If Our Knives Could Talk

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The Tops Dragonfly has become one of the most meaningful and dependable knives in my collection. Check it out here: https://www.topsknives.com/dragonfly-4-5

The first knife I ever received as a gift has a broken tip, is completely dull, slightly rusted, and opens and closes with a distinct little grind that I imagine is from sand grains having worked their way into the locking mechanism over the years. I haven’t even tried to cut anything with it in probably 10 years.

But I still have it.

The most recent knife I was given has travelled with me throughout Ontario, to Nunavut, and most recently to Nain, Nunatsiavut. It was given to me by a friend with whom I’ve spent hours hunting, hiking, trapping, laughing, and chatting.

I remarked to someone recently that the days of writing poetically and romantically about the out of doors seem to be dried up; that the style and feeling of writers like Leopold, Thoreau, Emerson, Muir, and even early 20th century outdoors writers seem to be behind us. So I don’t want this post to come across as just some self-inflated bullshit.

Having given that disclaimer, people who spend time engaged in outdoor activities will know what I mean when I say that there is a certain unmistakable charm, something both primal and artistic, in a good knife. As cliched as it might sound, many of us develop a sort of kinship with our knives that comes from the miles we travel with these tools and the degree to which we come to depend on them in what are some of our most personal and meaningful experiences. I remember the individual trips that I’ve used a particular knife on, the things that I’ve made with it and every reason I prefer one knife to the next. It is through field dressing an animal or accomplishing some task while in the woods that I come to appreciate the finer points of a knife. The knife itself becomes a character in the story of a trip, alongside our hunting partners, the animals hunted, and the landscapes we spend time in.

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There’s something about knives that sparks conversation among outdoors people. We all have our favourite designs and there is no shortage of opinion out there about the best kind of knife. And certainly, not all knives are created equal. I imagine I’m not alone in spending a good deal of time hunched over my knife case before a hunt or camping trip trying to decide how many I need and which ones are best for the jobs ahead. We spend hours discussing blade shape and length; handle design and material; fixed blade vs. folder; weight and balance; and all the other nuances that distinguish individual knives.

We pass knives back and forth to one another, examining their details, running our fingers over every part of them, holding them, as if we’re getting to know the knife’s character with the intimacy of a lover. We protect our knives, are precise about their intended uses, and strict about what – and sometimes who – are off limits to them. We can burn down entire campfires and drain pots of coffee covering nothing more than the reasons we love a knife and the stories we’ve shared with it. Indeed, get a group of outdoors people on the topic of knives, and it’s almost as if the knives themselves become the campfire or the cup of coffee, the thing around which we all gather, reminisce, and chat.

I’m not sure what it is about knives specifically that come to occupy this sense of romanticism in our lives. Perhaps it’s that knives come to be a material representation of what it means to be in the outdoors – to survive there, to understand our place in the food chain, to feel a sense of accomplishment with the interaction of an ancient tool and our own bare hands, to connect with the natural world in a way that is both primal and artistic. Our knives come to stand for our experiences in wild places. More than that, as they become covered in blood and dirt, are dulled and resharpened, and accomplish innumerable tasks, perhaps they represent ourselves on some level. As we travel through breathtaking landscapes, become bloodied and dirtied, get banged up and worn down, resharpened, and accumulate years of experience, I think we imbue in our knives some sense of romanticism that is hard to explain, but that we come to depend on to represent what it means to experience the outdoors.

The North American Model of Wildlife Conservation

“The North American model of wildlife conservation has seven components that collectively form a foundation that yields its distinct structure:

1. Wildlife as public trust resources
2. Elimination of markets for wildlife
3. Allocation of wildlife by law
4. Wildlife can only be killed for a legitimate purpose
5. Wildlife are considered an international resource
6. Science is the proper tool for discharge of wildlife policy
7. Democracy of hunting

It is hunters, or, more accurately, hunting, that led to the development of the components listed above that form the foundation for North American wildlife conservation.”

