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Handloading Beyond The Basics
Rifle Magazine
November - December 2002
Volume 0, Number 0
Number 0
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Special Edition! Elk Photo by Mike Barlow. Whitetail Deer photo by George Barnett.
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One cold, blustery winter’s afternoon, my mind was wandering as I sat at my desk, watching the snow fall and wishing it were still hunting, and not shoveling, season.

I was daydreaming about a very large 10-point whitetail buck with thick, heavy antlers and long eye guards that walked near my stand in Kansas mid-November last. He came from behind, wind at his back (What was up with that?), hesitating behind a thick clump of cedars not 25 steps away for five agonizing minutes before turning and walking slowly away at the one degree out of 360 he could have gone without offering a shot. But in my daydream he took that one step forward, stopping broadside, his head behind the trunk of an ancient oak. I drew my bow unseen, then made the perfect release. I was so into my dream I actually felt the broadhead strike him, then pass completely through his chest.

It was then I jerked my hand up, shook my finger and watched blood ooze from a nasty slice near the tip. It wasn’t the broadhead hitting that buck, instead a nasty paper cut from an envelope full of junk mail that I felt. The paper’s edge had made a neat, clean slice into the tip of my index finger, and I like to never got the bleeding stopped.

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 with jellied blood.

Why is this important to bow hunters? Our broadhead-tipped arrow shafts do their business best by either 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 facilitating rapid blood loss. 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, and 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 we more commonly know 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 near 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 also 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.

“Anyone old enough to remember going to the barber shop for a shave remembers the leather strop hanging from the barber chair,” said Andy Simo, something of a legend in bow-hunting circles and president of New Archery Products, makers of the popular Thunderhead, Spitfire and ShockWave broadhead lines. “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 1980s, 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’s company developed a fourth generation of the sharpening process in 1994 that is state of the art. “Inspection with a high-powered microscope 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 blade showed a fine, smooth, consistent blade edge free from these tiny imperfections. These are truly sharper than a surgeon’s scalpel.”

Today virtually all major broadhead makers use blades that have been stropped to scalpel-like sharpness. “I think most average bow hunters 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 said. “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. That is the purpose of having replaceable blades.”

Care of Sharpened Broadheads

The treatment of sharpened broadheads is just as important as starting out with blades that have a razor’s edge. It makes no sense to purchase shaving-sharp broadheads only to let them become dull in storage or your quiver.

Commercially made broadhead boxes from MTM Products, Bohning and others 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 repeatedly pulled out and replaced into the quiver’s foam head. Over time this will dull the blades. When I find them dulled from this kind of use, I replace them before hunting, saving the old blades to use in those heads I shoot into broadhead targets.

Some bow hunters like to apply a light coat of mineral oil to their broadheads or spray them lightly with a light machine oil like Rem-Oil, WD-40 or similar products, which is my preference. 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 rust.

As bow hunters, it is our responsibility to skillfully use equipment that will produce quick, humane kills. For that reason, using only broadheads with blades that are so sharp they scare you is acceptable. Using anything less is just flat wrong.

Blackhorn Powder
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