow is at rest. Bow speeds are measured in feet per second, and manufacturers use a standardized setup to compare speeds across different bows (IBO speed). The draw weight of a bow, in pounds, refers to the power a bow can transfer to an arrow and push it off the string. So a 40# (pound) bow will shoot with less power than a 70# bow. Hunting regulations will stipulate how much power a bow needs to have for particular species. For example, to hunt whitetails in Ontario, the bow needs to have about 40# of power, whereas to hunt moose, it needs 50#.

Compound bow measurements. Source: Hunter's Friend.

Compound bow measurements. Source: Hunter’s Friend.


Arrow Selection

(This section is an excerpt from a more thorough post about arrow selection.)

The first thing you need to know when selecting an arrow is what spine you need. Most choices in arrow selection come down to personal preference, but not spine. Arrow spine refers to the stiffness of an arrow, and it’s critical for the safety of your bow and for accuracy that you choose the correct arrow spine.

Imagine you drive a truck into the end of a horizontal telephone pole. Imagine  you drive the same truck into a tooth pick. Finally, imagine you drive it into a 2×4. While perhaps a little rough around the edges, this analogy is meant to explain what happens if you shoot an arrow that is too stiff or too weak for your bow. When the bowstring pushes the arrow off the end of the bow, the arrow flexes, stabilizing throughout the course of its flight. Simply put, if your bow is too weak, the arrow can`t flex enough; if your bow is too heavy, the arrow flexes too much. At worst, these situations could damage your bow, but they will certainly reduce the consistency and accuracy of your shooting. The rule is that heavier bows require stiffer arrows.

Every arrow manufacturer has a way of designating the spine of their arrows, and while the system used to measure spine stiffness is standardized, the systems used by manufacturers to represent spine is not. Easton’s system is generally the easiest to understand, because they use the direct measurement for “arrow deflection“, which is the way spine stiffness is calculated. With Easton arrows, the lower the number, the stiffer the arrow. 20151218_232210So a 70# bow might shoot a 340 spine arrow, while a 60# bow might shoot a 400 spine arrow. All arrow manufacturers will have charts (Easton, Carbon Express, Gold Tip) to help you identify the correct arrow spine based on your bow specifications (e.g. poundage, draw length, and arrow length). Be sure you understand how your specifications affect spine selection. Click here for a great resource to explain some of the finer points in arrow spine.

Is Speed Important?

Speed is one of the most hotly debated topics in archery and bowhunting, and it’s probably one that new bowhunters will encounter. I discussed the issue of speed more thoroughly in my post about arrow selection, but here are the basics: it’s an important component in the equation to calculate an arrow’s kinetic energy (KE), which is what ultimately kills animals (the other component is arrow mass). So it’s true that a faster bow will transfer more energy to an arrow and therefore increase KE; however, speed is absolutely not the most important part of choosing a bowhunting setup and ensuring your arrows are effective at killing.

No matter what, bows are shooting arrows at subsonic speeds, meaning that the sound of a bow shooting reaches an animal before the arrow every time. To put this in perspective, consider that a bow shooting an arrow at 280 fps is considered a great hunting setup. Now remember that sounds travels at 1,116 fps. In general, do I want a fast bow? Sure. Am I willing to sacrifice all the other factors that I consider when selecting a bow to get one that’s a bit faster? Not a chance.

How To Prioritize Considerations

When choosing a bow, people prioritize different things, and no one is right or wrong, so it becomes difficult to take someone’s word on why one particular bow is the best. You should choose a bow based on the optimal combination of factors for your preferences and priorities. You need to shoot a few and decide for yourself what is most important to you because there will always be trade-offs. Essentially, it comes down to what feels the best, and then identifying why it is that that bow feels best: is it the weight, the draw cycle, the balance, the release, the back wall? The combination of these and other factors will make a bow feel good for you, and the most important thing in choosing a bow is finding the right combination of specifications and features. You need to be sure of your equipment and your ability with it.

If you are interested in how my particular priorities led me to select a bow, check out my Prime Rize post.

Changing It Up: Review of the Prime Rize

I decided that I wanted to try shooting a different bow this year. I have such a curiosity and excitement with archery technology and products that I can’t help but want to try everything I can get my hands on. So far, I’ve always shot Hoyt, and they’ve been great bows, but there are so many manufacturers making great products, I thought it would be a good idea to see how another one felt.

Archery is a growing sport, and within the hunting community, I think bowhunting is also increasing in popularity. You get longer seasons as a bowhunter, a different kind of challenge, and there’s a passion among bowhunters that is just unrivalled by any other activity I’ve ever experienced. For those people getting into archery, it can be daunting trying to make heads and tails of riser designs, cam designs, accessories, arrow selection, and the technical specifications of speed, weight, axle-to-axle length, brace height, and kinetic energy.

I posted about my previous Hoyt Charger setup and some basics about why I chose the accessories I did for that setup, so here is a review of my new bow and some reflection on how and why I made the decision this time around.

I just purchased the brand new 2016 Prime Rize. rize_black_with_damper-web In terms of specs, the Rize has a redesigned PCXL parallel cam system, the brand new 82X aluminum riser, it’s 33″ axle-to-axle (ATA), 6.75″ brace height, weighs 4.3 pounds, shoots an IBO speed of 335 feet per second (fps), and my bow has a peak draw weight of 70 pounds.

Ok, so for those who don’t necessarily know what all of this means, head over to my Introduction to Archery post for some background on the terminology.

To set up how I came to choose the Prime Rize, these are the main factors I consider when choosing a bow, in order of importance to me:
1. Balance/stability (at full draw and on release)
2. Consistency/tuning
3. Back wall
4. Release
5. Sound
6. Draw cycle
7. Speed

Some of these overlap, and some I would probably rate equally important. Generally speaking, I’m looking for a bow that I feel confident shooting every single time. It needs to sit in my hand like it belongs there – before, during, and after the shot.

