Category Archives: writing

Excalibur TwinStrike, or, Some of the Reasons That This is Bad Idea

I woke up on January 7th unaware that I was going to see (without hyperbole) the most unnecessary piece of hunting equipment to be marketed in my recent memory. I even managed to make it through half the day, blissfully unaware of its existence. But then during my lunch hour I scrolled through Instagram and was confronted with the Excalibur TwinStrike. I blinked my eyes, hard. Surely, I was experiencing temporary double-vision. I drew my phone closer to my eyes; maybe I needed bifocals now. Then I checked the date to make sure I had not been time-warped ahead to April Fool’s Day. But all the above were incorrect. I was looking at a legitimate picture of a twin-bolt crossbow.

My first, admittedly ineloquent, thought: “This is pretty stupid.”

As I delved deeper, I was heartened that literally hundreds of hunters were likewise confused and incredulous, in fact the vast majority of hunter feedback ranged from scathing to hilarious in their condemnation.

“The answer to a question nobody asked.”

“A chance to break two sets of recurve limbs.”

“Now I can ruin two $20 bolts instead of one.”

And so forth.

Now of course the hunting entities benefitting from Excalibur as a sponsor had excited, glowing, predictable things to say promoting this elegant monstrosity. Praise like ‘game-changer’, and ‘innovative’, and ‘revolutionary’, and ‘a new era in archery’ were being bandied about as though they were true, but it was either transparent or hypocritical or transparently hypocritical.

To anyone (it would seem) outside of those beholden to Excalibur, this should be so obviously awful that the fact this cleared the conceptualization, design, and build phases is utterly shocking.

Now as a disclaimer, writ large, I generally like Excalibur. A stable Canadian company and for a long time the makers of arguably the most reliable and simplistic crossbow interface on the market. And I guess that’s the problem. You see when you sell a solid product, how do you improve on it? The answer is you do not, or more accurately, you probably cannot. So now we have the Excalibur models of recent times. Smaller, lighter, some corners cut (google the limb reliability issues cropping up in more recent models if you’d like), more mass-produced, and ultimately formulated into a take-down model. Because that’s all you can do with an initially strong product; tweak and tinker with it. Try to convince a consumer to get ‘the latest thing’.

Thus, the TwinStrike.

Photo c/o www.excalibur.com

 

So enough about how I think we got here, let’s talk about just a few reasons why this looks to be bad for hunting.

The Slippery Slope Away from Traditional Weapons

We are not going to wade into an argument about the place of crossbows in the archery/traditional weapons/special season category because that is a fundamentally fruitless debate. What we will say is there are very contentious feelings around crossbows. For the majority of jurisdictions, they are considered archery equipment, so we’ll leave it at that. But that classification for so long has been predicated on the understanding that the interface is one arrow/bolt then the hunter has to reload the weapon. The only way this new product is innovative is that it is going to challenge that paradigm.

Now, do traditions and classifications change? As a firearm owning Canadian, I can assure you that classifications do change, but rarely to the ‘inclusive’ side of that ledger. Imagine dropping over $2k on a weapon that (I honestly hope) will not allowed for bowhunting.

Of course, a modern compound bow is also technically advanced, and hardly a traditional weapon either, but it is still one shot at a time. What would anyone think of a hunter with a compound bow if they drew back a bow string and arrow in each finger?! I have no doubt that modern muzzle-loading firearms are again nothing more than accurate single shot high-powered rifles, but still, one shot at a time. Progress is absolutely inevitable, but what amounts to a ‘double-barreled crossbow” is hardly the technical progress hunting needs.

Wounding Game

Even if I could concede ground that this mutant crossbow is still “technically” archery equipment, a much more pressing issue here is my belief (and the belief of many other hunters based on social media commentary and banter) that this will contribute to more wounded animals. I believe that as much as I believe the sun will rise tomorrow.

Now of course I can hear you stammering a riposte that the weapon is not to blame, hunters must take responsibility for ethical shots, know the capabilities of their weapon, etc, etc, etc and I agree with all that, in a vacuum. But I’ve been in situations where I have that second shot in my rifle or shotgun so that I can back up a miss, and I can tell you that in 100% of cases when I have to use that second shot, it has been more challenging than the first shot.

