Hunting VideosBowhunt or Die
How Mechanical Broadheads Kill Game
One deer hunter’s mind was wandering last winter as he sat at his desk, watching the snow fall and wishing it were still hunting -- and not shoveling -- season. He was day-dreaming about a whopper 10-pointer with thick, heavy antlers and long eye guards that walked near his treestand in Kansas the last week of November. He came out behind the hunter on cat’s feet, moving as slow as rush hour traffic in Los Angeles. He got to 25 yards, but something made him uneasy, and so, after standing motionless for nearly five minutes, he simply turned and melted back into the timber and out of the hunter’s life. But in his day-dream he kept coming, stopping broadside at 30 yards, his head behind a small spruce. The hunter drew his bow unseen, then made the perfect release. He was so into my dream that he actually felt the broadhead strike him, then pass clean through his chest.
It was then he jerked his hand up, shook his finger, and watched blood ooze from a nasty slice near the tip. It wasn’t the broadhead hitting that buck, but instead a nasty paper cut from an envelope full of junk mail that he felt. The paper's edge had made a neat, clean slice into the tip of his index finger, and he couldn’t stop the bleeding.
Blood Clotting: How It Works
Clean, neat cuts are like that. They bleed and bleed and bleed, and are as difficult to stop as forcing a politician to keep a campaign promise. Conversely, an irregular wound that has been ripped or torn open clots relatively quickly, plugging itself up with jellied blood.
Why is this important to bowhunters? Their broadhead-tipped arrow shafts do their business best by causing massive blood loss, or by cutting deeply into the chest cavity and causing the failure of key organs like the liver, lungs, kidneys, and heart. A smooth, razor-sharp broadhead that slices cleanly through game actually destroys relatively few body cells, creating a minimum of blood clotting and rapid loss of blood. Conversely, a dull, ragged-edged broadhead damages a relatively high number of body cells, which in turn creates a more rapid clotting process.
Basic biology explains this. Found in many cells but especially in blood platelets is an enzyme known as thromboplastin, which is released when cells are damaged. In layman's terms, thromboplastin mixes with blood plasma, which in turn creates a chemical reaction with fibrinogen, a globulin that is formed in the liver and found especially in blood plasma that is converted into fibrin by the action of the thromboplastin. The fibrin collects near the ends of severed arteries, veins, and capillaries, clogging the open wounds and restricting the flow of blood. This coagulation is what stops bleeding, and is what is more commonly known as clotting. (It also causes what hunters call blood-shot meat.)
The more body cells that are damaged by a broadhead, the more thromboplastin and fibrin are released, and therefore more rapid blood clotting will occur. Also, wounds that rip and tear a maximum amount of body cells cause what are called vascular spasms. A blood vessel that is violently torn in two will expand and contract near the severed ends, encouraging clotting. However, while a neatly-cut vessel will also expand and contract neat the severed ends, it will do so much less violently, creating a slower clotting process despite the heavy bleeding. Vascular spasms are set up by the body's central nervous system, and are a reaction to tissue damage.
In short, a smooth-edged, razor-sharp broadhead is more conducive to rapid blood loss, which will result in a quick, humane death and an easier-to-follow blood trail than a broadhead with dull, ragged edges. To head afield with anything less than broadheads so sharp they scare you is not only foolish, but unethical.
Replaceable Broadhead Blades
There's really no excuse for hunting with dull broadheads these days. The increased popularity of replaceable blade broadheads -- the most popular broadhead style in the country today -- has made using fresh, sharp blades as simple as tying your shoes. Almost.
Alas, all replaceable blade broadheads are not created equal. Found among the hundreds of different designs and makes on today's market are everything from lemons to luxury cars. The best companies incorporate space-age technology, meticulous manufacturing controls, and reliable suppliers, the result being the finest broadheads ever available to bowhunters. The worst cut corners at every opportunity, marketing broadheads that are less than the best.
"Since day one, serious bowhunters have appreciated the value of super-sharp blades," said Andy Simo, president of New Archery Products, makers of the popular Thunderhead and Spitfire broadhead lines. "Before I began making broadheads, I'd spend hours sharpening my heads until they were shaving sharp. Those old carbon steel blades rusted easily, and quickly lost their sharpness. The frustration I felt led me to search for improved sharpening methods and materials.”