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When I put all those considerations together, I decided on the Prime Rize. Prime’s parallel cam system is supposed to make their bows extremely efficient and reliable to tune.

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Prime’s parallel cam system.

 The limb stops are designed to give a super solid back wall (for people familiar with Elite bows, this is about what a Prime feels like). The aluminum they use for the risers are designed to give an extremely stiff riser, providing both stability and silence on release.

So let’s go through my list of priorities and see how the Rize is looking so far. I’ll jump around my list a bit because it makes more sense to go in order of shot sequence.

Let’s start with the long list of pros…

My first few shots felt amazing. Drawing this bow at 70 pounds felt more like others I’ve drawn at 60 pounds. With the limb stops, it sits at that back wall like there is literally a wall behind my back arm. Some people will cringe at this thought, but I’m really liking it. If I want to hold the bow drawn for any length of time, I want to be able to really squeeze my shoulder blades back and hold the bow there without any movement – I don’t want it to feel spongy or like it’s pulling forward. Other bows will use cable stops, which use the cables to hold the cams at full draw rather than the limbs. This just gives a different feel when holding the bow at full draw, and it really comes down to personal preference.

A note on draw cycle that will certainly be at the top of other people’s lists: I’m not too concerned with having the smoothest drawing bow. When I draw a bow, I’m pulling back a string that will shoot a projectile close to 300 fps with 70 pounds of force. I don’t mind feeling that. I mean, comfort is always nice, but I just personally don’t mind more aggressive cams that I need to power through a bit to get drawn (don’t confuse this with being physically incapable of drawing the bow, which is just a recipe for injury and damaged equipment). As long as I am physically strong enough to get the bow drawn while still holding the pin on target, I’m happy. This would be the difference, for example, between a Hoyt turbo cam, that is very aggressive, and the famous Mathews solo cams, that are well known for their smooth draws.

On release, there’s so little movement, it’s unbelievable. I never felt like the bow was jumping at all; it is completely dead in hand – also making it extremely quiet (the other people in the shop even commented on this). This feeling is a hard one to describe, but anyone who has done some shooting knows the difference between a bow that jumps and one that just seems to slide from full draw to the shot. The Rize sits in my hand really comfortably, and settles right in at full draw.

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The ghost grip is super thin but also textured.

 Prime’s “ghost grip” is essentially just a super thin, low profile grip that is slightly textured, but no rubber or wood. I’m used to Hoyt’s rubber and wood grips, so this was a bit different for me, but I am enjoying it. One thing I noticed is that if there was any moisture on my hand (sweat, rain, etc.), it did make the grip feel a bit less secure in my hand; however, in terms of feeling the bow sitting right in my hand, I am really enjoying the thin grip.

I can’t fully comment on tuning yet because I just haven’t put enough shots through the bow to see how the strings and cables will settle in and how the bow will maintain tuning. Consistency/tuning are extremely important to me. I need to know that I can trust my bow to be shooting exactly the same with every shot. This way, I know that any inconsistencies and errors are mine. I have personally found that Hoyt bows can be a bit time consuming and a little tricky to tune. Don’t get me wrong, they are incredible bows and perform very well; but I have found they need a lot of attention to get the arrows shooting just perfect through paper and with broadheads. So I want a bow that I am confident will stay in tune and will be shooting the same in the field as it was in the shop.

What I can say is that I felt pretty confident shooting it right out of the box. Prime cycles their bows 100 times and then retunes them before they leave the factory, so much of the stretching in the strings and cables should already be done. The parallel cam system is intended to eliminate the issue of cam lean (when the cams are canted to one side as a result of different tension on the cables), so I’ll have to see how that goes after I get a hundred arrows or so out of the bow, and update then.

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Another shot of the parallel cam and the split string that comes together to the main string.

 Binary cam bows can sometimes be a bit notorious for addressing cam lean issues, so this will be a big test for the parallel cam system.

The other aspect to tuning that I worry about is cam timing (ensuring the cams are moving together and in sync). I contacted Prime right away and asked them to send me any instructions they have on addressing cam timing, and they replied with these materials within hours. The adjustments seem to be really straight-forward, and the cams have markings on them that can be used to ensure they are in the same position at rest. This means that you can measure cam timing with the bow at rest, which is great. What I can say is that I installed the rest and nock point based on the manufacture specifications, and it took one small rest adjustment to get the bow shooting bullet holes through paper. So in terms of paper tuning, it was great.

If I have to identify a con…

One thing I will say is that I hope I never have to let the bow down from full draw. I had to do this twice while setting the bow up, and it was very uncomfortable. The flip side of a really nice back wall is that you almost have to push the string forward to let it down, and when those cams roll over, it’s very uncomfortable on the shoulder. Having said that, I can probably count on my fingers and toes the number of times I’ve actually let a bow down without shooting, so I don’t expect this to be a big issue.

And a con that has become a pro…

One of my initial hesitations with moving to Prime was the weight of the bows. When I first shot a Prime a couple years ago, I noticed immediately how heavy it was, and it really turned me off. They have definitely addressed this in the last couple years. The Rize is certainly a manageable weight, even after I installed my stabilizer and other accessories. It also just feels like a really solid piece of equipment. There’s a more qualitative impression you get when you pick up a bow about its durability, and the Rize sure seems like a workhorse.

A note on speed…

Speed is one of the most hotly debated topics in archery and bowhunting. I’ve discussed the issue of speed in another post about arrow selection, so I’m not going to go into it in detail here, but I will give the specs on what I’m getting for speed. When I shot a couple arrows through a chronograph, I was getting an average speed of 289 fps with my Easton Axis arrows. My arrows are in a 340 spine, weighing 9.5 gpi, so at 28.5″ long they come in at 414 grains total weight. This gives me 77 foot pounds of KE out of the Rize, a number I’m definitely happy with.