Valerius Geist, Shane P. Mahoney, John F. Organ, 2001

Hunters, Environmentalists, and Vegans Have More in Common Than We Think

My last post suggested that we can, and indeed should, be conscientious to the perspectives of our audiences when framing our messaging about hunting. This is a position that is perhaps a stark contrast to the paradigm of the “unapologetic hunter”, an approach that I quickly found to be tiresome and increasingly unproductive. Rather, I’ve tried to make the case that creating new allies is valuable for hunters and that we need to cultivate allies in many different social communities; however, I think we already have far more allies than we may at times recognize.

One of the more common pieces of rhetoric we hear in the hunting community is how the “tree huggers,” “liberals,” “environmentalists,” or “vegans” are trying to put an end to hunting. As the drama plays out in much of the media, these other groups will never understand why we hunt and want only to take our guns and our hunting opportunities. I think that much of the reaction from the hunting community is due to the perception that these other communities see hunters as nothing more than bloodthirsty murderers acting without regard for animal welfare. For our part, I think too many hunters pigeonhole non-hunters as people who will never truly understand what it means to have a relationship with wildlife and can never measure up to hunters in our contributions and commitment to conservation. This kind of in-group situation can quickly lead to increasingly reactionary responses, cutting off more poignant opportunities for communication and understanding.

So bear with me for a moment when I suggest that the proposition that hunters and environmentalists (as a proxy for these various “others”) are necessarily opposed is, at the very least, exaggerated and misguided, and at most, harmful in the long-term to conservation. I believe that at the very foundation of our ethics, there is actually far more in common between of many hunters and non-hunters than we often recognize. I think that from the ideologies, motivations, and political priorities of these groups are many opportunities for alliances.

I’ve said before that my choice to hunt is rooted in an intense affection for nature and fascination with wildlife, and it’s a way of being an active participant in conservation. Tracing this sentiment back to its origins, one finds, in me and I suspect in many other hunters, a concern for preserving healthy habitats, protecting animal welfare, eating nutritious and ethically gathered food, promoting progressive environmental policy, and enacting a personal relationship with the natural world. I’m fortunate to have had opportunities throughout my life that have exposed me to a wide variety of experiences and perspectives related to coming to understand the natural world. These experiences have variously led me down paths to identifying as an environmentalist, a one-time vegetarian, a self-proclaimed tree hugger, and a hunter-conservationist. Each of these paths, these identities, began from different experiences, and they each played their own part in constructing a set of ethics that I hold today and choose to put into practice through hunting.

As hunters, we often use our commitment and contributions to conservation to justify hunting. Indeed, the “fathers of the conservation movement” were hunters; the history of the North American model of wildlife management, one of the most successful conservation models in the world, is the result of numerous organizations, policies, and achievements that are largely bound up with hunting. For example, the Migratory Bird Treaty was signed between Canada and the United States back in 1916. We wouldn’t have the successful conservation measures we do today without managed hunting.


Theodore Roosevelt and John Muir, 1903.

However, we also need to remember that without the powerful figures and campaigns of the environmental movement, we would be without much of the scientific knowledge and popular affection related to protecting wildlife and natural habitats. Indeed, without the indispensable overlap in the priorities of various hunting and non-hunting communities that has generated such a powerful political voice, we would be without many critical achievements and conservation initiatives.

Temagami blockade

The Temagami Blockades that opposed logging in old growth pine forests in Temagami, Ontario, 1989.

