Patrick Meitin has degrees in journalism and range and wildlife management. He’s been an outdoor writer, specializing in bowhunting, for more than 20 years. An expert with both traditional and modern archery equipment, Meitin lives in northern Idaho with his wife, Gwyn, and their two Labrador retrievers.
I think it’s fair to admit up front that I’m not a fan of crossbows. I’ve tinkered with them minimally (15 years ago) without developing an inkling of affection. At that time they possessed no more performance potential than modern compounds. More recently I’m hearing reports (bragging actually) of fist-sized groups at 150 yards.
I’ll not feign superiority, but there’s no way around the fact that "vertical" bowhunters must work much harder to keep themselves hunt ready – the perpetual equipment tuning and tweaking and striving for shooting-form perfection. Those long hours of summertime backyard practice are a bowhunting institution, a time-honored tradition sometimes evolving over several years.
These aspects are conspicuously absent from crossbow shooting.
This wouldn’t bother me one bit if crossbow manufacturers and advocates weren’t lobbying so intensely to squeeze their way into archery-only seasons. And, yes, I’m very self-centered in this respect. I don’t want to share, at least not with those who have much less time and effort invested. Crossbows remind me of in-line muzzleloaders in this respect: Scoped, saboted, 200-yard weapons applied to seasons established with primitive cap-and-ball capabilities in mind.
So you might understand why most longtime bowhunters find the outdoor media’s attempt to set crossbows on equal footing with real bows for a handful of advertising dollars an abomination. Borrowing a page from the politicians' playbook, they’re even attempting to change the language. Bolts become “arrows.” Crossbows are labeled “horizontal bows.” Real bows now require the designating moniker “vertical bows.”
If crossbows are so wonderful, why not create their own magazine to discuss the joys of shooting them?
The entire thing reminds me of the neighborhood geek whose family owned a swimming pool. No one really liked this kid, but shined him on during summer months for use of that pool. Very few industry bowhunters actually shoot crossbows, or have any desire to do so, but are all too happy to humor crossbow manufacturers as long as they continue relinquishing advertising dollars. But these aren’t puerile children seeking cheap entertainment. These are adults selling out their sport for profit.
For diehard bowhunters, this inclusion of a non-bow into bowhunting seasons is viewed as a threat to our future. In states where tags are tightly controlled and/or hunting ground limited, true bowhunters worry of being squeezed out by an increase in “bowhunter” numbers migrated from rifle-hunting ranks. I moved away from New Mexico after 12 years without an archery elk tag. You want to toss more names into the lottery pot? I also see Kansas just legalized crossbows during archery seasons, and now wonder if I’ll draw a tag next year.
So maybe now you understand the true bowhunter’s retort to the question: “Why all the fuss?”
Mike Strandlund, editor of Bowhunting World and Grand View Media's Editorial Director, Will Be Missed By All Bowhunters.
I learned recently that I'd lost my friend Mike Strandlund, the victim of an accident while vacationing in the Philippines. But the loss wasn't mine alone. All bowhunters have lost a friend. Mike was a bowhunting ambassador for us all and a damn fine one, a trait that earned him a spot in the Bowhunter's Hall of Fame. Mike was a talented communicator; often eloquent, invariably honest and, most importantly, a man without bluster, braggadocio or ego -- something increasingly rare in an outdoor industry of cheast-beaters, braggarts and blowhards.
Why always the good ones?
Together Mike and I shared our first African safari, a writer junket that felt to me as if I'd won a lottery. I'd dreamed of Africa as long as I'd hunted, filling my imagination to overflowing on the likes of Ernest Hemingway, Robert Ruark, J.A. Hunter, Howard Hill and Fred Bear. Yet my memories of that dream fulfilled include not so much the handful of animals I killed with bow and arrow, but sitting around crackling fires at day's end sipping cold Castle Lagers, chatting with Mike.
Mike and I experienced parallel outbreaks of nasty target panic that week, a situation resulting in some embarrassing misses on some very nice animals and associated teeth gnashing. The pressure was on, both because of "hunt-of-a-lifetime" notions and the "make-it-bleed-you-pay" policies of all South African hunting operations. There were a couple evenings when I might not have been too pleasant around the campfire had it not been for Mike's sage counsel and his ability to help me see the bigger picture. That's the kind of guy Mike was. I'd get back to Africa many times after, but that first trip, shared with Mike, remains my most cherished.