Summary:

All in all, I think it’s a great bow so far. I need to do a lot more shooting and of course get it into the field for some hunting, but I’m happy with it. I would definitely encourage everyone to check these bows out and give them a try. At the end of the day, choose your bow based on what feels right. Don’t buy a bow you don’t think you will be confident with in the field. Read through some other reviews (here’s another great review of the Rize as well) and see what people like about their equipment. There are many variables and considerations, so it’s important to get some bows in your hands and see what is most important to you and then decide which bow suits your preferences the best.

Questions about this bow or setup? Feedback or suggestions about this review? Leave them in the comments section and I’ll definitely address them!

Arrow Selection: Some Considerations and Choices

When it comes to nerding out about archery gear and archery science, I’m guilty as charged. One of the most important considerations in putting together a bowhunting rig (and a topic that stimulates a lot of conversation) is arrow selection. Everything comes into play in choosing an arrow: what are you hunting? What kind of bow are you shooting? How much speed do you want? How much kinetic energy do you need? The answers to these questions all depend on your priorities and your hunting situation.

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Foreward: What is Really at the Heart of the Speed vs. Power Issue?

The debate around arrow selection often revolves around one main question: to be fast or not to be fast? Or more specifically, do you want a fast arrow or a powerful arrow? Most of the rest of your decisions come from your answer to this question. I imagine that archers have been engaged in this conversation for thousands of years, at one point having lively debates into the night over the type of wood to use for their arrows. Arrow weight is the single most important characteristic that determines the results you are going to get for speed and power.

Generally speaking, I think the race for the fastest arrow is a bit moot. However, manufacturers need an easy way to assign some kind of value to their bows, and people are drawn to fast things. It’s easy to want a bow that shoots at 370 feet per second (fps) over one that shoots at 280 fps.

But let’s back up. There are a couple other important considerations besides speed, so let’s look at the science and see how this need for speed plays out.

I’m going to focus on three main points for this discussion:

Act 1: Ensure you have the correct spine.
Act 2: In the bowhunting world, weight kills.
Act 3: I think there is a specific, but important, difference between seeking seeking a fast arrow and seeking a fast bow.

Of course, there are many things to think about when choosing arrows, but I think these 3 points will give you a good start when first tackling arrow selection. You will need to spend time doing plenty of research, doing some calculations, and figuring out what works best with your bow. I hope reading this article is one part of that research.

Act One: Arrow Spine

The first thing you need to know when selecting an arrow is what spine you need. Most choices in arrow selection come down to personal preference, but not spine. Arrow spine refers to the stiffness of an arrow, and it’s critical for the safety of your bow and for accuracy that you choose the correct arrow spine.

Imagine you drive a truck into the end of a horizontal telephone pole. Imagine  you drive the same truck into a tooth pick. Finally, imagine you drive it into a 2×4. While perhaps a little rough around the edges, this analogy is meant to explain what happens if you shoot an arrow that is too stiff or too weak for your bow. When the bowstring pushes the arrow off the end of the bow, the arrow flexes, stabilizing throughout the course of its flight. Simply put, if your bow is too weak, the arrow can`t flex enough; if your bow is too heavy, the arrow flexes too much. At worst, these situations could damage your bow, but they will certainly reduce the consistency and accuracy of your shooting. The rule is that heavier bows require stiffer arrows.

Every arrow manufacturer has a way of designating the spine of their arrows, and while the system used to measure spine stiffness is standardized, the systems used by manufacturers to represent spine is not. Easton’s system is generally the easiest to understand, because they use the direct measurement for “arrow deflection“, which is the way spine stiffness is calculated. With Easton arrows, the lower the number, the stiffer the arrow. 20151218_232210So a 70# bow might shoot a 340 spine arrow, while a 60# bow might shoot a 400 spine arrow. All arrow manufacturers will have charts (Easton, Carbon Express, Gold Tip) to help you identify the correct arrow spine based on your bow specifications (e.g. poundage, draw length, and arrow length). Be sure you understand how your specifications affect spine selection. Click here for a great resource to explain some of the finer points in arrow spine.

Act Two: The Science Part

Here’s the science in bowhunting: arrows kill by haemorrhaging, doing internal damage by cutting. Ideally, you want both an entrance wound and an exit wound. Therefore, an arrow’s ability to kill depends on effective and powerful penetration. The ability of an arrow to penetrate depends on kinetic energy (KE) and momentum. Kinetic energy is the energy an object possesses as it moves. Momentum is the relationship between speed and mass of an object. We could get into the differences between KE and momentum, but this is meant to be an introduction to the topic, so for simplicity, I’ll use KE to refer to the ability of an arrow to penetrate effectively.

Imagine that you have two cups. Fill them both half full with water. The first cup is speed; the second cup is the arrow weight. You can pour water from one cup to the other, gaining more speed and reducing weight, or vice versa, but there’s a trade off either way. Together, the interaction of the water in the two cups determines your KE.

As a rule, light arrows travel faster than heavier ones. Think of the difference between throwing a golf ball and a bowling ball. We will all be able to throw the golf ball faster. Speed is great in getting an arrow to the animal quickly, but as soon as the arrow touches the animal’s hide, it stops. At this point, the energy required to penetrate is stored in the arrow as KE, meaning that you need to optimize the amount of KE in the arrow. In the equation to calculate KE, the speed of an arrow has less influence over its killing power than the mass of that arrow. Therefore, the heavier an arrow is, the more KE it will have, and the more penetrating power it will have at the animal. I would rather be hit with a golf ball than a bowling ball, because even though the bowling ball is going slower, it is more powerful.

Some people will say that the faster the arrow is, the less time the animal has to react to it and jump the string. That’s true; however, sounds travels at 1,116 fps. The fastest bow in the world is still pushing an arrow slower than the speed of sound, meaning that the sound of the bow shooting will reach the animal long before the arrow. In other words, no matter what, the arrow can never be fast enough. So again, the real focus is on the ability of that arrow to kill the animal efficiently and effectively when it does reach its target.