But this should not become some kind of exercise in conservation score-keeping between hunters and environmentalists. I find it ridiculous and short-sighted to hear hunters use environmentalists as the scapegoats for everything that threatens hunting, and environmentalists use hunters as scapegoats for everything that threatens the ideal of the pristine, untouched nature. Environmentalists are not our enemies. Certainly there are some environmental NGOs that have proclaimed a staunch anti-hunting position, but there are others that take a much more nuanced approach. Sweeping generalizations about groups of people are rarely accurate or productive. The writer David Petersen suggests that there is an important distinction to be made between “animal rightists” and “animal welfarists”. Animal rights advocates, he explains, are against the use of animals by humans in any way, while animal welfare advocates are concerned with the “humane treatment and responsible care” of animals that ensures they have “freedom from unnecessary pain and suffering”. In some instances, Petersen notes that “in a philosophical confluence of odd bedfellows, both nature hunters and anti-hunters ‘appeared to perceive an equality and kinship, rather than a hierarchical-dominant relationship, existing between humans and animals'”. I have found similar philosophical confluences in my own life.

I have a good friend who is vegan, and she and I have had many productive conversations about the ideas that led us to both embrace a partially overlapping set of ethics around human-animal relationships. While at first glance appearing to be completely opposed to one other, it occurred to us that we both took the paths we did as a way to enact similar ethical principles. We realized that at the root of things, we are both motivated by a desire to think deeply about the origin and ethics of our food sources and the relationship we have with animals through our food choices. We both value a human-animal relationship that excludes suffering. In this case, she chose to avoid eating animals, while I chose to pursue a way of gathering my own meat that gives me greater control over ensuring that the animals I eat are killed ethically. So while sharing similar philosophical foundations, it’s true, our paths eventually diverged, and this leads me to my next point.

Wildlife conservation is an ongoing effort. If we learn from history, healthy wildlife populations and natural habitats are not something we achieve overnight. Conservation is a shifting terrain that needs to continuously respond to pressures on wildlife and habitats as they arise. Our actions need to be multifaceted and take place in a variety of social, political, cultural, and intellectual arenas. There’s no such thing as too many conservationists. By the same token, it means that no one group will be able to take on every struggle and campaign; we need diversity in the conservation community and in our strategies. Does this mean that our viewpoints and goals need to align perfectly with every other group 100% of the time? No, but it does mean that we need to seek out those moments where our goals do align with those of other groups. There will be points in time when hunters and animal welfare activists can work together. Of course, it may also mean that we need to separate when our agendas do not fully align. But what might perhaps be an inevitable divergence in priorities should not prevent us from working together when possible. At the very least, when we do have to go in separate directions, we can do so with a deeper understanding of one another’s perspective.

Of course, this challenge goes both ways. To those non-hunters reading this who take a different approach to conservation activism: I also encourage you to seek out and capitalize on those opportunities for ideological and strategic overlap between your priorities and those of the hunting community. The challenge is to actively foster understanding, and to highlight points of shared priorities rather than division.

Let’s both – hunters and non-hunters – think about our long-term goals and determine the points of agreement that can lead to immediate actions. I would bet that in more cases than not, we will find that even when we disagree on the particulars of our personal beliefs about human-wildlife relationships or intermediate-term priorities, we can at least agree on some shared ethical principles, at least one action we can take, and ways we can engage with one another positively towards achieving our long-term conservation goals. Let’s remember that this endeavour is much larger than our own individual desires, and we owe much more to wildlife on this continent than we do to our personal priorities. To adapt David Petersen’s quote of Field & Stream columnist George Reiger, if humans fail in our efforts at conservation, it will be because we have been “too demanding of rights and too indifferent of responsibilities”. Let’s all remember our responsibilities.

Hope Springs Eternal in the Turkey Woods

I have a enormous sense of affection for wild turkeys (Meleagris gallopavo). I cringe every time I hear someone say that wild turkeys are ugly, unintelligent, or otherwise unworthy of our admiration. More than likely, if someone thinks a wild turkey is ugly, that person has probably never been up close to one. The colour of their feathers is almost impossible to pinpoint and when examined up close on a sunny day, has a shimmer that is hard to overstate. I’ll concede, their head looks like something that might have been drawn by someone with a complete disdain for colouring inside the lines (then again, so are many of the most celebrated art masterpieces); however, wild turkeys are big, beautiful birds whose ability to gobble a spring predawn forest to life is unparalleled.

