Base layer experiment

I need to replace some old gear, and base layers made my list for things to look for on Black Friday. Specifically I was looking for First Lite Llano 170 gram tops and bottoms in ASAT pattern. Sure enough they were on sale, but everything in my size was sold out. Internet rumors indicating that it might be a closeout of ASAT entirely.

At this point I wanted to be VERY sure of the system I would be investing in. KUIU Vias and First Lite Fusion were my 2nd and 3rd choices. I came up with a brilliant idea: I would buy one plain t shirt of each material in street friendly colors and plan to wear them exclusively at home for the entire winter. I will wear one every evening and weekend, then after 7 days wash and dry, then switch to the alternate brand. I figured if I could ever catch a whiff of body odor, or if one started wearing out faster than the other it would solidify what base layer system to go with.

I ordered my second choice from KUIU, a 125 gram 85% wool/15% nylon T shirt in gray. It looks pretty sharp in my book.

Then I went to order my third choice from First Lite, a 170 gram 100% wool T shirt in green.  Too bad they are also out of my size  for this like the ASAT so I didn’t order anything.

I guess at this point my business is KUIU’s to lose. The shirt fits PERFECTLY and the material feels really good on my skin. I hope it holds up! As of today the experiment has begun, we’ll see what the results are this coming spring!

Gifts exchanged

It’s a cool fall morning which would normally lead me into the deer woods, but the wind and rain have left me to drinking coffee indoors today. Seems like a perfect morning to sit back and tell a little story.

There are different ways people tell their friends that they care about them. Some folks say aloud, others by doing something for the other person, and some people like to give gifts. Coincidentally both my old friend Andrew and I are people who like to offer gifts to the important people in our lives. I often gift books, wine, or some little helpful gadget to friends. I’ve seen Andrew give away lots of nick knacks, jars of jam, hot sauces, and all sorts of other stuff to his friends. Many little things were exchanged back and forth between the two of us over the years, some practical, some absurd, some comical. There was one exchange has become even more important to me after my friends untimely passing.

A few years ago I ordered myself a very special hunting knife from Lucas Forge. It took about a year to get it, but it was a supreme knife and absolutely worth the wait. I took it to my next hunt at Wild Things and the group had a good bit of luck that week. There were a bunch of animals to dress out and butcher in the skinning shed over a few days. One evening I watched Andrew working over one hog with his little Opinel and I offered him my Packer off my belt while I was holding the carcass. With great ease he finished up all the required cutting and I knew exactly what my next gift to him was going to be. As soon as I got back to telephone range I called up Lucas Forge and I had a custom knife commissioned for my friend based on the same blade geometry of my knife, but fitted with things that would better suit his tastes than mine.

About six or seven months later I received the knife and it was one of the most beautiful knives I’ve ever seen. A true masterpiece. I packed it up and took it on my next trip to South Carolina that March when Andrew and I would both be celebrating our birthdays. There was one night before the hunters were going to show up so we had a good dinner after a day worth of chores around the property. Andrew seemed keen to know how my preparations were going for my Wyoming pronghorn hunt. It was a subject we’d discussed frequently over the phone, he seemed very excited for my upcoming adventure. In particular this exact evening, he was wondering how my quest for higher power binoculars was going. I let him know I had picked out a pair of 10x42s that I would be ready to buy in a few months.

After dinner I presented him with the knife I had made for him, when he opened it I could see he was in awe of the quality, fit, and finish. I said “happy birthday my friend!” He gave me a big hug and then really looked it over for a while. I knew I had found the perfect thing for him, and that knife never left his canvas hunting bag. I wonder how many animals it dressed and quartered out over the last few years. Looking back I can’t recall if he gave me a penny for that knife or not, many people believe giving a knife will severe a friendship, but I was not concerned in the least about our friendship.

After a few moments he reached up on top of the fridge and pulled down an old Leica box. He explained that when he closed his sporting goods store this was one thing he refused to discount, so he kept them in his safe for the last 20 years. When I told him over the phone I was shopping for some 10x42s, he figured that their destiny should be hanging around my neck. It was my turn to be awestruck. That week I glassed up alligators, hogs, deer, and turkeys.