To calculate the KE of your arrow, here is the equation:
KE=(mv²)/450,240

m = mass. The mass of modern arrows are described in grains per inch (gpi). Most arrows will have the gpi marked right on the shaft. To calculate total arrow mass, take the length of your arrow in inches and multiply that by the gpi weight of the arrow, and then add everything else on the arrow: vanes, nock, insert, arrow head.
v = velocity. You will need to shoot your arrow through a chronograph. There are calculations you can do to estimate your arrow speed using bow poundage, draw length, and arrow weight, but to be absolutely accurate, you need to use a chronograph.

Here’s an example using my old bow and arrow setup. I was shooting an arrow that weighed 9.0 gpi, was 28.5″ long, and had a total arrow mass of about 400 grains. I put it through a chronograph at 282 fps. So if we plug in those numbers, here’s what I was shooting for KE:

KE=(mv²)/450,240
KE=(400×282²)/450,240
KE=71 foot pounds

Here’s a handy resource for some other useful calculations.

So if KE kills animals, the next question is, how much KE do I need?

We don’t really know precisely how much KE is needed to kill every animal. Every bowhunting situation is different, but generally speaking, larger animals require more KE. Easton provides an estimated range of recommended KE for animals of different sizes:

Small game (rabbits, groundhog, etc.): 25 ft. lbs.
Medium game (deer, antelope, etc.): 25-41 ft. lbs.
Large game (elk, black bear, etc.): 41-65 ft. lbs.
Toughest game (buffalo, grizzly bear, etc.): >65 ft. lbs.

So that gives you an idea of what you should aim for depending on your hunting scenario. My position is that there is no such thing as “overkill”; you can’t have too much power. The more the merrier.

Check out this video comparing penetration between two different bow and arrow combinations.

It is worth spending some time doing the calculations, checking the numbers on different arrows, and thinking about what you will be hunting and what you need. Think about how much poundage you can handle in your bow and what kind of arrow weight you need to get the KE needed for quick kills. This brings me to my third point.

Act Three: The Real Need for Speed…Bow Poundage

Having said all that about arrow speed, I would bet that deep down, we all still want a fast arrow. Plus, there is some scientific basis for this: recall that velocity is a factor in KE, so it is important to have speed.

The IBO speed rating on a bow is determined using a 70# bow with a 30″ draw length and a 350 grain arrow. By hunting standards, 350 grains is on the lighter end of the spectrum. So what can the IBO rating tell you about what you can expect from the bow once you start shooting your hunting arrow? Well, since IBO ratings are standardized, it gives you some indication about the efficiency and power of the bow itself. A bow shooting IBO speeds of 350 fps is still going to be faster than one shooting 320 fps, even at lower hunting arrow speeds.

Of course, I’m not suggesting that the IBO rating should be your most important consideration when choosing a bow. On the contrary, it’s one of the last things I look at. My point is that if you want to get more speed out of your arrow, I would suggest you focus on increasing the power of your bow, rather than decreasing the weight of your arrow. So you can look for a bow with a higher IBO rating, more aggressive cams, and increase the poundage. I was in this exact situation with my Hoyt Charger. I was already shooting a heavy arrow, so if I wanted to get more KE, it had to be from increasing speed. So I worked the poundage on my bow up to its max of 60#. My new bow, a Prime Rize, is in 70#. This is specifically because I want more KE, but I also want to maintain some good speeds.

Afterward: Where To Start

Ok, so where should you start if you’re picking out arrows for your brand new bow? Or, if you want a more efficient hunting arrow?

First, do some research on different arrow manufacturers. Read some reviews, talk to pro shops, and do plenty of other research. Use the selection charts to determine which arrows fit your bow specifications. Look at the arrow weights. Determine your budget (I didn’t go into this, but basically, spend as much as you are able on arrows…generally, the more expensive they are, the more consistent and precise they are). IMG_3044 If possible, try shooting a few of them through a chronograph and do some calculations to compare the KE you’re getting out of each arrow. There are some other factors and calculations you will want to think about to maximize the efficiency of your bowhunting arrow as well (e.g. arrow length, F.O.C., broadhead weight, etc.). As with anything to do with archery, don’t discount your own intuition about which arrow feels most comfortable shooting, but certainly be confident in the numbers you are getting from your tests and trust those.

This is the fun part. Enjoy the shooting!

Reflections on a Black Bear Hunt

This post originally started as a general discussion of the basics of black bear ecology, which was inspired by my upcoming bear hunt, and was intended to be a simple recap from the hunt. I worked on this post before the hunt, while sitting in my stand a couple times, and finally, completing it once I returned from the hunt. The nature and purpose of the post took a different turn on the third day of our hunt. It’s come to be about something deeper and more important than a “hunting journal” of sorts. Now, I need to explore a topic that I think many hunters have encountered, but that few of us know how to talk about, certainly with the public.

I debated posting this, because it focuses on a difficult topic, one that opens me up for criticism. My experience in life has been that it is better to deal with the negative reactions that might come from owning your actions with honesty, than to try and sidestep the truth for the sake of protecting your ego. Although being open about something can lead to some difficult consequences, at the end of it all, I’d rather be able to say that I took those consequences on the chin with honesty and humility.

Here’s how the post originally began…

There are three species of bears in North America: grizzly bear (Ursus arctos), polar bear (Ursus maritimus), and black bear (Ursus americanus). Across their range, each species can be divided into distinct populations and subpopulations.

Black bears range throughout pretty much the entire province of Ontario, except for the very southern portion. Black bear populations in Ontario are abundant and healthy, and they are not in any way listed as endangered or protected. It’s important to remember that each species of bears has a different ecological role, or niche, based on its habitat, evolution, and biology. The status of one population of one species is not necessarily an indicator of another population elsewhere. In Ontario, the black bear hunt is an important management tool in maintaining sustainable numbers of bears in different regions of the province, depending on the local environment, resources, degree of urbanization, and the impact of bears on other wildlife.

Black bear range and density in Ontario.

Black bear range and density in Ontario.