Source: CWTF

Source: CWTF

In Ontario, we also have a lot to be thankful for with regard to the eastern wild turkey (Meleagris gallopavo silvestris), and they deserve our respect. Wild turkeys were extirpated from Ontario by 1909, as a result of unregulated hunting and changing land organization, in particular habitat loss due to the clearing of land for agricultural expansion.  In 1984, efforts began to reintroduce wild turkeys to Ontario, and in 1987, trap and transfer programs expanded the range of birds to additional areas of the province. From an estimated 4, 400 birds initially released throughout Ontario, the 2007 estimated population of wild turkeys stood at more than 70, 000. Thanks to hunting and conservation organizations like the OFAH and CWTF, the population is now believed to be even higher and the status of wild turkeys in Ontario is stable and healthy. The first regulated wild turkey hunt in Ontario took place in 1987, and there has since been an expansion to new management units, an additional season implemented, and an increase in limits.

I absolutely love turkey hunting. Wild turkeys were the first species I hunted, and I live in what I think is one of the most beautiful areas of Ontario (the Kawartha Lakes region), so to a certain extent, I credit them with bringing me into the world of hunting. The spring turkey hunt holds just as much excitement for me as the opening day of the deer hunt. I suppose part of this is because my experience hunting turkeys has been defined by a collage of wonderful juxtapositions. I’ve actively hunted these birds for 5 spring seasons; I’ve yet to be successful. As days grow longer in the spring, we get increasingly more time to hunt; this of course also means the alarm is set earlier each day. As the days warm, there are few things in life better than spending an afternoon basking in the sun under a tree; then, the mosquitos can be unbearable by mid-season and make sitting still next to impossible. The sound of toms (male turkeys) gobbling just before the sun comes up is both haunting and adrenaline-inducing; the sight or sound of them flying down from the roost in the opposite direction from you can be agonizing.

Wild turkeys are somewhat of a perfect combination of the characteristics that define other hunts: you can hunt them with gun or bow; you call them, and they call back; they require patience and discipline; you hunt them while they are fired right up and focused on breeding; they have a fascinating natural and cultural history; they have their own set of sensory advantages over us, adding a big challenge to their pursuit. Yet, unlike virtually any other big game species, you might as well give up all hope of any kind of spot and stalk strategy to hunt them. This means that a very familiar situation for a turkey hunter is hearing a bird screaming at you just out of sight – over a hill, across a fence row, behind some trees – and being completely unable to pursue the source of the call.

In other words, wild turkey hunting is both wildly addictive and intensely frustrating. It’s probably the combination of these that makes this species such a perfect representation of what hunting means to me, what keeps me coming back for more, and will have me out in the turkey woods every spring.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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:

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=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!

MeatEater Podcast: Changing Identities of Hunters Throughout History

I’m a huge fan of the MeatEater show and podcast. The guests and topics discussed on the podcast are varied, intelligent, thought-provoking, and exciting. I thought I’d post one of my favourite episodes. If you have a good drive to make this week or an hour to sit and relax, do yourself a favour and listen to this.

On this episode, Randall Williams discusses his PhD dissertation, Green Voters, Gun Voters: Hunting and Politics in the Twentieth-Century United States, which “explores the changing ways in which American sportsmen imagined, articulated, debated, and pursued their policy interests from the end of World War II up until the mid-1990s”.

Here’s a link to the MeatEater website with the podcast available for download:

Guest Blog: Tracking, the Eyes of the Hunter

This post was written by a good friend of mine, Caleb Musgrave. Caleb and I have hunted together, spent time working in the woods, and discussed a range of topics related to hunting and wildlife. Caleb runs Canadian Bushcraft and he has a depth of knowledge about being in the outdoors. One of his skills is tracking, and he wanted to give an introduction to some of the things we should understand to become a good tracker. Thanks, Caleb.

