At the core of the arrow spine conundrum, we have stiffness.
First, The Basics | What Is Arrow Spine?
The archery world has set a standard for arrow spine. Most companies follow it in this order:
The higher the number (400 spine), the softer, or more flexible arrow.
The lower number (250 spine) is a stiffer, or less flexible arrow.
I like to say one is “bendier” and the other is less “bendy.” I’m not sure that is even a word…. oh wait, I said it, so it IS a word, because I. AM. SPECIAL. Ha!!
Every arrow shaft has a certain degree of “bendiness.” This is known as the arrow spine.
Anyhoo, here is a very high-level overview of arrow spine…
The standard is to press the center of each arrow shaft at 28” width with a gizmo. This “gizmo” (arrow spine tester) only pushes so far. The gizmo has a gauge showing pressure and it shows the amount the arrow flexes. If it’s a softer spine, it bends further. If it’s stiffer, it bends less.
This is an example of an arrow spine tester. What could be more “gizmo” than this!
The arrow companies try to build a mixture of carbon and wall thickness to achieve consistent results to hit their targeted spine offerings.
Ok Class, Let’s Review!
So let’s review to be sure everyone is following the ‘ole Ranch Fairy’s tutelage…
Arrows, PVC and gardening wives… Just stay with me here
Since I like simple ideas, I am going to use one moving forward.
KEEP THIS PICTURE IN YOUR HEAD… You have a wife who is a gardener. (Of note, I have intimate knowledge of the following scenario… The names have been changed to protect the innocent.)
So anyway, this wife of mine, AHEM, I mean of yours, loves to plant new plants and RELOCATE existing plants and trees, despite the previously planted forest of plants and relocated plants.
Why the flowery springtime imagery? We’re supposed to be talking arrow spine here! Calm down, we’re getting there!
You also have a sprinkler system.
This woman, to whom you are betrothed, is amazing at requiring a couple of her 10 plants to be planted right on top of a sprinkler line. Now, you suspect you’re going to hit a water line, but when, when, when????” (I mean, she doesn’t even have water witching sticks or anything to be considerate!!!)
When it comes to carbon arrows, it’s easy – there are only 4 spines… (RANCH FAIRY DISCLAIMER!! see caption below before you blow me up with your comments!)
Remember this… flying sticks change when you cut them! FACT.
If you are an archery nerd, you’re going to rat me out because there are in fact more than 4 spines. Some companies offer 600 and 500 spines, then much stiffer 200 and 150. A couple of the companies have their own way of doing things like: 320 / 260 / 140….oh I feel the love of being an individual! But, PRACTICALLY SPEAKING, there are 4 spines for the average yahoo trying to kill a deer, with a bow: (400/350/300/250). This is because 90% of us yahoos shoot 50-70#. So, those are the most common starting points to build a reasonable arrow for hunting from 400 grains and a flapper (skeet load) to 700 grains and a hammer (magnum).
The reality is that there are gazillions of spine charts and programs out there. The quality of the information is wide and varied, so I am not going to worry about that now.
I want you to understand what happens to the flying stick, when you change the length of that flying stick.
I have tested everything from here forward so, let’s get something real straight. EVERY minor length change to the stick, changes the stick.
But I recommend you bare shaft and recheck everything, any change, for perfect arrow flight. Heck – it might work….it might not.
Oh, I don’t think it’s going to be doing loops. But, broadheads may be just that much different. They may wander 2” left or do some other annoying thing that changes a quick kill to a longer trail.
There are more details… yup, super annoying! Yup, super massive! It would be a ton to digest all at once.
Point weight, broadheads, lighted nocks, even fletching style (somewhat) and any amount of weight added (think wraps) to the back of the arrow messes with the flying stick. Even when the stick length doesn’t change. Isn’t that just wonderful?
Targets are boring. Perfect arrow flight to get the flying stick there is required. I have multiple videos on arrow tuning. But read this and ponder.