If the first shot you took at a deer or a turkey or a bear or whatever else you are shooting a TwinStrike at was poor, it is not unreasonable to think that the animal will likely be moving away, making the follow-up shot likely longer, likely at an alert and moving target, and likely at a range that will need to be guessed at, since the thought being able to pull out the trusty range-finder and ensuring the follow-up is true seems about as likely as me purchasing a TwinStrike. And, for that one time that you miss that first shot and the animal takes one or two steps and just stops dumbfounded, well, I’ll ask if that one scenario is worth all the others where the second shot is rushed and at indeterminate distance?

It is all a matter of risk reward when you boil it down, and if you as a serious hunter can look at me straight-faced and without a shred of doubt tell me that this gives hunters anything more than an opportunity to wound more game, that tells me a lot about your level of responsibility, braggadocio, and capacity for cognitive dissonance. Yes, I (and others) will be rightfully judging you.

 Just Because You Can, Does Not Mean That You Should

All hunters make mistakes, I do it, hunters in my circle do it, hunters you know do it, and ‘professionals’ on TV and social media do it. There are all kinds of ways to screw up, but for me all fall into either errors of omission or are errors of commission. You either forget to do something and it leads to a mistake, or you actively (although I hope unintentionally) do things that lead to a mistake.

I recall being in my Hunter’s Education class with ten other candidates some decades ago, in the converted basement of a suburban home, the small space lit by the glow of an old overhead projector, listening to my instructor talk about the above two points. In this lecture, my instructors stressed with much gravity that the key difference between a gun and an arrow is that while both require practice and expertise, archery was a vocation requiring much more precision, composure, and required the elimination of as many errors of commission as possible. If I make a mistake with a shotgun slug or a high-powered rifle bullet, there is still a chance the animal will sustain hydro-static shock and trauma on even a marginal shot; an arrow wound in a marginal spot may just end up with your deer being a lame piece of coyote bait one county over. I have four other rounds in my .308 to redeem myself with, and for turkeys, two more rounds of lead pellets that wallop like a hammer. At the time, crossbows gave you one chance to get it right. You owed it to the animal then to be sure, and you still do now.

I like to file the TwinStrike under what I call errors of false security which are type of ‘commission error’. The belief that ‘there’s another round in the chamber’ (in a pseudo-metaphorical sense for this particular weapon) can actually create the circumstances for the excess wounding that I’m concerned about above.

I cannot see into hunter’s minds and souls, but as fallible humans, I can reasonably presume that someone with this weapon may take a risky shot at a quartering or moving deer, because they have that second bolt primed. A hail-Mary second bolt arcing into a rear ham or up a turkey’s cloaca. Elegant isn’t it?

Likewise, I cannot wait for the rapid-fire YouTube videos I’ll no doubt have to witness where sportsmen and amateur marksmen try to show how quickly, and in their minds accurately, that they can send two bolts downrange. Just keep building up that hubris, because I also know eventually a non-sportsman is going to post a picture or a video of a deer with two non-lethal crossbow bolts sticking out of it. And then we’ll all have some explaining to do, even if we were morally opposed to this weapon from the get-go.

Standing Up to Ridiculous Things

This ties directly to that last paragraph. We all like to have cool things, and a lot of us also like to have the newest cool things. I’ve fallen for it, but generally for harmless things like overpriced under-engineered duck, goose, deer, and turkey calls, or gimmicky ammunition that promised good things and let me down emptied my wallet faster than I could empty my gun. But this is different. This is bad for the sport, for all the reasons above and likely more if you’d care to add your opinion.  I can assure you that I will never own one of these, even if given as a gift, because I believe each of us has a personal responsibility not to encourage things that negatively impact the tradition, the perception of the tradition to the non-hunting public by whom we have the privilege, and the debt of respect we owe to the wild game in making their end as prompt, clean, and precise as we humanly can.

It is dirty business, killing for your food, and the reverence for the act lies in its expedience.

I am not going to over-philosophize you here, but this weapon does not pass that test, not even a little. So, please just call it what it is, a gimmick designed to appeal in its controversy and peculiarity, and devised to increase a corporate bottom line. But as a sound and ethical means of killing game? Hardly.

Now of course, “you do you” dear reader. I’m not talking about banning or boycotting or pulling anything off the shelves. I am not some crotchety old man who hates progress; in fact, I was looking at an Excalibur Matrix on New Year’s Day as a way to extend my deer seasons. I’ve been given pause for reconsideration right now. But if this appeals to you, I’m shocked honestly that you made it this far into my missive against it. I congratulate and thank you for sticking it out through almost 2000 words of contrary opinion, the world needs more of that these days.