I took them to Wyoming where I used them to judge horns on pronghorns, and glass up moose, badgers, mule deer, and all sorts of other animals. Also got some really good looks at some bison coming through South Dakota.

I took them to Africa and glassed up more things than I can recall. Giraffes, buffalo, wildebeests, kudu, eland, impala, mountain reesbuk, warthogs, nyala, and baboons among them. My memories of using those binoculars in Africa are bitter sweet because it was on my last day that I was told of Andrew’s death.

Upon return I was unpacking my hunting gear, and these binoculars in particular and I stopped for a long time to reflect on them. I spent quite a while thinking about my friend, and wondering what hopes he might have had for these when he gave them to me. Did he imagine me looking at trophy bucks through them? Did he think they would actually get to Africa? Did he picture us sitting on the porch in camp, drinking coffee and looking at alligators?

Reflecting on the idea that of all of the things Andrew gave to me over the years, I realized that these are the only piece of actual hunting gear he ever gifted to me. Maybe I’m becoming a sentimental fool early in life, but I decided that I want to have these on my chest for my future hunts. I want our hunting memories near at hand when I am going afield.

As for the knife, I know not what happened to it or where it ended up. I care not. The important thing to me was seeing the look in his eye and knowing he probably thought of me every time he fished it out of his bag to dress out or butcher an animal. The significance of that knife to me passed with it’s owner.

Africa 2017 wrap up

Giraffe, wildebeest, eland, impala, and guinea foul.

It has been about a month since I returned from South Africa, and it seems like a good time to do a little wrap up post about my trip. I’ll cover all the highlights, a few frustrations, and a few links for folks who want more info.

The first thing many readers will want to know is that I did not get a buffalo on this trip. We had 3 days dedicated to hunting them in the Limpopo region and we were in with bulls every day. The final day of the buff hunt I did have a grand bull at 17 yards broadside in the last minutes of daylight. My PH gave me the thumbs up and I began to draw on him, he raised his head and caught my movement.  He turned towards me with his head low and began to stare me down. The following seconds were among the longest of my life, there is in deed something otherworldly about the hate in a buffalo’s stare. Seeing it first hand was worth the price of admission.

Heading to the blind.

I would have loved to know what my arrow would have done in that shot, and I would certainly like to have seen this pursuit to a conclusion on my first hunt over there. Alas it was not to be, I fear I will have to return to try again.

About a week after my hunt was over, a friend of mine did bag that same bull with one shot from his recurve bow. I saw video of the shot and it was perfect lending to a very short recovery. I’m very glad he got his bull, and I’m glad he got one that I had the opportunity to get to know for a few days. Some folks thought I’d be bummed about it, but I’m really glad that bull didn’t succumb to a volley of gunfire. A peaceful end for the old warrior.

After packing up camp we went to the main lodge at Zululand, and that night everything was perfect for a sit for plains game. Several dandy impala came out and I decided my shot on this one was way too good to pass on.

These are incredibly fast reacting creatures. At 12 yards he put on a pretty good spin before my arrow got to him. Still, it was a good hit and a very short recovery.

First round of impala ram chops! Seconds and thirds were equally good!

The next few days the weather took a horrible turn for the worse. My PH offered good advice, but I was insistent on going out to sit in hides anyway. I spent a lot of quiet hours seeing a relatively small amount of game, but it is a beautiful landscape for that. I wrapped up the trip hunting a treestand and probably saw over 400 animals in that one day alone. I got really fixated on trying to get a wildebeest bull and passed on dozens of shots not wanting to create any disturbance that might ward off what I was after. By dark the herd had not come in, but it was an incredible day to sit back and glass all kinds of animals of all kinds.

With this short version of the story covered here, I will point out that I was interviewed on the TBWpodcast recently and we covered many aspects of this in much greater detail. Click that link and take a listen if you want more info.