“An arrow is always flying, in the air, or in hair, meat, and bone, it is always flying”
Dr. Ed Ashby
If that arrow is a little sideways in the air at TAC, 3-D tournaments or your local indoor range, who cares?
One inch of penetration on a target is the same score as 12” of penetration.
But, at impact on any target animal, “The arrow is always flying.” Flying that arrow just a little sideways erodes penetration, and lack of penetration reduces lethality. Your goal is maximum arrow lethality.
Simply put, my hunting arrows were hitting the mark, but my success rate was less than stellar, and I had nowhere else to go. I could try something different or grab the rifle. After all, as my friend Chris says, “lead is very efficient.”
A Little History on “The Ranch Fairy” Name
Before we get into all the nitty gritty details of hunting arrows, you might be wondering… why “Ranch Fairy?” After all, bowhunting dudes are rough and tough. They take on the ultimate close-range challenge and they sport lots of cool gear (the toys never end, and the bowhunting message boards will keep your head swimming with ideas… some of them are actually good ideas – but beware!)
Bowhunters can’t be fairies… can they?
Soooo, anyway, “The Ranch Fairy…” The short version is this…
My wife’s family has a ranch in Texas, and I am the dude who manages the details, such as: feeders, blinds, keeping the A/C and toilets running, occasional plumbing, electrical, mechanical, and the “could you look at the cameras and then tell me where the biggest buck is showing up….and at what time” tasks.
The “to do” list, well, it’s a scroll… the end is never reached, because it just keeps unrolling.
So, about 10 years ago, I just off-handedly started calling myself “The Ranch Fairy,” instead of “ranch manager.”
But, I actually enjoy the piddling and managing things. It’s good for the psyche.
One of the luxuries of pigs and deer feeders is high-volume shooting. I’ll bring this up later.
So anyway, up until 2015, I was really failing – to the tune of only a 50% recovery rate on big pigs. The little 100-pound zoomers… not a big deal. But the big boys… well, you may hunt one for months before he shows up. You shoot, and… BONK… half an arrow of penetration, and you pray you find it.
(Remember what Chris says, “Lead is very efficient.” It was in consideration. After all, head shots with any round you have flat out work!)
I’m not real smart, but if what you’re doing isn’t working, you have nothing to lose.
So, I wandered off into the tin foil hat world, left my friends and colleagues to the message board warlocks, and went on the road less traveled. (Remember, I have a high volume, live target, known-distance place to test these things.)
I ran an arrow up to 670 grains, bare shaft perfect flight, long 3:1 single bevel, and went off to find out what would happen.
What happened with these “adult arrows” was truly amazing.
The arrows started penetrating through the pigs and then into the dirt.
The big pigs started going 60 yards and then, I mean they were dead, dead in 10 seconds (it’s still working).
The biggest thing I discovered during all of this is that I am now only limited by lethal shot placement. When I do my job in that area, the pigs are dead and there are no issue finding them.
Before that, I either perfectly heart shot one and it was devastating, or I didn’t shoot it perfectly and there was no blood trail, long nights, and a Duracell bunny that came along to test battery longevity.
So, I decided to turn the ranch into a live target test lab.
Nope, this is not a hunting show (though many of my detractors slam that one on me). It’s an arrow lethality and penetration study.
Yeah, shooting pigs is still super fun! But to have high volume, year around, 24/7, no laws and high shot reliability. It’s handy. The set-up shots at whitetail distances (the average whitetail is still takenunder 20 yards if you don’t know that), allowed me to really test different high mass, high FOC, arrow systems. I already had 15 years of the other stuff.
So, there you go, that’s how The Ranch Fairy came to be. I mean, I was technically already the Ranch Fairy.
You can bet if it’s “Ranch Fairy Approved,” that I’ve done the testing at the Ranch Fairy Lab!
Epizootic Hemorrhagic Disease (EHD) and Chronic Wasting Disease (CWD) are the two biggest diseases that can impact your deer herd, but more specifically, your mature bucks.
If you have never heard of either one, let me give you a quick summary.