I am also fully aware that no one is forcing myself or anyone else to buy this terrible, terrible idea. Yes, I am also sure that there are many equally ridiculous and unnecessary things out there being marketed to hunters, and I’m likewise sure this is a business and product marketing decision equally as much as it is about really improving the state of hunting as a tradition.

After all, no reputable hunting company would mortgage out the future of hunting or the fair and ethical pursuit of game simply to make a buck, would they?

A Turkey Tale – Back to the Turkey Woods

This short and sweet story first appeared on www.hunttrapoutdoors.com in February, 2018.  You can also follow our guest writer Jordan from Hunt Trap Outdoors on Instagram here and on Facebook here.

6:30 a.m. – A loud gobble erupted from a close distance,  “Run and Gun” would be my only chance to bag a tom for the day.

I approached the field where the nearby gobble came from and was quickly immobilized by six grazing deer.  I feared getting too close may spook them.

While debating my next move, two turkeys appeared on top of the knoll.  I quickly doubled back and slipped through the bush.  There was some cover midway on the field’s edge, I was hopeful it would put me into position.  As I approached the cover – a longstanding lumber pile, I slowly poked my head up over the weathered lumber pile and to my surprise, the boss tom had already made his way to the middle of the field.  I quickly sat down and delivered a few box calls.

He continued to make his way to the corner of the field, at first glimpse I could see his fan of tail feathers before his body came into full view over a small rolling hill.  My silhouette now glued to the weathered lumber pile, shotgun ready – I let a few mouth calls out.
At 45 yards, with his interest fastened on the second turkey, I was confident he wasn’t going to move in any closer. I realized my opportunity to harvest this tom was soon to fade away.

With the bead of my shotgun fixed for a kill shot, I squeezed the trigger and confronted him with a face full of Winchester pellets, before flopping around on the ground, he was down! One of the quickest stalks I have ever made on a turkey – what a rush!
Six years had passed since I last entered the turkey woods – a great looking tom, terrific come back and one for the memory bank!

A great Ontario wild turkey for our guest writer. Photo courtesy of HuntTrapOutdoors.com

When You F@%! Things Up

We’ve all done it.  We’ve made mistakes, and I’m not talking about the minor, piffling mistakes of a day-to-day life.  I mean big mistakes; errors that cost you a deer, screw-ups that sent that whole flock of turkeys sprinting into the next county, or boneheaded blunders that flare ducks and geese at the last minute.

There are, in my mind, fundamentally two types of ways that hunters screw up.  They either forget to do things that would lead to success, or they do things that prevent their success.  In both psychology and philosophy there is a whole genre of debate about the same thing, called ‘errors of omission’ and ‘errors of commission’.  I am neither psychologist nor philosopher, so I’ll leave the dialectics aside here and just fess up to things I’ve done on both sides of that particular ledger.

This always cathartic.

The constant hope is that you are alone when you commit these boners, so that you can just quietly berate and loathe yourself in solitude.  Not always the case, though.

Two years ago, with my then six-year old son in the ditch next to me and four or five good friends in close proximity watching, I missed three layups on geese inside 15 yards.  We had been having just a stunner of a morning.  We had found a fresh-cut field and piles of willing geese; birds pitched in on almost every pass and we were beginning to make some solid stacks.  A group of three spun hard at our calling and flagging, and as they bee-lined for the fakes, they slid ever so slightly to my left.  It was obvious that those birds were going to all die together at the business end of my shotgun.  I have always fantasized of making a true triple on a trio of decoying geese, and I like to think that my anticipation was the reason I balked hard on the birds.  When I rose to shoot the birds still hadn’t made me and I whizzed my first volley over the head of the leading bird…a bird that should have been flaring and climbing.  In panic I threw a wasted string of steel somewhere near the same bird, which was now obliging me by flaring hard and climbing rapidly, accompanied by the derisive laughter of my compatriots.  The third blast was a true parting shot as the birds were making hasty exits and I ushered them along with a wayward hail of steel BBs.  The lads down the ditch were roasting me loudly and thoroughly and I muttered a not so silent curse at myself.  My son innocently asked why I missed and I tried to explain myself with a rueful grin on my face.  Not my finest moment in the blind, although that evening and the next morning brought some redemption at least.

Sometimes you are alone, but people just have too many questions.