So, you want to hunt big game. You got your hunting license, your tags, and your weapon of choice. You got all the right gear, and you spent the time at the range making your aim as lethally accurate as you can. Deer Shed But now you’re in the field, and you have no idea where to go from here. Yeah, you may see the occasional footprint from an animal, but how do you know it is from your quarry?  And how do you know it is recent enough to make it worth following? On several occasions annually, Search-and-Rescue are called in to find lost hunters who were following elk, moose or mule deer tracks that were over a month old. So this is not some unlikely scenario. And even if you are plumb lucky and see a deer or moose, then shoot it. Now what? Where did it go? Are you sure?

Tracking is a vital component to any hunter’s mental toolkit. It helps you find game, before and after dispatching. It helps you understand what predators may be pressuring the animals in your area. It helps you understand what foods are being eaten by your quarry. It identifies so much more than simply seeing a deer, rabbit or turkey ever could.

Raccoon Tracks

The truth is, tracking is the oldest science our species has ever developed. Many animals track by scent, and through that system, they can discern species, gender, age of activity, and even the age and health of the animal they are tracking. However, we – as humans – do not have the olfactory system made for such an endeavour. We do however have sight on our side, and the ability to discern differences in the environment. Being able to identify a track, trail or other sign left over by animals, our ancestors were able to read all of the details needed to find, kill and bring home meat for their families. The Saan People of Namibia and Botswana, the Lipan Apache of Texas and Mexico, and many other Indigenous peoples still carry the knowledge of reading the ground like a newspaper. Biologists, naturalists and professional guides have also learned the science of tracking for their daily living as well -though from a more western perspective.

For us, as hunters, or supporters of wildlife conservation, there is a lot to take in if we wish to learn how to track. One of the first things I want to emphasize is humility. This article, and no amount of time spent tracking will ever make you perfect at it. I’ve seen some of the best trackers in Canada and the States get stumped. Tracking is not easy. But it is vital if we wish to be good, effective hunters. So learn to take your mistakes openly, and when you don’t know? Just say so. Admit it, and move forward.

So before we go too far into how to track an animal, let’s discuss how to find tracks. When you come into an environment (field, swamp, forest, dirt trail, etc), stop, breathe deeply and slow the hell down. You are going to miss details, and those details will be the ones you need. Expand your vision beyond your own set of feet, and examine your surroundings. Look at the dirt. Now really look at it. Study it until you’ve picked out every individual stone. What you are looking for is the baseline symphony of life. This sounds confusing, doesn’t it? Okay, how about we delve deeper.

The Baseline Symphony of the forest is what everything looks like normal. Rain, wind and other variables of the elements have all impacted the land around us. Dirt has been buffeted by breezes, and pounded smooth by rain. When a deer trots through that dirt, it will leave dents and scuffs in that smooth ground. Deer Rub These are tracks, and when they are made, they disrupt the baseline symphony of the dirt. They stand out for a reason, as if they are yelling at you. But only if you slow the hell down.
This becomes even clearer if you are tracking a running deer through a hardwood forest, full of leaf litter. The normal shape of the leaves are all flat, like tiles on a floor. But when the deer charges through, the leaves are kicked up and end up looking like miniature Sydney Opera Houses. The deer has disrupted the Baseline Symphony.

This Baseline Symphony concept can be extrapolated beyond dirt and the forest floor. Scratches and scuffs on trees. Scat (poo) on rocks or logs. Hair clinging to a branch. This all will begin to stand out to you, if you only would just slow the hell down, and look around you.

The problem I see most people falling into with tracking, is they are looking for clear, obvious prints, like the ones in the pictures of a field manual. The truth is, most animals are moving for a reason, and rarely does that reason involve how their tracks look. They’re just not as egotistical or narcissistic as us. This means a coyote track could look like a deer track, unless we carefully examine more than just the individual track.