Black bears are an extremely adaptable species, and they are an important part of Ontario’s ecosystems. Black bear cubs are born in a den in January-February after a 6-7 month gestation period, generally weighing less than a pound. Typically, a sow (female bear) will give birth to 1-3 cubs. The cubs and sow come out of the den in the spring and begin actively eating. While nursing in the den, sows can lose a great deal of their body weight, so the  spring is an important feeding time for bears. Cubs will stay with the sow for the first year of their lives, throughout their first full winter, after which they will leave the mother and be on their own. A sow will breed every two years, skipping the years she has cubs. Black bears breed in June-July, but interestingly, actual implantation depends on the body condition of the particular sow. If a bear is healthy and has been able to feed enough throughout the summer, she will become pregnant in the fall.

Black bears are omnivores and opportunistic eaters whose diet depends on the season. They will eat grasses, berries, insects, small mammals, fish, young deer and moose, and males have been known to eat cubs. Throughout the summer, bears will follow and actively seek the various berry crops as they ripen (raspberries, juniper berries, blueberries, etc.). These are a staple summer food for bears. In the late summer and fall, bears are focused on eating as much as possible to put on fat stores for the winter, and mast crops (acorns, beech nuts, etc.) are a favourite. At this time of year, foods high in carbohydrates are important for bears to develop extensive fat reserves for the winter, sometimes doubling their body weight in only 4-5 months. Competition with other bears for food (referred to by ecologists as intraspecific competition), a reduction in habitat from urban and other human developments, and seasonal availability of food sources can have impacts on human-bear encounters.

In discussing the black bear hunt, it’s important to understand that black bears don’t have a “territory” or “home range” in the same way one associates with wolves or deer. A black bear will determine the size of the area in which it lives based on the availability of food. An individual bear (and black bears are generally solitary) will follow food sources throughout the seasons, sometimes traveling over 100 km for favoured food sources. In areas where food sources are more spread out, so too will the area over which a bear moves. In areas surrounded by urban developments, a bear’s range will be contracted. Bears may very well defend individual food sources from other bears, but their territory is generally too large to actively defend. Bear movement and habitat use patterns can change based on the local bear population and the annual productivity of berry and mast crops. Given this, it can be difficult to pattern bears in the same way we talk about patterning deer.

Bears live by their incredible sense of smell. The area of nasal mucous membrane in a black bear is about 100 times larger than humans. No one knows for sure how well bears can smell, but they have one of the best senses of smell of any animal. Being opportunistic consumers that lack a strict territory, bears will just move to new food sources if one runs out, and their sense of smell is how they locate food. Most black bear hunting is done by baiting, with bait stations being filled continuously throughout summer and fall (old baked goods, dog food, old meat and fish scraps, etc.) in order to keep bears in the area. While I’ll save a more in depth discussion of baiting for another post, it’s important to keep these basic facts about bear ecology in mind when discussing hunting strategies.

When I’m hunting, I’m not thinking about the animal as some generic individual existing in a vacuum. I think about the animal I’m hoping to see as part of a long and complex history of its species and ecosystem. It’s very important to me to be knowledgeable about the animals I hunt, to ensure that they mean something to me and that I understand their cultural and ecological significance. So with this background, I’ll turn to the bear hunt I was on last week, and how the nature of this post changed.

We were bowhunting near Tweed, Ontario with a friend and local guide from September 1-3. We didn’t see anything on the first two days, so we wanted to put in a good long day on our last day. We went out on the morning of our third day, and at about 7:35 a bear came in to my stand. It initially came in at about 36 yards, but I wanted it at 30 yards or less. There was a bait barrel at 26 yards from me, so I waited for it to close a bit of distance. FullSizeRenderWhen it moved behind a tree that was in between us, I drew my bow, stood up, anchored in, and got ready. The bear came out from behind the tree and started walking totally broadside to me, heading towards my left. It slowed down in front of the bait barrel, under 30 yards now, and moved its near side leg forward, opening up the vitals a bit more. I took the shot, and heard the arrow hit the bait barrel on the other side of the bear, giving me an entrance and exit wound. It looked like a good shot, but right away I worried that the arrow was a little back from where I wanted it.

An archery shot on a black bear can be tricky, because the heart is low and fairly far forward. When the front leg is back, the heart can be somewhat buried behind the top of the humerus, and the scapula (shoulder blade) can block much of the lungs.

bearshotplacementfull

We waited two and a half hours before going out to track, hoping to let it die without being pressured. We spent about two hours tracking it initially, following blood through the forest for about 250 yards. We found a final drop coming out into a bit of a clearing in a logging road, and then the blood trail totally dried up. We went in for lunch, and went back out to try to find more blood and then to start combing the forest. We looked for another three and a half hours that day. We went out at sunrise the next morning and searched the forest more, at this point just looking for a dead bear.

I couldn’t recover that bear.

Being unable to find that bear is one of the worst feelings I’ve ever experienced. I don’t know how big it was; whether it was a male or female; how old it was; or exactly where my arrow hit it. I wasn’t able to deduce with any certainty what it experienced after I shot. This is a feeling I think other hunters have felt, and though it’s a difficult issue, I think it’s an important discussion to have. As hunters, we don’t want to present this kind of image of ourselves, and by and large, this is not the norm. The vast majority of animals that are shot are recovered. I want to be clear about that. But it’s also important that we come to terms with the cases where animals can’t be recovered and figure out how to understand and articulate these experiences.

When I realized that it was likely we weren’t going to find the bear, it felt to me like that moment from Go Set a Watchman, when Scout realizes that Atticus is not perfect, that he’s not the man she thought, and that something she had counted on her whole life was just not true. She felt like everything she knew about her world was turned right upside down.

The difference between my situation and Scout’s, however, is that she was naive to think there was certainty and predictability in life. I was never under the illusion that hunting is free from disappointment and uncertainty. Hunting is a blood sport; it’s an activity of life and death; we are trying to kill a wild animal. I like to have all these philosophical conversations about hunting, but hunting is unpredictable and chaotic. I doubt that any predator – human or animal – has ever been absolutely sure of the outcome of a hunt. Making the call that we couldn’t find the bear brought all of this home to me. I needed to figure out how I was going to understand the emotions I was feeling and how I was going to use this experience to better understand hunting and my role and identity as a hunter. I’m still working on this.

