An observation on African bowhunting

rookhawk

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Having bow hunters in my household that are as young as 8, I spend a lot of time obsessing about arrow momentum, penetration, and efficiency in a manner most would never consider. My ten year old, pound for pound, shoots the world's most powerful bow in fact. Tenth's of FPS, or momentum, or Grain Weight make a real difference when you're trudging the very, very minimums necessary for success.

The reason this is so useful to me is African game has the same exact problem, particularly dangerous game. Comparatively, ALL our gear is on that marginal fringe of bare-minimums for the tasks at hand with African wildlife. Thus, everything it takes to eek out performance for an 8 year old to kill a whitetail deer is exactly what it takes for a 50 year old man to kill a buffalo. Details really, really matter.

The past month we've been playing around with custom arrow builds for my middle kid and the results have been nothing short of shocking. The heavier we go, the faster they shoot! Or more specifically, all the calculators are dead wrong. Grain weight goes up, the calculator says speed should plummet, the speed barely decreases. So far, these are the things we did to eek out maximum performance for the kid and these are the exact same things I would do for a buffalo hunt too.

-We built heavy arrows and put very heavy inserts in.

-We stropped cut on contact two-blade, single bevel broadheads for obscene sharpness.

-We used the fewest and smallest number of vanes that were the most pliable possible that would stabilize the arrow.

-We got over 20% FOC. (22.3% actually, but we'll increase that to 25% when his draw length increases)

-We used a crystal wax on the shafts to make them very, very slick.

-We used a lubricant on the broadheads to make them extra slick.

-We used rings the same size as the ferrule to add more weight up front and to further strengthen the shafts.

-We used the tiniest shaft diameter possible so there is no arrow-drag after the broadhead cuts the wound channel.

-We exterminated a forest for paper which we used countless times to paper tune the bow for perfect flight. Then we did it again. (sorry to all of you now living in prairies due to our lust for paper)

-We chronographed after every change to monitor increased bow efficiency by adding weight.

-We ran a regression analysis to identify what weight/speed maximized momentum and got to within 2-3gr of optimal.

-We found a computer program to map out the archery pins precisely. This allowed us to move all the pins at once correctly and thus, could use the level itself as a precise "6th pin" for better estimation if the shot is a couple yards further than the last pin.

We keep playing, but the anecdotal results are in. My kid drawing 35.2 pounds was shooting arrows at the indoor archery range that required 3 grown men pulling to get out of the targets. Compare to the rest of the shooters drawing 60-70 pounds that had no issue getting their arrows back that stuck perhaps half as deep in the targets. Now my ten year old is shooting 39.2 pounds and I recoil in terror at the prospects of getting his arrows out of the local target range's block targets.
 

rookhawk

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. Shot placement AND a well tuned bow. Problem solved!!

Simplification of the decade!

That logic extended and applied to women and children in America and giant big men hunting dangerous game: You're just too little and too weak to hunt with archery. Take up knitting or baking. (Hundreds have told my kids they were too young/small/weak to hunt with bows. They've yet to have an animal make it past 100 yards after the shot...so conventional wisdom might not be sufficient or correct.)

The best bow tune in the world doesn't work if you're shooting a McDonald's straw at 600fps. Momentum and FOC get really, really important. So does sharp and slick.
 

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As I’ve read through here the one point I see missed about African game vs. North American is skin thickness. African game seem to have invariably thicker hides, but less hair than North American versions. Elk are the only North American game that seem to have really “thick” skin. Limited experience in Africa but I was constantly astounded at the hide thickness as the skinners worked.
Not a fan of mechanicals because of kinetic energy and energy wasted to deploy those blades. Remember when everybody was shooting short arrows and overdraws???
 

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Ah, this old argument.