While walking into a tree stand a few years back in deer season I was obviously daydreaming or something and as I approached my ladder I was paying no real attention to my surroundings at all.  I crested a small rise and heard a deer snort.  Closely.  Think inside thirty steps.  I snapped my head up and saw a small buck standing broadside against a line of cedars.  As I fumbled to throw my rifle to my shoulder he coiled and bounded for the safety of the thicket, while I blasted two cartridges at what I was certain was his front shoulder.  After thirty minutes of searching, I found no blood, no hair, no dead deer.  The radios we use when out party hunting were crackling with questions, and I passed it off as shots at a wayward coyote.  Which way did the coyote come from, they asked.  Which way did he go, they asked? Was he a big coyote?  A dark one? Was he running fast or just loping along?  Was it more than one coyote?  How far were your shots? My tapestry of lies became untenable over time and I secretly confided in my cousin.  He promptly told everyone, to my chagrin.  Now it would seem that I cannot be trusted.

Sometimes you just screw up and just have to own it.

In two consecutive years I’ve missed two spring gobblers, and both times operator error lead to my hubris.  I killed an absolute trophy piece of limestone ridge one year, instead of the handsome strutter giving me a full periscope of his head and neck behind it.  Last year I blazed a pair of shots at a bird that I was convinced was a mere thirty steps away. On closer inspection he was much nearer to forty-five steps than thirty and I had cocked up an absolutely picture perfect opportunity for my cousin Luke and I to double up on a pair of Bruce Peninsula longbeards.  I took that one out on myself particularly hard, almost renouncing my membership in the Tenth Legion on the spot…except we all know that would be an error as well.

I, of course, am not the only hunter who experiences flailing ineptitude.  One of my favourite nights in deer camp, once the guns are away and the wine and whiskey flows freely, is hearing the camp elders, truly my heroes of deer hunting and men with countless deer under the belts, regale us all with the tales of their own hilarious failings, of their incomprehensible misses and gaffes, and for a while I don’t feel so crushingly inadequate…although that may have more to do with rye than with my reality.

Nevertheless, to err is truly human, and to miss is the mark of an experienced hunter, or so I’m told by people who really want to spare my fragile ego.

If you’ve got a favourite ‘missing’ story, especially if it doesn’t involve me, add it below in the comments, tweet it to @getoutandgohunt or post it here on our Facebook page.

Courting Controversy & Marrying Compromise

This week, police officers in the City of Toronto shot a sick coyote.  There was a hue and cry about it from many areas and these vociferous arguments appealed to the basest instincts in the animal versus humanity dichotomy: anthropomorphism, concepts of value relative to human versus animal life, and some abstract concept of kinship with wildlife.

A June photo of the coyote in question. Photo lifted from www.cp24.com
A June photo of the coyote in question. Photo lifted from www.cp24.com

Most of it was bunk.

You see, per the media narrative, this coyote was a ‘single father’ raising three pups after his companion female coyote met her demise under the wheels of a car. This coyote’s death put the orphaned pups in danger (presumably more danger than they already were in as simply being urban coyotes), and the Toronto Wildlife Centre came to the fore in their objections to this course of action, making arguments that stray domestic animals were more harmful than this solitary coyote, that a coyote had only once been documented to ‘nip’ a person in Toronto, and that they themselves could have undertaken the humane treatment and rehabilitation of this heroic animal (although there was no indication, at least in the media, that they had actually attempted said treatment program, even though they admitted that they had been to the den of this coyote).

The theme is all too common.  The abstract and presumed well-being of wildlife being secondary to some ‘what-if’ scenario involving injury, inconvenience, or danger to a human population.  The coyote just wants to ‘live’ while humanity is the intruder in the animal’s domain.  Who is the real animal in this equation?

Et cetera, et cetera.

To put a finer point on this, let’s just do a thought experiment.  Imagine if you will, a member of the Toronto Wildlife Centre, or any other member of the public for that matter, attending the pup-laden den of said coyote w3ith nothing but good, helpful intentions.  Then the father coyote shows up.  Would there be hand-wringing and debate on the part of the coyote about the appropriate course of action, or debates about the merits of the intentions of the human, or would there be a reaction to defend the den and his offspring?  I can say with at least some degree of certainty (having been in reasonably close quarters with coyotes) that they can be vicious and dangerous when faced with survival situations, and while they are supremely adapted and bafflingly clever, they are still wildlife with instincts prone to defense of territory, defense of offspring, and defense of food.  It is presumable that the intruder in the den might face a sobering situation, and concepts of humane treatment or the abstract details of the human’s life likely would not enter the coyote’s frame of reference.