So, what are we looking for exactly? Anytime an animal come in contact with the ground, branches, or other parts of the environment, they leave behind something. Let’s list some stuff:

Tracks: Imprints of the animal’s feet on soil, clay, sand, leaf litter, snow, etc.
Lion Track

Scrapes/Drags: Where an animal has scuffed the ground. This could be from looking for food, making a wallow, or dragging something along (like a fox dragging a grouse through snow).

Feeding Spots: This could be a muskrat’s feeding raft, or a kill site from a wolf pack.
Lion Kill




Bedding Spots:
Where the animal lays down to rest for a time. Often on hillsides, and in the daytime, usually facing south. In the evenings, usually on the eastern side of the hill (to avoid wind and to greet a warming sun). This could also include dens.

Fox Den

Scat: The fecal matter and/or urine of an animal. Elk Scat


Fisher Scat and urine

Trails: Where an animal walked through grass, cattails, sphagnum moss, or other plant life. These trails may be occasional, or they may be daily used trails. A snowshoe hare will make trails through the snow and these will become their main paths for the winter. The path of least resistance is the most attractive to the majority of wildlife. A trapline can become very productive after a heavy snowfall, because the animals will want to follow the trails made by the trapper rather than make their own.

Now, begin to examine your surroundings, using this information. Don’t try to make any of it appear, or you’ll begin to follow an imaginary trail. Just look around. At some point, an animal will have walked through where you are, and chances are you can find their signs, without any formal training.

But that brings us to the last part of this article. It is really difficult to self-teach yourself how to track. Remember the Lipan Apache and Saan People? Well they have countless generations of knowledge on the subject, passed down from parent to child. Those big game guides and field biologists? Well they got training from either their employers or from a school. For almost every province, territory and state in Canada and the USA, there’s someone teaching tracking. There are even tracking clubs! So don’t think you have to do this on your own. Jump on a search engine (you’re already reading this online for crying out loud, so don’t give me any excuses), and look for tracking schools, tracking courses, or tracking clubs. Trust me, they’re out there.

And if you can’t, well do not worry, I will have a few more articles in the near future to help you out.

Caleb Musgrave is the owner and head instructor at Canadian Bushcraft; a wilderness living skills school, located on the north shores of Rice Lake. He has been featured on the CBC, CTVnews, the Globe and Mail, and several survival magazines. His articles can be found on WildWoodSurvival.com, Survival Quarterly Magazine, and Self-Reliance Illustrated. Caleb has traveled to many parts of North America, to learn the skills of the land, but where he finds home is where his ancestors -the Anishinaabeg- have always been: Peterborough, Ontario.

Science and Politics in Wildlife Management: Ontario Expands the Spring Bear Hunt

On October 30, the Ontario Federation of Anglers and Hunters (OFAH) announced that the province of Ontario would be expanding the spring bear hunt pilot project for another 5 years.

Like most issues related to hunting, the factors and considerations involved in decisions about the Ontario spring bear hunt are numerous and complex. The history of debate over the spring bear hunt is in many ways the perfect example of the challenge in balancing science and politics. There are economic interests involved; scientific studies; landowners who have safety and livelihood considerations; anti-hunting voices who advance certain public perceptions of the hunt; and of course hunters who have a vested interest in both the hunt and the species. I won’t pretend to know the nuances of the opinions of every voice at the table, but I find the science-politics part of this discussion interesting, and one that will likely continue to define hunting and wildlife management in North America.

01_Schwarzbär (1)

It is estimated that there are somewhere in the neighbourhood of 105,000 black bears (Ursus americanus) in Ontario. The provincial population is healthy and is at no risk of being threatened. The Ontario spring bear hunt was originally cancelled in 1999, largely due to pressure from animal-rights organizations who claimed that the hunt left cubs orphaned when sows (female bears) were killed by hunters. Killing sows is illegal in the spring hunt, so this claim seems to rest on one of the following two assumptions: 1) hunters were accidentally killing large numbers of sows, or 2) hunters are willfully breaking the law and engaging in unethical hunting practices. I take great exception to the latter; convincing data has yet to be provided on the former. In fact, reports of an estimated 274 cubs orphaned in 1999 alone have been refuted by bear biologists. Many of the arguments by these organizations use emotionally-charged language, telling voters that bear hunting in the spring is done “when they are most vulnerable”, and that the hunt depends on baiting, a practice where hunters do little more than “sit behind blinds and shoot the bears“. These statements are a dramatic reduction of a much more complicated biology and hunting practice.