Mechanical broadheads without replaceable blades that have been practiced with require careful sharpening before heading afield. Make sure you get the blades shaving-sharp before climbing into your stand."Anyone old enough to remember going to the barber shop for a shave remembers the leather strop hanging from the barber chair," Simo said. "The strop would remove the jagged edge and fine burrs left from sharpening. I felt that the same process could be used on broadheads." In the early 1980's, New Archery Products' Razorbak became the first mass produced replaceable blade broadhead to have ground, honed, and stropped blades, with continual improvements made to the process over the years until sharpness approached that of a surgeon's scalpel.
Simo said his company developed a fourth generation of the sharpening process a few years back that is state-of-the-art. "Inspection with high-powered microscopes shows that, magnified 200 times, the edge quality of a quality surgeon's scalpel showed tiny jagged edges and burrs," he said. "Under the same microscope, a production Thunderhead 100 blade showed a fine, smooth, consistent blade edge free from these tiny imperfections. These are truly the sharpest blades we've ever produced.”
"I think most average bowhunters out there today are kidding themselves if they think they can improve the edge on one of the top-quality replaceable blades on the market today," Simo continued. "Most don't have the skills to use a file, steel, or whetstone and keep the proper sharpening angle when using them. They'd be better off just chucking the bad blade and slipping in a new one. And that’s the whole point of replaceable blades -- to throw it out and use a fresh blade when the first is too dull to hunt with. That dullness might come from the factory, or it might come from target practice. Whatever the reason, you want to be hunting with nothing but sharp, sharp blades."
Care of Sharpened Broadheads
The treatment of sharpened broadheads is just as important as putting a razor's edge on the blades. It makes no sense to create or purchase shaving-sharp broadheads only to let them become dull in storage or your arrow quiver.
Commercially-made broadhead boxes are excellent. They hold sharpened heads in either a Styrofoam block protected by a sturdy plastic box, or in small plastic boxes that hold each head individually to keep them from banging together. Most quivers also have Styrofoam broadhead holders, while some have individual compartments designed to hold single heads firmly apart from others.
Keep an eye on blades that have spent a lot of time in your bow quiver, or that have been pulled out and replaced into the quiver’s foam head. Over time this can dull your blades.
Some bowhunters like to coat their broadheads with a light coat of mineral oil, or spray them lightly with light machine oil like Rem-Oil, WD-40, or similar products. In the "old days" of carbon-steel blades, coating broadheads with mineral oil, then wrapping them individually with a piece of paper towel helped prevent both dulling and rusting.
As a bowhunter it is your responsibility to skillfully use equipment that will produce quick, humane kills on your quarry. For that reason, using only broadheads with blades that are so sharp they scare you is acceptable. Using anything less is just flat wrong.
Sharpening Traditional Broadheads
Despite the availability of quality replaceable-blade broadheads, some bowhunters still choose to use more traditional heads that need to have an edge put on them. These broadheads may or may not have small bleeder blades that may or may not come sharp from the factory. Sharpening these broadhead designs is an art lost on many of today's new bowhunters. If you're just starting out with these kinds of broadheads, having someone who has developed the skills needed to put the razor's edge on their own broadheads physically show you how to do it will be a big help.
Those main blades that have no edge on them at all can be started with an 8-inch flat file to establish cutting bevels. Some people make a custom handle to hold the head when sharpening it, while others sharpen it while it's on the arrow shaft. Whatever, it's very important to be very careful not to slip and cut yourself. Wearing a pair of leather gloves is good insurance against slippage and slight nicks. Once cutting bevels have been established, using an Arkansas whetstone will help refine the edge. Lastly, stropping the head on a leather strop will help smooth the cutting edge to razor sharpness.
During this process, creating a bevel angle of between 30 and 36 degrees is about right. While some skilled bowhunters can maintain a consistent angle during the sharpening process, most of us can't. That's where the use of a commercially-made sharpening tool or homemade jig that will absolutely maintain an identical sharpening angle stroke after stroke comes in. Keeping the consistent bevel angle is critical to achieving a shaving-sharp edge. Every time you roll the blade over and off the desired angle during the sharpening process, the blade is dulled slightly, and you're closer to square one than a finished head. That's why some people never can seem to get a razor's edge on their blades. Using the commercial sharpening tools will help greatly.