Who’s being anthropomorphic now?

Of course, that we can have debates about humane practice at all truly crystallizes the fundamental difference between the animal and human experience.  Observations of coyotes has shown me that they can do some basic planning, they can do some basic problem solving, and their will to live and ability to adapt is second to very few other native animals in Ontario.  But they are not rational, they are not erudite, they do not do math, and they are single-minded in one thing: survival.

And on the topic of survival, it is very likely plausible that an animal in such wretched shape could only have survived that long in an urban environment with access to human-generated food sources; severe mange of the kind seen on the coyote in question is a near-certain death sentence to truly wild coyote.  Again, the coyote apologists would use the stock answer of that being at least a ‘natural death’ with seemingly little concern for the suffering endured by the animal.  Also, and I’ve always stated this with conviction, a slow, potentially agonizing death, is still a death.  That it is caused ‘naturally’ by the chill of a vicious January night on a mangy coyote’s body or ‘unnaturally’ by the bullet from an urban police officer really has little bearing on the final outcome.

So here I am, walking that dangerous and controversial line between the rationalist viewpoint that in terms of safety and what could nebulously be termed ‘the greater good’ having a mange-riddled coyote that is attempting to support pups wandering and hunting through urban and suburban Scarborough is probably a bad idea.  At the end of the day I can understand, if not outwardly support the actions of the officers in this scenario.  A more impulsively misanthropic sentiment in me does somewhat lament that the situation has come to this, and I can certainly sympathize with the predicament the coyote (and less outwardly relatable wildlife like skunks, raccoons, squirrels, and possums) found itself in.  As someone raised with a lifelong conservation ethic, I never want to see the waste of wildlife.

But this is also time to consider the behaviour of people, and what the hue and cry (not to mention the legal and social ramifications) that would appear if said coyote had injured a person, or done worse than injure a person.  Would an angry populace be so ‘humane’ had it been a more violent scenario, such as the one from Cape Breton in 2009?

Of course there are stock responses for that argument as well from apologists.  That was an isolated incident.  That was the fault of people for not giving wildlife respect/a wide berth. That was a rogue animal.  People (whatever that means) deserve aggression or should expect animals to ‘fight back’…as though animals know there is even a fight happening, as opposed to just acting on instinctual behaviours.

Et cetera, et cetera.

Of course the fundamental issue with these arguments is that, like it or not, at the most base and primal level, human life is more valuable than animal life.  It is a fairly recent, and probably impermanent paradigm, and most certainly not to be taken on a case by case basis (because there are several thousand people that I find less enjoyable than I find a wild turkey or a white-tailed deer) but on the overall balance.  We often hear that when it comes to drug use, car accidents, preventable diseases, and the like that ‘one person’s death is one too many’, and without a hint of apology I stand by this ethic when it comes to wildlife encounters at large.  Essentially I adhere to the following principal: If an animal can kill you back, and you are not being reckless or unnecessarily provoking to the animal, then I’m okay with people taking reasonable steps to end the animal before it has the opportunity to end you.  This is not radical thinking.  It is pragmatic and realistic. I personally am not some callous, gun-toting hillbilly that shoots every animal he sees on sight, but even if I were, that would not be germane to the greater argument surrounding this specific scenario in Scarborough, because the argument is about whether the coyote should live at the potential future risk to the people in that area at large.

I have seen many coyotes from afar that were simply doing ‘coyote things’ like hunting, travelling between territories, and generally doing a good job surviving.  I had no desire to shoot those specimens.  If I saw one in my backyard, acting erratically, sniffing around my door, or looking either sick and/or aggressive, then that’s a different set of circumstances and I would want to be granted (as I would grant any individual or agent of the state, like say, police officers) the liberty to handle the situation in a proactive manner.

Because it is not just hunters, conservationists, and animal rights activists that get a say here.  It is people at large and how they view interaction with all levels of wildlife that are required to make their own ethical decisions; decisions which often compromise some level of their personal ethical integrity.

Because even though the situation in Scarborough ended with the black and white choices of life or death for that coyote, the grey areas in urban wildlife management policy, the inevitable reliance on the almighty dollar, humanity’s occasionally misrepresented beliefs about animal behaviour, and our modern view of human-wildlife interactions informed the preamble to that final, some might say inevitable, outcome.