The anatomy flip charts I found inside the hide.

Now that the dust has settled I find myself looking back at what I could have done better, and how I might do it differently.

First thing, I’m 100% happy with my choice to go with Dare To Bowhunt. Lammie and Allison were fantastic hosts, and I’m only embarrassed that my horrible run of luck could be seen as any sort of shortcoming of theirs. I left camp just as the weather turned back to it’s typical pattern and the two guys in camp put up 17 animals in 10 days including some AMAZING trophies. I greatly appreciate that the property is setup for guys like me with longbows and recurves. Good height clearance in the hides, and short shot setups are the norm. For anyone who doesn’t know, Lammie shoots and hunts with his longbow himself. He knows what it takes and will setup hunters for success.

I want to hunt African buffalo again someday, and I do hope Lammie will be up for it when I’m ready. Not many people have both experience with longbows and buffalo, and I could see everything he put into trying to block the eyesight of the guinea foul, and keep our wind from the warthogs. Setting up a sub-twenty yard opportunity is quite an undertaking with that many eyes and noses that could alert the buff. In spite of the challenges, Lammie put me right in the zone a few times. Now it’s just a matter of figuring out when I can go back.

Flights can be miserable. It basically took me 3 days to get to Johannesburg after my initial leg of my first flight got cancelled and I missed my connector. Even in the best of conditions, it was almost two days to get home. Given the days spent in airports and in the air, I would do a longer trip next time.

Last thought; if you want to go hunt Africa, what are you waiting for??? There is no better time to book than right now!

Andrew Harper, rest in peace my friend.

I opened my eyes and looked into complete darkness. I was disoriented coming out of my deep slumber. I found the alarm that awoke me and turned it off. I listened through the open window to a perfect silence and felt the cool dry air softly blow over me. As I begin to gain consciousness I realize I am in a hunting camp, I am in Africa. I turn on my phone and it uncharacteristically gets several messages all at once, many of them were cryptic with urgency implied. One other message was from my friend Charlie, it said that Andrew was no longer with us.

I was in shock. I didn’t know what to do. I let one thought guide me in that moment; if Andrew were standing in front of me and put his hand on my shoulder, what would he say? Little did I know how many times I would need to ask myself this question in the time since that morning. I made a good cup of coffee and went out to my blind in the darkness. I watched an incredible sunrise over the veld as I felt the steady stream of tears fall through my beard and get soaked up by my facemask. I watched a majestic kudu bull walk across the horizon silhouetted in front of the sunrise. I realized that I would never have been in Africa to see this dawn had it not been for Andrew’s inspiration. I cried some more.

Andrew was my best friend. We called one another “brother” and meant it genuinely. We were big enough men to hug and say “I love you” when we parted ways. I’m grateful to know that he knew exactly what our relationship meant to me. There are volumes I could say and share about the man, but I will chose to keep them to myself and share them with only our mutual friends who are also mourning him.

Life is short. Kiss your spouse, hug your kids, book that hunt, and live boldly.

Buffalo arrow build

It all begins with a “simple” idea.

On a bitterly cold Sunday morning last winter I started scratching out ideas of different arrows I could build for my upcoming African buffalo hunt. The following day I started ordering different components and I organized them into different groups as they arrived in the mail.

Apparently other people call my arrow room a “kitchen”, whatever that means.

Over the next 6 months I was forced to go back to the drawing board six times to finally come to a combination of components that would tune to the desired up-front components.

Sleeving one shaft within anohter.

After having every .250 spine shaft be too weak, I ended up with the most complicated arrow of all my January scratch pad ideas. It has extra parts to fail and I had hoped to avoid it. I was not willing to change out the 300 grain Tuffhead broadhead, or my 250 grain insert/adapters from Traditional Archery Solutions. Since every .250 shaft was too weak with 550 grains up front out of my 87# longbow, I had to sleeve another arrow shaft inside of it.