I also recall a week of incredible fly-fishing on New Mexico's San Juan River. Mike and I had talked of fishing those renowned waters together at some length and we hit it just right, managing to show up for a rare flying-ant fall, something akin to arriving in Alaska or Quebec and hitting the caribou migration just right. We slept and ate minimally, fished long days, caught 35 to 40 trout apiece per day averaging 18 inches, all on dry flies. There was plenty of water and trout to go around, but we fished graciously, taking turns on sighted fish, talking of the important things in life and bowhunting, laughing a lot, enjoying life to its fullest. Mike figures prominently in my memories of a river I guided on and fished relentlessly for decades.
Mike purchased some of my first magazine articles way back when. Eventually I'd align myself with a competing publication, but our friendship endured. We often ribbed one another about the superiority of our respective publications, but it was all in good fun. And though we haven't worked together in ages, I can't imagine an ATA Show without Mike present and the occasional telephone catch-up calls.
Mike will be sorely missed. Bowhunting has lost one of the good ones.
"How should I set up for bowhunting turkeys?"
This is a question I'm asked each spring. Here are my thoughts:
I generally shun short bows whether they're compound or traditional. But when the subject turns to turkeys I lighten up on that conviction. This is directly related to how turkeys are bowhunted. You're either operating from inside a pop-up (most popular today) or sitting flat on your butt in natural cover. Though, I've certainly bagged plenty of birds with longer compounds and true longbows from inside blinds and hunting on the ground.
That said, short bows when combined with short-range shooting (anything more than 30 yards is pushing your luck with turkey and their baseball-sized vitals) give you more maneuverability in both cases. The industry trend of bow lengths under 34 inches, seems ideal for turkey hunting, Bows of those lengths are easier to handle and make avoiding top-limb contact with pop-up roofs easier and bottom-limb collisions with the ground less likely, especially if you're short in stature.
Other than that, my turkey bows exactly mirror big-game rigs with 70 pounds of draw weight as suited to turkeys as moose (or 45 to 65 pounds if that's your preferred draw weight).
When bowhunting big game my preferences typically lean toward ultra-bright fletchings and solid, fixed-blade broadheads. I want to see where my arrow goes after release, and I prefer the rock-solid reliability of such broadhead designs on big game.
When targeting turkeys my preferences take a complete 180. Bright fletchings for turkeys are a mistake. This is especially true when hunting off the ground (which I prefer). Birds, unlike big game animals, perceive the full color spectrum. Bright fletchings are as glaring to them as they are to you and me. When fletching turkey arrows I choose camouflage browns, greens and black. Even better are camouflaged or barred versions of these colors. I even go so far as choosing Realtree versions of Easton's Axis, as an example, instead of plain black shafts. Turkeys live by their vision. I'll take every advantage I can get.
The biggest difference -- and perhaps most important to bowhunting success on turkeys -- is aggressive, wide-cutting broadheads. In the dark ages of bowhunting we added washers behind standard broadheads, filed notches into broadhead blades, fixating primarily on imparting shock. Sadly we still lost lots of birds. After tagging 60 gobblers by bow I've come to understand punching big holes is much more important than inflicting shock.
There's plenty of turkey ammo for the archer to choose from today. Some of the heads I've used to deadly effect include New Archery Products' Gobbler Getter (1 1/2" cutting diameter with blunted tip to impede penetration), Rocket Hammerhead, Vortex Mini-Max 3 and Rage (the latter all 2-inch cuts). These heads create big holes, turn marginal hits into dead gobblers, and slow penetration enough to regularly leave arrows in the bird and discourage locomotion.
My Deer Are Smarter Than Yours.
Have you ever heard even one bowhunter brag about how lucky they are to bowhunt the dumbest whitetails in North America? The answer is no. You'll never, ever hear this sentence uttered out loud by anyone who bowhunts whitetails. Everyone's deer are the smartest. Worthy of MacArthur Foundation Genius Grants. But they're wrong. My deer are smartest...
My whitetails are subjected not only to intense rifle-hunting pressure two months of the year, but year-round mountain lion attacks and, more recently, threats from wolves, which as everyone knows are responsible for every single failing of the Idaho Fish and Game Department's questionable game-management schemes. Getting bows drawn on these jumpy bucks requires the quietest wool garments and impeccable shot-timing. You learn to shoot while seated. It would be a joke to even attempt standing to shoot. These deer jump out of their skins if you so much as think too loudly.