One of my biggest personal questions was how to simultaneously express my own guilt and my persisting conviction in the importance and positive impact of hunting. How do I express both the emotion and the rationality in what I am feeling? The two feelings are not mutually exclusive, but at that moment were difficult to articulate. At a purely rational level, I know that this is just the risk we take. We do everything we can as hunters to ensure we kill animals quickly, but sometimes, this is just going to happen. It’s an unfortunate reality of an activity that involves something as profound and final as trying to take a life. I never doubted hunting, and I told myself that I shouldn’t doubt my involvement in hunting. At an emotional level, on the other hand, these facts don’t let me off the hook. I can’t help but feel like I wasted a life, and maybe something about this should be telling me that I have no place in hunting. I have been replaying that few seconds in my head repeatedly, and I blame myself and doubt myself.

I won’t pretend that I don’t also worry about people’s perceptions of me. Of course I worry about people thinking that I just didn’t care to prepare and practice enough. Maybe I’m just worried about a bruised ego, but I also don’t want my experience to reflect poorly on bowhunters as a whole. Bowhunting is an effective and honourable way to hunt. Scientifically speaking, an arrow kills very efficiently. It concerns me that anti-hunters could use stories like this to fuel stereotypes or negative images of hunters. What I can say with absolute confidence to those people is that I care about this particular bear, and bears as a species, more than they ever could, and in a way that they will never fully understand.

When I decided to hunt, I made a commitment to practice, to be certain about the functioning of my equipment, to learn everything I could about the anatomy of the animal, and to only take a shot that I felt was going to be effective. Could I have done more? Maybe. I’m not so arrogant that I won’t honestly question this and be sure that I do more next time; however, I spend all year preparing myself and my equipment for the hunts I do. I think about them every single day of the year, and I’m reluctant to label myself as reckless. At the same time, I will absolutely use this as motivation to be better next time.

I have no real answers in this post. The purpose was really just to acknowledge the conversation and make the request that it be opened. I think it’s important for us to discuss experiences like this. For one, laying bare the wide range of our experiences gives us opportunities for honest and humble reflection, something that should be a source of pride for a community. Having the strength to discuss our weakness also gives us the ability to speak with absolute certainty and confidence about the positives of hunting. In an important way, being open about some of these experiences disempowers those who want to discredit us. Second, anyone else who has experienced something like this knows the awful feeling in the pit in my stomach, and I think we need to help one another understand how to deal with this – to become better at what we do and to sort out the emotions. I’ve spoken before about the unique ability of hunters to embrace complexity and paradox, and I think experiences like this are perfect examples.

In the end, I’m left with an intense set of emotions that I don’t think will ever go away – and to be honest, I don’t want them to. Bears are tough animals. They’re predators, and there is no way a bear is going out without a fight. I’m amazed and humbled by the strength and resolve to live in that bear. It would be a disservice to the bear and to the deep thoughtfulness of hunters for me to try to forget the experience or ignore the emotions. At the same time, I’m thankful to be part of something that involves meaningful risks and conversations. There are many mundane activities I could participate in that don’t involve any important emotional or ethical risks. I could avoid these situations altogether. Hunting is not one of those activities. It takes a willingness to engage with a tremendous amount of risk to hunt, and to open oneself up for the extreme highs and lows that are at stake. It’s at once humbling and a source of pride to be part of that tradition.

Choosing a bow and arrow setup: my current gear

Who doesn’t like to nerd out once in a while (generally, at least once a day) about gear?

While by no means an expert, I’ve tried a few different combinations of bows, sights, rests, stabilizers, releases, and arrows over the years, and I can at least comment on what I use now and why I like it. If you are new to archery and bowhunting, check out my Introduction to Archery post for some background information on some of the terminology you will encounter.

My bow setup and arrow selection.

My bow setup and arrow setup.

Currently, here’s how my setup looks:

Bow: 2013 Hoyt Charger
Sight: Trophy Ridge React-One
Rest: Trophy Taker Smackdown Pro
Stabilizer: Beestinger Sport Hunter Xtreme 
Release: Scott Samurai
Arrows: Easton Axis 400
Strings: Custom from Kevin Nugent
Broadheads: Muzzy MX-3

A couple notes on this configuration and how I got here.

I used to shoot a 3-pin sight, and I was hearing a lot about single pin sights and how much people liked them (less light interference, less distraction in the sight housing, personal preference for horizontal or vertical sight pins, etc.). When I heard about Trophy Ridge’s React sights, I was just intrigued. The React-One is their single pin version of their React sights. The deal is that you sight in at 20 yards, and then any other distance from 30-100. Once you have two distances dialed, the sight does the rest and automatically sights in from 20-100 yards. I just thought this was cool and wanted to try it. I haven’t looked back from the single pin sight. I love it. I found that I prefer a vertical pin to a horizontal one. Even though I won’t be using any sight markers past 30 yards for whitetail hunting, it’s great to be able to practice at longer distances, and this sight makes that really easy. It’s also fully metal and tool-less, which means things can be adjusted quickly and easily.

One thing I really like about the Trophy Taker rest is its full metal construction. The thing is a workhorse; everything about it is super tight, smooth, and durable. The full capture housing is great, and the actual fork of the rest goes from wall to wall of the full capture housing, meaning that no matter where your arrow is when you draw the bow, the rest will pick it up. The actual rest is covered in a great felt piece, and the housing is rubber, so it’s quiet!

The only real drawback of the React-One sight for me is that it weighs close to a pound, and most of this weight is on one side of the bow. I found I was having a bit of wobble at full draw, so I wanted to try a longer stabilizer to bring some more weight out front, and it worked like a charm. My groups instantly improved. Even though shooting an 8.5″ stabilizer at 7.18 oz added overall weight to the bow, the problem was never holding the physical weight of the bow up, so it helped. I would have probably benefitted even more from putting the stabilizer on a slight offset to the opposite side as the sight, but I didn’t get that this time around. In any case, I’m really pleased with how much steadier I feel now.