First off, warthogs are not physically tougher than an elk. And general anatomy is actually quite similar in both North American and African animals. The heart and lungs are in the same general place and same general shot placement is best. The elbow helps protect the heart and the lungs are around and above the heart so the best shot is still straight up the leg 1/3 from the bottom. The catch is most N. American animals have slightly larger lungs. Not as much as people think in many cases. Look at good literature such as from the National Bowhunter Education Foundation and compare it to the various African literature. Unfortunately many 3-D target manufacturers and some paper ones too tend to move things back a bit. Probably to make for targets that last longer IMO. So people get used to those and make a lot of less than optimal though thankfully successful shots on North American species. The other problem is angle. I read an article on this and I'd have to agree. Many people unknowingly think an animal is broadside when it is in fact slightly quartering to them. That little bit of angle can make a huge difference on a bow shot. Seen it, done it. I really prefer lightly quartering away shots.

Personally I use one of those high speed bows you mentioned. 70.5 pounds at 29 inch draw. But like so many hunters, I use Easton FMJ arrows, and I'd put my arrow weight at moderate at 510 grains. I'm getting 286 fps with that set up, which I used in RSA this year. My older bow I used in RSA in 2018 was getting in the 260s and the one prior to that in 2013 was in the 240s (a 2005 bow). None of those is a slouch, and any way you want to calculate energy they all had plenty. And any other modern one even with less draw weight and/or shorter draw would too. With all of those bows I used four bladed broadheads, either a Slick Trick Magnum or a Muzzy Trocal HB mechanical. And they either passed through (blesbok and nyala in 2021) (nyala in 2018) or get stopped by bones on the far side of the animal (bushpig in 2018, blue wildebeest in 2013). All of those animals were easy to track and died very quickly. From my experience the advantage of those multi blade heads is far greater damage and a larger entrance and (sometimes) exit wound. The disadvantage- possibly not having complete pass through. I'll take the loss of a little penetration for the gain in trauma, larger wound and faster death.
Do I think I could have used a "light"0 450 grain arrows with the same success with those broadheads? Yes. But I like to hedge my bets a little more then that.

And not all broadheads are the same, especially when talking mechanicals. I will totally agree anything with a rubber band, multi bladed and/or large diameter cutting area will have more friction and reduced penetration that must be overcome to work optimally. But there's been a lot of improvements so although I am cautious, I know some work quite well.

In the end know your equipment, know anatomy, and shoot accurately.
 

jeff

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My 2 cent, between my wife and I we have taken approximately 60 plus african game animals from steenbok to cape buffalo with our bows and I also think that there is some truth to the toughness being mythical. The only animals that seemed tough were shot poorly, three critters that seemed to be shot well and went a long ways were all shot to far back when recovered and inspected. When you look at Robertsons perfect shot guide a impala has not much behind the crease that's vital. Having taken approximately 65 big game animals with arrows in the US from numerous elk to moose, sheep ect. it has not been my finding that African game is tougher. Poor shot angle, too far back, lack of penetration ect. seems to be the cause of super toughness. Remember that game is not lost due to too much penetration, two holes better blood trail and more tissue cut.
 
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Curtisstykbow

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Agreed. I am not looking for a drawn out discussion on the merits of every critical point that results in proper tuning, shot placement etc. I agree wholeheartedly with you about delving into the nitty-gritty of the analytical and scientific aspects of getting the most out of your equipment, along with being very familiar with your equipment and shooting lots of arrows throughout the year, not just the day before you’re ready to go on a hunt.
I applaud your approach much more than just blindly following the current trends in archery.
I am not a believer in lighter and faster, but I am also not a believer in some of the super heavy arrows people use. Not because the arrows are heavy, but because sometimes they are problematic in getting your bow tuned right. You shouldn’t sacrifice proper arrow flight for more grains of arrow.
my first trip to Africa five years ago was for cape buffalo. I tried to shoot some of the popular heavy arrows and spent hundreds of dollars with different test packs and was never happy with arrow flight. I’m still not sure what the real problem was as I am not a neophyte at tuning a bow. Long story short, I showed up in Africa With an arrow that had a total grain weight of 730 this was with a 300 grain double blade cut on contact broadhead with an additional 92 grain insert. Arrow flight was like a dart and I was somewhere around 240 ft./s with that set up.