Simply Traditional sent me some Black Eagle Deep Impact .400 spine shafts that I epoxied inside of my Black Eagle Carnivore .250 shafts. My initial test I used 8″, 16″, and 24″. The 8″ sleeved arrow was still too weak, the 24″ sleeved arrow was too stiff, but the 16″ sleeve came out just right.

Buff arrows, sleeved and footed.

The last thing I wanted to add was 2″ of aluminum footing, when I shoot I like to feel the footing touch my index finger as a draw check. I added the sections of 2216 to my first 3 test shafts with field points and started shooting them as bare shafts as well as through paper. I changed out the factory nocks for the illuminated nocks I covered in the past.

Testing with 2″ feathers would occasionally show a tear at close range through paper tuning, so I ended up going to four 3″ parabolic feathers at 90 degrees with a straight clamp. With arrow tuning complete I started testing integrity. After some hard hits I found the early arrows constructed with JB Weld and with 5 minute epoxy could have components loosen. Granted I was shooting concrete, rocks, and steel with them, I was hoping to drastically improve the overall integrity of my arrows now that the components and tune had been perfected. Enter golfers.

The 15 deadliest arrows I’ve ever made.

When I was done I had 15 arrows in my arrow box averaging over 1060 grains with an FOC well over 30%. After weighing, spin testing, and 10 test shots a piece, I took them to a paper wheel and some jewelers rouge yesterday.  With that these arrows are in my luggage and ready to go looking for buffalo, hopefully we can find one!

Michigan Bow Hunters

Michigan Bow Hunters logo

I’ve been a member of MBH since I moved back to Michigan and got serious about bowhunting. Although in the past I’ve been more active in other organizations, I’ve always paid my dues, bought some logo gear from time to time, and attended events as convenient.

Last fall I went on a Wyoming hunt with the current president of the organization and we had a few days in camp to talk as we both tagged out on the first day of the hunt. I always knew that this organization was fighting on my behalf for my rights as a bowhunter, but I didn’t know everything they did. After being briefed on everything that would be considered “current business”, I got a quick overview of the accomplishments from my six years of membership as well as the major victories across the entire 70 year life of the organization.

I no longer take for granted our long archery seasons, the existence of our combo-tag, or our right to legally pursue game on public land throughout the state. I am also no longer oblivious to all of the people who want to erode or completely dispose of these things I love. I decided I wanted to make a statement and apply for a life membership to show my dedicated support of this organization.

The number of hunters using bows in Michigan has hovered around 300,000 people for a long time. I would assume the membership in MBH would be at least a large minority, but it’s not even close. I have taken to asking every bowhunter I meet if they are a member of MBH, and not a single one I’ve met outside of MBH, MTB, or MLA has been. I’m just going to guess that I know 30 bowhunters from my circle of friends via my job, I am the only member. Most of them will spend $1,000-$2,000 per year on gear and tags, but they lack either the understanding or appreciation to the point of not spending $25 to keep people fighting for our rights in Lansing.

I am proud that I was accepted as a life member yesterday at the annual membership meeting, many of the people I admire most are counted in those ranks. While in the meeting I contacted the Membership Secretary and requested to be put on electronic newsletter only so the cost of print and mailing won’t drain the coffers. That’s a step I suggest to anyone holding an organizational life membership, that or making additional donations to offset the ongoing expense.

If you hunt with a bow in Michigan, go join today.

How golfers helped me make a better arrow

I’ve been constantly building, testing, redesigning, building, and retesting arrows for several years now. My arrows have come a long way in both durability and penetration, and my ability to tune them has been on a similar trajectory. Every once in a while, it’s good to be blindsided and amazed by something that has been an oversight. Recently I had a huge “ah ha!” moment and I thought it to be best to share.

In preparing my new arrows for my new heavy bow I found that what had been sufficient for bonding lighter arrows for a lighter bow is no longer sufficient. A few fellows I deeply respect urged me to venture into 24 hour epoxy. I must admit that my previous sucess with JB Weld and 5 minute epoxy from Gorilla had me hesitant to change. Once my failure threshold was beyond a excusable rounding error, it was time to rethink things.