The Scott release is pretty straight-forward: adjustable nylon strap, dual caliper. My only requirement here was that I upgrade to a release with a buckle. I was tired of climbing into a treestand and realizing I had to rip that velcro strap open; I felt like I might as well get on a megaphone and announce myself to the entire forest. Having said that, I learned the value in investing in a quality release. I used to go by the mindset that a release just needed to release the string, and beyond that, it didn’t matter too much. I noticed an instant positive difference in the trigger sensitivity in this release.

I’m going to save a discussion about arrow selection for another post, because I love to talk about arrows, and I don’t think they get enough of their own attention – it’s far too often just narrowed down to concerns over how fast the arrows go. But basically, I wanted a good hunting arrow – one with some weight.

I posted in some archery forums asking for recommendations on strings, and the answer was overwhelmingly to get strings from Kevin Nugent, from right here in Ontario. My note here is pretty simple: great guy, great products. I recommend him to everyone now.

We could go on forever about broadhead selection. My choice is simply because when I started bowhunting, someone recommended Muzzy, and I’ve stuck with them. I recognize there are plenty of great ones out there, and I’ll get around to trying more as I get more opportunities to hunt.

So anyway, there’s my setup in a nutshell. Most of the changes I’ve made over the years have been out of simple curiosity and a desire for exploration. I just like trying new things to see what works for me and what feels good. I think that’s the most important thing when choosing equipment. Look around and do research. Read everything you can find about different gear options and ask people what they like and don’t like, and why. Just remember that everyone has their own opinion and there isn’t a right and wrong answer for your own setup, you need to find out what works for you. This current configuration has brought it all together for me, and I feel totally confident with all the pieces that make it up. I’m excited every single time I open my case to take it out, and I enjoy every single shot I take. At some point I’m sure I’ll switch something out for a new piece, but I’m not in any rush right now!

Of course…those new Xpedition Xcentric bows look pretty cool…

As an update to this post, I purchased the new Prime Rize in January 2016, and you can check out my thoughts on this bow here.

Full draw.

Donnie Vincent on Who We Are

As a follow up to yesterday’s post about the representation of hunters and hunting in media, I thought I’d share this shorter post today.

As hunters we are always trying to find more thoughtful and effective ways to articulate what we do, why we do it, and maybe most importantly, what it means to us. It’s a difficult task – words rarely do it justice, photos are sometimes misconstrued, public images can be manipulated and stereotyped.

I came across Donnie Vincent a number of months ago and have been following his films closely. He’s released two full length films, and I’ve watched them both multiple times. He’s also released a series of short films. This one does a wonderful job of showing the depth with which hunters think about and experience in the natural world and our place in it. Donnie poignantly explains to viewers the simultaneous simplicity and profundity in hunting. I think the mood portrayed through his films is the closest I’ve seen media come to accurately encapsulating how we see things in our own minds when we think about what we do.

Hunting as land ethic; or, why hunting is one method of active conservation

As a hunter, I am simultaneously a conservationist. My understanding of this role includes everything one associates with the word: naturalist, animal lover, environmentalist, manager, activist.

There are many reasons that I hunt. Here, I want to articulate how I conceptualize the relationship between my bow and arrow and my role in conservation. In other words, how can hunting be enacted as land ethic? Before I get into it though, a point of order to set the tone of the conversation.

I hear many conversations around hunting begin and progress the same way, generally depending on whether the conversation involves hunters or some combination of hunters and non-hunters (I differentiate non-hunter from anti-hunter). Depending on the scenario and people involved, I have repeatedly seen one of two problems develop. When the conversation is between two hunters, it often involves both of them reinforcing why their motivations to hunt are ethically and ecologically sound, reasons they’ve both given and heard hundreds of times and that, while factually true and ethically defensible, are nothing new by this point and long ago ceased challenging them intellectually. Both people eventually leave the conversation with their preconceived beliefs reinforced and secured. The problem here is that we sometimes resist the opportunity to truly challenge ourselves and explore new ideas, simply because we don’t need to.

Conversations involving hunters and non-hunters too often take the following course: the hunter presents a series of reasons why hunting is ethically and ecologically superior to purchasing meat from the store and why he/she is doing more for conservation than the non-hunter. For their part, I often hear non-hunters rely on cultural or media stereotypes, such as claims around animal rights or welfare. I think reliance on preconceived stereotypes can sometimes be a strategy to mask their own uncertain feelings about hunting and avoidance in having to honestly engage with these feelings. The problem with this scenario is that one person is discussing apples while the other is discussing oranges, and neither is really looking for the opportunity to try a new fruit, but rather just to prove that their choice is better.

The issue that I see in these exchanges – and one that I think derails many conversations that involve issues as complex as hunting – is people talking at one another, rather than listening to one another. There’s a great conversation to be had about the merits and joys of hunting, if only we could discuss these on a personal level and cater the conversation to the person with whom we are speaking. Don’t confuse adjusting our approach with pandering; it’s not the same thing. In addition, as hunters, we have great insight to offer about the very legitimate unease people feel about killing animals. Throwing elaborate scientific facts at someone who has an ethical block to the idea of killing animals will not help them understand; conversely, trying to convince someone of our moral superiority in gathering our own food when they are concerned about the effect of hunting on wildlife populations won’t move our case forward.

I believe that hunting is an important tool in the conservation of nature and maintenance of healthy wildlife populations. In fact, perhaps few people realize that when modern wildlife management began in North American, hunting was the central focus of this work and the primary tool used by managers. This, at the same time, is the basis for my ethical position on hunting. I believe it is ethical because of the positive benefits it contributes to conservation. In my case, my ethics are developed based on the science of hunting. I understand that this isn’t the case for everyone, but if we can agree on some basic facts, I believe that we can at least respect the direction we each take in developing our own personal ethics. At the end of the day, conservation is about making decisions, and even if we feel uneasy about the particular methods, understanding the facts will help us determine an effective course of action to address shared priorities.