On the other end of the spectrum are groups like the OFAH who advocated for the return of the spring hunt. Representing hunters, these organizations worked to present evidence that supported the hunt as an effective management tool. Concerns over human-bear conflicts is one of the main issues presented by hunting organizations to advocate for a return of the hunt. These groups suggested that the former Bear Wise program, Ontario’s trap and relocation program intended to respond to human-bear conflicts, was largely ineffective at reducing conflict. They contend that harvest is a more effective management tool to control bear populations and reduce the incidence of conflict. The economic benefits of the hunt are also cited as an important vote in favour of its full return. Hunting contributes a great deal of money to local economies through the sale of licenses and income from tourism. A report published in August 2015, states that prior to its cancellation, the combined spring and fall bear hunts generated an estimated $30.3 million per year. Current estimates put the value of the spring hunt closer to $100 million.

Here’s where an interesting part of the science comes into the discussion. Were 274 cubs orphaned every year by spring bear hunters? No, according to Ontario’s leading bear biologist, Dr. Martyn Obbard. One needs to understand the reproductive cycle of black bears and appreciate the laws surrounding the spring hunt to realize that this claim is scientifically unsubstantiated. However, in a paper published in 2014, Dr. Obbard explains that human-bear conflict is not negatively correlated with harvest rates. This means that the data does not support the claim that increasing harvests will decrease conflict and problem bears. On the other hand, data from a study published in 2015 suggests that problem bear activity did increase significantly following the closure of the spring hunt, but says that food availability is a significant factor in human-bear conflicts. Dr. Obbard’s study also indicates that food availability is a major factor in human-bear conflict. So now what?

On the topic of dealing with “problem bears” (a term I dislike in itself), my opinion is somewhat self-contradictory. Our pattern of population expansion has in many ways been ecologically irresponsible, and if that has led to an increase in human-bear conflict, then that is the bed we’ve made. I’m not saying we should deliberately put people at risk simply because we may have brought the problem on ourselves; however, I don’t think it’s singular justification for a hunt. Having said that, the other side of that coin is that if we wish to continue to grow human settlements and expand industrial development, then like it or not, animal populations need to be controlled. In that regard, we’re all going to have to accept hunting as a management tool that is an important and successful component of our system of wildlife management in North America.

My own support for the bear hunt has generally little to do with the singular debate over its efficacy at reducing human-bear conflicts. We need to make informed decisions about hunts based on current and reliable data. But data is not enough; decisions need to be based on a critical, honest, and thorough consideration of all the factors involved. In the case of bears, both the studies I discussed above identify food availability as a main limiting factor for bears. This suggests that habitat needs to be protected. So if we want to make decisions about bear management, we should be honest about the realities of issues like climate change and the impacts of industrial activities, regardless of our political leanings. My main priority, always, is conservation – of habitat, of species. If the spring bear hunt is not putting the species at risk (and it is not, let’s be very clear about that), then I support the decision to extend it as part of a larger picture of supporting hunting. However, this does not absolve us of the responsibility to take strong action in other areas to ensure wildlife has healthy and abundant habitat.

As an aside, lest anyone think I’m just giving blind support for more hunting opportunities, I’ve used the same criteria for the opposite position with regard to the moose hunt in Ontario. It’s generally accepted at this point that moose are in some sort of decline throughout much of their North American range, and as a result, Ontario has seen a reduction in moose tags. In my opinion, some organizations have argued irresponsibly against this decision in order to protect hunting opportunities: a political move. My position is that the moose come first. Every time. I’ll gladly give up moose hunting for a time to ensure the stability and longevity of the population in the future. Again, we need to learn to accept the necessity of difficult decisions that we may not like in order to keep our most important priorities at the forefront.