We hunted for two days on foot trailing Buffalo within 30 to 40 yards at times but the brush was so thick we couldn’t even see them. After a couple of days of this We determined sitting in a blind would be a better option for what we had. So we constructed a blind. On the third day the Buffalo came in and we’re within 30 yards For over two hours, but The optimal shot did not present itself. I chose to be patient. I did not want a botched shot on a buffalo. On the fourth day, the bull I was hoping to get a shot at came in with only one other bull. After about 30 minutes he turned perfectly and I executed the shot at 28 yards right in the (golden)triangle , as my PH says. The arrow went through his shoulder muscle penetrated the rib on the near side, blew through the lungs and exited the rib and shoulder muscle on the far side and just began to exit the thick hide.
He ran about 40 yards and laid down. Tough bugger took about four minutes before we heard his death bello.
Some may say I got lucky using that set up, but I trained by not only shooting my bow but being in physical shape AND was picky about my shot. Having said that my first thought as that arrow hit and I heard all of that momentum and energy get sucked up by his body, was “ if I do this again, I might use a heavier arrow.”
On that same trip, I used the same arrow but switched the Broadhead to 200 grains (total arrow 630 gr) and shot a zebra at 30 yards and the arrow went through it like butter. Some will say the arrow for the Buffalo was too light and the arrow for the stallion was overkill.
Two years ago I went to Africa again and shot a kudu, Nyala, and Impala using a popular three blade broad head and a 440 grain arrow out of a 70# compound. This is the same bow I use for everything from Javelina to Elk. I had difficulty finding the arrows after the pass-through shots.

I guess if we get to a point where we are blaming our equipment we aren’t really doing our homework. In some form or another most of our failures in hunting are due to user error.
as I get older I try and reduce that user error as much as possible and past misfortune gives me the wisdom to see the real cause of the error a little clearer.
happy hunting to all that have been bitten by the addiction to bow hunting!

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firehuntfish

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I am not a believer in lighter and faster, but I am also not a believer in some of the super heavy arrows people use. Not because the arrows are heavy, but because sometimes they are problematic in getting your bow tuned right. You shouldn’t sacrifice proper arrow flight for more grains of arrow.

Hmmm..? While I absolutely agree that achieving near-perfect arrow flight is paramount, increasing the total weight of the arrow should not affect the ability to tune properly. If increasing the total arrow weight results in yaw or fishtailing that cannot be corrected by draw weight and rest adjustments, you would probably need to increase both spine and front of center weight distribution. The spine of the arrow may often need to be increased 2 or 3 times higher, along with increasing the FOC as high as 30% or more to get a good tune with heavy arrows. I have found this to be especially true in tuning really big arrow builds for game such as giraffe, buffalo, hippo, elephant, etc.,. where the total arrow weight exceeds 800 grains on up to as high as 1200+grains.
 

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Knowledge of animal's anatomy, proper shot placement and sharp COC BH's normally put an animal on the ground.

I would argue that a 200# wild hog with a 1" thick shoulder shield is a lot harder animal to get proper shot placement on than a warthog. Just speaking from experience.

I wear short billed caps or boonies ! No problem with cap bill interfering with string orientation or peep sight on string.
 

Bowhuntr64

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@rookhawk , great comments and excellent discussion by others. I arrowed one really large elk and didn't get a pass through. Luckily, it did put the elk down eventually. I was using 125 gr cut on contact G5 Montecs and fairly heavy arrows to give a total weight of about 425 gr. Also drawing 70 lbs.

Having now read Ashby's writings on the subject of arrow penetration and also watching a lot of cool videos from @Bowhuntr64, I plan to try some heavier 2 blade, single bevel broadheads and some heavier shafts (grizzly sticks or similar) to come up with a arrow in 600 gr weight range. I have a 2023 archery elk hunt booked, so I have some time to optimize a system. Eventually, might take my bow to Africa too.