A point that often comes up is that hunters contribute piles of money each year to wildlife management and habitat conservation efforts. This is true. In fact, the majority of money that is used for wildlife management efforts is generated through the sale of hunting licenses and tags (the pieces of paper that allow a hunter to kill an individual animal, such as a deer or a bear). Many of the conservation organizations out there are funded by a membership composed largely of hunters and anglers, meaning that, for example, most of the wetland conservation activities in Canada are funded by hunters. Wetlands, for their part, are absolutely integral to water filtration and are critical habitat for an abundance of wildlife. So the financial contribution of hunters is true, and it’s a valid case. The problem is that this point can be extended beyond its reach, with some hunters then presuming to claim without exception that hunters do more than non-hunters for conservation and that the work hunters do is inherently more valuable. Period, end of discussion.

If someone tells me they don’t hunt, but that they are dedicated to conservation, I ask them what they do. When they tell me that they volunteer for a local organization in their community, or donate to an environmental NGO, or do everything they can to conserve water in their own home, or compost, or anything else, I say great. I love it. Good for you, and thank you. It does no good for me to value what I do more than what someone else does. When they ask what I do? I tell them I hunt. One of these activities isn’t more important than the other. Sure, we can put a monetary value on our contributions, but why? For most people who are acting because of a sense of moral or emotional motivation, that won’t convince them that what I do is more valuable. (Having said this, the economic argument is actually a legitimate and established strategy to convince people of the value of conservation. For example, ecologists have attempted to put a monetary value on certain ecosystem services, such as wetlands, to convince people of the importance in their protection, but I’m not talking about that.)

Here’s how I think about it. When I pick up my bow and step outside to go on a hunt, I’m simultaneously thinking about the entire species of the animal I’m hunting, the local population of that species, the family group on the property I’m hunting, and the individual animal that I hope to kill. I understand how the removal of one deer might affect population and reproductive dynamics, and the habitat and the other animals in the area. As a result, there isn’t a doubt in my mind that my actions are having positive benefits for the overall health of the species I’m hunting and the other species that interact with it.

As an example, let’s consider the most popular big game animal hunted in North America, the whitetail deer (Odocoileus virginianus). Whitetail deer populations exploded in North America as a result of the reorganization and modification of land for modern agriculture, which creates perfect habitat for deer. Many people would say this is great; it is great, but those deer also have to continue to eat and find suitable habitat.

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For the purposes of space, let’s focus on two points: every year, a certain number of deer are born, and given the finite space and food available in any area of habitat, a certain number of deer will die. They will die in great numbers from vehicle collisions, and they will die throughout the winter as a result of starvation and predation by other animals. Whenever a population of wildlife outgrows the ability of its habitat to support it (a term referred to by ecologists as “carrying capacity”), some individuals of that population will die, but not before many other members of the population suffer some form of malnutrition and stress due to competition for resources.

So the overall point here is that in order for all deer to be healthy, the population must remain at or below a certain number of individuals, a number that is determined by habitat characteristics. All things being equal, the rate at which the population reaches this upper limit is a function of the sex ratio (number of males and females) and age structure (the number of individuals at breeding age) of the population. That’s just how biology works. Each spring-summer, a doe (female deer) can give birth to 1-2 fawns, depending on her own health. If environmental or nutritional conditions are difficult (poor food sources or quality, a winter with heavy snowfall, etc.), reproductive capacity suffers. If there are too many females in the population, the population may increase too quickly.

So you can see that nothing happens in isolation: we need to maintain healthy deer to produce healthy deer. Hunting season for whitetail deer is in the fall during their annual breeding season, and the number of individuals of each sex that hunters are allowed to kill is strictly regulated to maintain healthy deer and healthy deer populations. The goal is to continue to ensure that the resources available in a given habitat can support the number of deer in that area throughout the winter, thus ensuring that does can give birth to healthy fawns in the spring, and so on and so forth.

Therefore, by removing 1-2 deer of a specific sex from an area of habitat through managed hunting, hunters are part of a larger effort and directly contributing to maintaining healthy deer populations and healthy habitats. I help to ensure that the remaining deer that are not killed by hunters can access enough food and habitat throughout the winter; I’m reducing the likelihood that either the deer I killed or others in the area will be hit by a car because they’re forced to search farther for resources; and I’m helping to ensure that individual deer will not be forced into such strong competition for resources with one another that they will die from malnutrition or exhaustion.

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So whatever our thoughts on the act of killing, I recognize that I need to accept that removing certain individual animals from a population is necessary. Our own feelings and ethics around this are certainly individual. For me, knowing that I am thoughtfully engaged in carefully planned and effective conservation activities gives me a strong belief that what I am doing is morally right (for me). I like the knowledge that I am contributing to maintaining healthy wildlife populations. Does this diminish the emotions that I face in killing animals? No. Those are real. Does it mean I haphazardly choose the equipment (gun or bow) that I use to hunt? No. I put a great deal of thought into how those decisions change the nature of the hunt. Is hunting easy? No. It takes a great deal of preparation, practice, and dedication to be successful, an outcome that is in great measure determined by the guarantee that the animal dies quickly and with as little stress as possible.

For now, I’m motivated by the knowledge that there are a diversity of ways to engage in conservation, that many people out there are doing their own thing, that the combination of all of our actions is what will make a difference, and that supporting everyone’s conservation choices and capitalizing on opportunities for agreement will make this important task successful.

For me, I’ll keep picking up my bow and hunting.

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Perfect July evening for some practice

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A little outdoor shooting in the summer. Perfect weather tonight to let some arrows fly and stretch it out to 60 yards. We have just over one month until our black bear hunt, and we’ve been preparing all year, so now it’s just time to keep things tight.

Maybe I’ll put a post up about bears and bear hunting leading up to our September 1 hunt. Bear ecology and management is some interesting stuff.