My Kansas buddy, on the other hand, thinks his deer are real smart - despite a lack of predators and 14,000 acres of prime habitat receiving very light hunting pressure (a handful of relatives and friends annually) and zero rifle hunting. I bowhunt with him periodically and find his deer downright stupid, actually. I stand to shoot if I wish, play with my video camera atop its creaky tree-pod while deer walk directly beneath me. They pause, have a look around, twitch their tails and continue about their business. But my buddy insists his whitetail can smell things even my neurotic Idaho bucks cannot. The reason I didn't see a shooter buck near my Kansas stand last fall, he says, is because I blew my nose 200 yards away while we were walking in to hang a stand just before a rain shower.
My Iowa buddy really cracks me up. He, of course, thinks his deer are prodigies. He kills a 160-plus inch buck every friggin' year, without fail, but somehow needs me to understand how difficult his bowhunting is, how many long days he spends on stand. The only time in my life I managed to tag a bigger buck than him - not incidentally, bowhunting other property near his Iowa home - I arrowed a 163-inch buck my first day hunting, so I really don't buy it.
This "my-bucks-are-smarter-than-yours" mentality is akin to my fly-fishing partners claiming a particular pea-brained, cold-blooded trophy trout living beneath the county-road bridge or near a certain submerged stump possesses cognitive powers simply because they can't manage to catch it. I mean, do you really want to contemplate being outwitted by a barely-sentient fish?
One thing's for certain: Anyone who has ever killed a trophy-sized buck (no matter where it came from) is an expert in all things whitetail. They killed that buck not because he was a dumb animal unable to summon abstract thought, but because they're darn savvy hunters. That's why I know I'm a heck of an outdoorsman - because my deer are the smartest of all. . .
Should You Use Deer Mineral This Spring?
If you view marketing claims from sellers of deer mineral with skepticism, you're not alone. They'll promise 10-15 percent gains in antler growth and claim that you're contributing to healthier deer herds overall. But the hunting world is filled with dubious products promising the success we all crave. We see the photos of the guy sitting behind a monster buck and envision ourselves in that enviable position. We're suckers deceived by our own pipe-dream fantasies.
These were my very thoughts while despensing my first deer mineral a couple of springs ago. To be brutally honest, I didn't pay for that mineral. I'd been working on a magazine assignment discussing deer feed and a manufacturer sent it up hoping I'd have something nice to say about it in way of promotion. It was painless to dump it somewhere and forget about it. I had few expectations. Immediately after moving to Idaho I tossed cattle salt blocks all over our property hoping to attract and observe whitetails in my own backyard (feeding deer is legal in Idaho but hunting those spots is not). Deer weren't one bit interested. Those blocks slowly dissolved into the dirt unmolested.
Late that summer while scouting new stand sites I swung by that mineral site to have a look. Not one speck of the mineral remained, the ground pawed into a depression by little cloven hooves! So obviously they loved it. Hmmm...this might come in handy in some other location where hunting mineral is legal.
The man who sent me that mineral, Jeff Williams, owner of Dr. James Kroll-approved Nutra Deer, was summoned and more Antler Builder ordered. I was now willing to pay for it, and dispensed the subsequent bags more thoughtfully last spring. Sure enough, deer again attacked it with vigor.
What's most interesting, is the same deer that won't even touch livestock blocks of any color or flavor (although New Mexico deer couldn't get enough of the same products) would gobble this stuff like candy. Which might be the key. Besides the vitamins (A, D3 and E, for instance), minerals (calcium, phosphorous and salt, most specifically) and "micro minerals" (copper, iodine, zinc and selenium), Nutra Deer's Antler Builder is infused with artificial flavors. I'm certain this is the secret to geting deer to consume the mixture initially.
And why is this important? While far from a scientifically-controlled experiment, I can truthfully say I observed a perceivable increase in antler growth last season. Before I started feeding Antler Builder my top end trailcam photos were nearly all 4x5 bucks. Last year, a couple hundred pounds of free-fed mineral later, I was picking up few 4x5s and many more 5x5s. Nothing changed in way of weather or moisture -- only that mineral.
So is deer mineral worth the extra effort and expense? I think so. And I'd like to think I'm also producing healthier does dropping stronger fawns as well. The time to deploy minerals is now.
How about you? Anyone out there share similar experiences?
- » Wade-In Bowfishing Opportunities Abound
- » Best Bow For Bowfishing?
- » Spring Bear Hunting: A Canadian Affair
- » Where To Shoot A Turkey With A Bow: Mystery Solved.
- » Crossbows in bow season?
- » Mike Strandlund: One Of The Good Ones
- » The Best Setup for Bowhunting Turkeys
- » Do You Hunt the "Smartest" Deer?