Thanks for the mention. I’m glad to hear the vids have been helpful. My YouTube Channel now has about 130 different broadhead test vids on it—Lusk Archery Adventures. But I do disagree somewhat with Ashby on the 3:1 design. It’s just not proving to penetrate better than a shorter head. Sure it pushes easier by hand thru a medium, but that has little to do with what happens when it flies 270 FPS...from what my testing has shown. “Mechanical Advantage” is one thing for a wheel chair ramp but a whole different thing for a high speed projectile.
 

firehuntfish

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Thanks for the mention. I’m glad to hear the vids have been helpful. My YouTube Channel now has about 130 different broadhead test vids on it—Lusk Archery Adventures. But I do disagree somewhat with Ashby on the 3:1 design. It’s just not proving to penetrate better than a shorter head. Sure it pushes easier by hand thru a medium, but that has little to do with what happens when it flies 270 FPS...from what my testing has shown. “Mechanical Advantage” is one thing for a wheel chair ramp but a whole different thing for a high speed projectile.

Hi Mr. Lusk,

My apologies for asking if you have already done this, but the broadhead comparison I would really like to see would be to put up any one of the most popular expandibles vs. any one of the short, compact, heavy duty, fixed blade designs. For example, maybe put a 2" Rage or Sevr up against a Muzzy Trocar or MX-3, Wac'Em, G5 or something similar.

It would be interesting to see the head to head comparison shot a 70lbs., but what I think would be most revealing would be the results shot at a lower poundage say at 45 to 55lbs of draw weight. If you already have done such comparisons, please post the links. I think they would be very relevant to the current discussion.
 

Bowhuntr64

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Hi Mr. Lusk,

My apologies for asking if you have already done this, but the broadhead comparison I would really like to see would be to put up any one of the most popular expandibles vs. any one of the short, compact, heavy duty, fixed blade designs. For example, maybe put a 2" Rage or Sevr up against a Muzzy Trocar or MX-3, Wac'Em, G5 or something similar.

It would be interesting to see the head to head comparison shot a 70lbs., but what I think would be most revealing would be the results shot at a lower poundage say at 45 to 55lbs of draw weight. If you already have done such comparisons, please post the links. I think they would be very relevant to the current discussion.
Thanks for the suggestion. I typically only directly compare heads that are "comparable" in terms of design and size. Otherwise, it's like comparing apples to oranges. For flight, the mechs will be more forgiving. For penetration, a short fixed will prevail. For cut size, the mech will prevail. For durability, most fixed will be stronger than most mechs. Those are all givens. So I'm not sure what I would be testing by doing such a comparison. That being said, I do list the scores of every head that I test, so those scores can be compared between any heads...but durability for mechs is typically tested in 1/2" layers of MDF and for fixed in .22 ga steel plate; so again, apples to oranges.

Is there something specific that you are wondering? I believe the goal in any head is to select one that will give you: 1. Excellent flight at your shot distance; 2. A high probability of a pass thru. 3. Stay in tact and cut the entire way thru. and 4. Make the widest cut possible while doing the first 3.

That varies based on the animal and individual specs.
 

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I typically only directly compare heads that are "comparable" in terms of design and size. Otherwise, it's like comparing apples to oranges. For flight, the mechs will be more forgiving. For penetration, a short fixed will prevail. For cut size, the mech will prevail. For durability, most fixed will be stronger than most mechs. Those are all givens. So I'm not sure what I would be testing by doing such a comparison.

I agree completely with all of what you have stated especially in regard to penetration and durability between expandables and fixed-blades.... I also realize that you would not be doing an "apples to apples" comparison per se, but that's precisely my point for the importance of such a comparison... Those observations that you state as "all givens" are actually not obvious results to many bow hunters out there especially newer, less experienced bow hunters.