The first major realization I had was that when comparing epoxies, they list the TENSILE strength of the bond. While I was using some of the highest rated stuff on the market, it was the wrong rating I was looking at. Kindof like the old saying “buy for horsepower and drive with torque.” While tensile strength is an excellent measure for many bonding needs, shear strength is what is really important when trying to reduce failure in a parallel/sliding bond.

The second thing I noticed was almost nothing available at the hardware store even listed carbon fiber as a surface. How does one know if a epoxy is optimized for bonding carbon fiber to carbon fiber or stainless steel with it just says “metal and plastic” on the wrapper?

Enter the golfing world! Guess what? They all have carbon fiber shafts that need to bond to steel heads and survive impact. Also, most golfers know they will keep their clubs in the trunks of their cars and frequent heating to over 120 degrees is a mandatory capability for them. Suddenly my arrow seem more applicable to the demands of golf club glue than the glues for arrows. Finally these guys are putting 1,000 grain heads on the end of their carbon shafts and hitting them sideways. I’m only putting 500-600 grains on my arrows and driving them forward.

Sometimes going back to the drawing board can have breakthrough gains, I’m glad my Buff arrows have pushed me to challenge my previously accepted norms.

Buffalo longbow part 2

Black Widow PL Longbows

It just occurred to me that I haven’t posted an update since my heavy bow arrived. For the gear junkies, here is what I am taking for my Buffalo hunt.

Black Widow PLII “Graybark” 66″ takedown model. I like the smokey gray finish on these bows and it saves me $50 to $100 over the PLV and PLX bows. I had them skip the wood in the riser and went solid glass again. I really like the weight of it. I also had quiver inserts put in this bow just like my last one, I really like how it prevents the quiver from creeping into the working part of the limb. The grip is the “Toby Grip” just like the last one too. In short, the bottom two bows are identical in every single aspect except draw weight.

My “one bow” for the last year and a half is the bottom PLII with the quiver on it. It scales 64@30.5″ true draw length. The top PLV is my very first Black Widow longbow and it also draws 64@30.5 but is a one piece bow. Had it been a two piece I probably wouldn’t have purchased the bottom one. That leaves the middle bow, my Buffalo bow, 87#30.5″. After warming up for twenty minutes or so, I shot it for almost two hours the first time I took it to the range for bare shaft tuning. Ongoing weight training and a disciplined shooting practice were no doubt the key to me making a move that large upon arrival. I’m keenly aware my hunt will be a total loss if I am injured before I leave in less than three months. I am not taking any risks at this point to ensure I’m 100% ready and able to take this adventure of a lifetime!

I’ve ruled out a few arrows and I’m tuning in a few more currently. Once I make the final decision I will do an exhaustive post about the arrow I will be using.

NO ARCHERY BUFFALO HUNT?!?!?

While my trip to South Africa for Buff is still on, a fellow bowhunter found out just two weeks before his scheduled trip that Zimbabwe has outlawed hunting thick skinned game with archery tackle. I am glad that he and his PH were able to sort out a backup plan for different game to pursue, but I can’t image what it would be like to spend all those months preparing only to have the rug jerked out from under you at the last minute.

My bookmark in Africa’s Most Dangerous is a 100 Rand note featuring mbogo.

I was thinking about this as I was doing some of my Sunday morning reading today. I realized I’ve been studying this animal for almost 9 months now and I only have a handful of months left before I go. This is the most preparation I’ve done for any event in my life. I once trained up for a few months for a mountain ascent, but nothing like this. IF South Africa outlawed bowhunting for Buffalo tomorrow, I think I would have to leave my bow behind and go anyway.

I’m equally glad to be going to a country that embraces it’s hunting culture, and to be doing so while it’s still a legal and viable pursuit. I wonder as the world continues to shift culturally and politically how many dream hunts will become illegal before I would get to the point of being able to do them. Kamchatka moose and the hogs of Western Russia are currently on that list of dream trips which will never happen unless laws change radically.