So there it is, all that to say that I support the spring bear hunt for a range of more complex reasons than those to which the media on both sides have reduced this debate.

Well, as I’ve said many times in conversations with friends, one of the things I love so much about hunting is the way it challenges me both physically and intellectually. What all of this tells me is that this debate is reminiscent of so many others in our lives: we are pulled in many directions. We might have emotion pulling us one way, politics another, science another, and somewhere amidst all the confusion is the realization that we need to consider and embrace the complexity of the situation. It’s not a simple matter with a simple answer. We are dealing with a wild animal with its own biology and behaviours that don’t synchronize with human debate and political tides.

The full announcement can be watched here:

First-time Moose Hunting: A Primer on the Species

I had been working on an article for a great new magazine called Homegrown Hunter published by a friend of mine, Steve Elmy, who owns and runs Rack Stacker. I started this article back in January 2015 for inclusion in the next year’s issue of HGH. Unfortunately, the magazine has been put on hold, but I would suggest everyone check out the accompanying web show. Being that we are heading out on our first moose hunt next Tuesday, I thought I would post a bit of a primer on moose and why I have been wanting to hunt them for years now.

I’ve been preparing for this hunt since at least January…


The backcountry area we’ll be hunting next week.

I’m not sure when I became captivated by moose. I suppose part of it may simply be that I’m Canadian, having grown up surrounded by images of moose for my entire life. Iconic photographs and artwork of moose standing in marshes, 6 feet of glorious antlers spread out in the sun, giant dewlaps hanging from their chins, are somewhat of a staple in Canadian wildlife imagery. They are giant, oddly shaped, dinosaur-like animals, yet one would need a finely tuned command of language to describe their sense of grace with any accuracy. I remember when I was young seeing a moose swimming across the Magnetawan River just outside of Burk’s Falls, Ontario. Then I remember seeing moose feeding on the side of the road while driving along Highway 60 through Algonquin Provincial Park. After that, it seems to me that I just always found moose: on backcountry canoe trips in Algonquin Park, licking salt on roadsides, catching glimpses of them as they crash away through the forest, crossing roads. I have spots marked on maps where I know I am likely to see moose, and the prospect of bowhunting moose is what motivated me to get a hunting license. Their meat is some of the richest, most delicious red meat I’ve ever eaten. 

Antler rub on a tree. Mitten shown for scale. Standing on the snow, the rub was still about 6 feet up the tree.

Antler rub on a tree. Mitten shown for scale. Standing on the snow, the rub was still about 6 feet up the tree.

It’s not hard to see why someone who is drawn to the out of doors would find moose to be a somewhat permanent fixture in memory and imagination. Moose are some of the most powerful wildlife in North America. They can crash through forests with a force and recklessness paralleled by little else, yet they can also move with absolute silence and precision when they choose. A prominent boreal forest species, moose (Alces alces) range throughout Canada, from the Maritime provinces right across to British Columbia and north into the Yukon Territory. They’re the largest member of the family of deer species known as cervidae. Cervids are a group of even-toed ungulates which comprise groups of species as diverse as whales. Adult male moose (bulls) can weigh up to 1,500 pounds, while adult females (cows) can weigh up to 1,000 pounds. Like most deer species that live in forest habitats, moose rely primarily on woody browse for food, preferring willow, dogwood, and the buds and sprouts of aspen and birch. They breed in the fall and cows give birth to one or two calves in May-June. Moose have excellent senses of hearing and smell, but generally poor eyesight. As with all big game hunting, an understanding of these three key senses defines hunting strategy. 

In both an evolutionary and poetic sense, they are magnificent animals. 

Sighting in my .270 WSM for the hunt.

Sighting in my .270 WSM for the hunt.

Moose droppings in September.

Moose droppings in September.