In such a comparison, you would be demonstrating the stark differences in penetration and durability between the two designs. Too many hunters make their broadhead selections based on admittedly brilliant marketing campaigns. Unfortunately, those hunters who get caught up in the marketing don't always understand the physics. They will end up losing an animal as well as unknowingly hunting in an unethical manner because they are shooting a broadhead that is a poor choice for their personal set-up.. You would not be testing, you would be reporting visual, physical results allowing hunters to make better informed decisions when choosing a broadhead design...
 
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rookhawk

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Thanks for the mention. I’m glad to hear the vids have been helpful. My YouTube Channel now has about 130 different broadhead test vids on it—Lusk Archery Adventures. But I do disagree somewhat with Ashby on the 3:1 design. It’s just not proving to penetrate better than a shorter head. Sure it pushes easier by hand thru a medium, but that has little to do with what happens when it flies 270 FPS...from what my testing has shown. “Mechanical Advantage” is one thing for a wheel chair ramp but a whole different thing for a high speed projectile.

John Lusk, what would Ashby say do you imagine as an alternative explanation to your findings regarding 3:1 ratio? Is he just wrong, or would he say that test medium has different results, or would he say “you’re right, but...” and draw in other benefits of 3:1 other than soft tissue penetration factors like anti-clotting, or exit cut-twist, or tunability, etc? I’m not saying that’s what he’d say, i just know you’re impartial and you’d probably be able to argue both sides of the argument effectively even if you don’t agree with Ashby.
 

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The problem leading to mechanicals arose because of a combination of huge velocity increases with cam bows, and the prominence of carbon arrows. Guys where shooting tournaments with 310 fps 5 grain set-ups, and they wanted the same results from their hunting set-ups. For maybe a year there was no good way to get clean arrow flight with small diameter shafts, regular heads and the fletching required to stabilize them. I didn't have a problem during this period because I was shooting large diameter, thin wall, Easton shafts with glue on Elburg Grizzly 100gr braodheads, through a Bodoodle rest. Something like 2212 X7s. I got great arrow flight, was shooting a 3-1ish head, at close to 5 grains. No problem. But the solution the industry went to was mechanicals. The ability to move to carbons was in the air anyway, and provided the means to break the Easton monopoly. And mechanicals had been around for ever, and rose up from their semi-dead status.

Within a year or so the market was filled with everything from Muzzy's bombproof drop-away to the whisker biscuits, and there was no longer any reason for mechanicals. But no mater how silly a gadget is, it is hard to get rid of it once it gains market share.
 

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After spending more than a dozen hours watching videos of bow shots on African game, I’ve come to a few observations that reveal flawed logic of American bow hunters, myself included.

Any of the US naysayers of heavy arrows are using the analogy and experiences of easy pass throughs on Elk to prepare them for Africa. Elk vitals are behind the shoulder where a pass through is much easier.

The mythical status that African animals are tougher might be not entirely accurate. The vitals on almost all the African species are directly above the leg. Thus, there is a lot more tissue running in many directions to get to the vital zone. Easy pass through shots behind the shoulder don’t fail to kill because “African game is tough”, it’s because that perfectly acceptable elk or deer shot is a marginal or total miss on African game.

The high power bows with super fast arrows fail to penetrate on African game. By estimation of the video footage I watched, about 90% fail to pass through. You better use heavy arrows with lots of momentum and cut on contact broadheads!

Just posting this to foster discussion and remind Americans that you’re cutting though much less tissue to get to the vitals of an 800lb elk than you are to get to the vitals of a 125lb warthog.

It’s a problem of organ geometry and location that causes false sense of sufficiency in bows and arrows comparing totally unrelated species in Africa and America.

In combing the literature I was surprised how little is written about the tricks to increase penetration of arrows for African safaris. The Africans say less about this than Dr. Ashby in fact. Kind of interesting.
Agreed, 100%
 

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