Before moving on to the specifics of EHD and CWD, here is a table to explain the differences between the two:
Mis-shaped prion protein
Mortality when contracted:
Duration of clinical illness:
24 hrs to several weeks
18-24 months, followed by death
Long-term herd effect:
Build up Immunity, herd rebounds
Unknown, but might lower herd productivity if prevalence gets too high. Mature males harder to grow.
Almost entire lower 48
Parts of 24 states and 2 Canadian Provinces
Human health impact:
Cannot infect people
No evidence of human health impacts
EHD vs. CWD
Mature bucks may be hard to come by once CWD gets a foothold in the deer herd.
EHD | The Specifics
EHD is in the same group of viruses as Bluetongue (BT) Virus and because clinical symptoms are similar between the two, they are generally clumped together and called Hemorrhagic Disease.
EHD and Bluetongue viruses are transmitted by a biting midge, usually in late Summer or early Fall but can also occur in the Springtime.
Clinical symptoms are highly variable. Initial symptoms include a feverish state where some animals can lose their fear of humans.
CWD can devastate what used to be a healthy deer herd.
There was a video of a buck that went viral because it stumbled through a burning campfire on its way to drowning itself in a river, all while people stood around wondering what the heck was going on.
Deer with EHD may die within 1-3 days after getting bitten if they have no immunity to the strain of virus that has infected them.
As deer attempt to relieve their fever, they often become dehydrated and will be found near water.
Once a hard frost hits the landscape, the threat of further EHD outbreaks is complete for that growing season, but as soon as midges come back in the spring there is a chance for further outbreaks.
This is a map from the Southeastern Cooperative Disease Study showing where EHD has been found across the US from 1980-2015:
CWD | The Specifics
Chronic Wasting Disease (CWD), on the other hand, is caused by a protein that changes its shape to a non-functional version. This prion protein normally resides all over the body, but is concentrated in the lymphatic system, brain and spinal tissues.
Infected deer show no clinical symptoms for up to 18 months but are capable of spreading prions even before they show any outward sign of illness.
In the later stages of the disease, animals lose coordination and become lame. They also lose their appetite and fear of humans. They are typically found with dropping ears and head in a lower position.
In areas where CWD prevalence is above 50%, mature bucks stand a higher chance of contracting the disease and dying.
CWD has gotten a lot of press lately because of the concern to potentially impact humans, whereas EHD poses no direct threat to humans.
Notice how I said ‘potentially’ impact? That’s because there’s currently no evidence that it will impact humans, but that doesn’t mean it will always be that way.
CWD is in a group of diseases known as Transmissible Spongiform Encephalopathies and in that same group of diseases is one that infects humans, called Creutzfeldt Jakob Disease (CJD).
A variant Creutzfeldt Jakob disease (vCJD) can be acquired by eating meat from cattle infected with a similar disease called Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy (BSE), also known as Mad Cow Disease.
The fear is that one day humans will someday be susceptible to CWD, even though that day has yet to come. That’s because all animals carry some type of prion protein, but a major difference is that the human prion protein has slightly different amino acid structure than deer.
There has also been recent concern that CWD can be transmitted to macaque monkeys, which are genetically much more similar to humans, but that information has yet to be published in scientific literature.
What causes the normal prion protein to change into the mis-shaped disease state remains uncertain, although there are many theories about how this could happen.
Here is a map from the USGS showing the distribution of CWD across North America.
That means the chance of a buck having CWD would be the same as flipping a coin to heads, and if you see a buck older than 3 years old in that area, they are more and more likely to contract it and die before reaching 6 years old.
This is because mature bucks move about the landscape more often than females, especially during the breeding season.
Bucks also mutually groom each other in bachelor groups during the summer months, so they have more opportunity to spread the disease than female groups, which tend to keep a more consistent home range throughout their lifetime.
If you have a pond edge, plant vegetation that can withstand moist soil right up the edge of the water.
Spread quick growing seeds like rye grain on areas of a creek bottom that have been exposed to flooding and try to reduce the amount of mud exposed.
Fogging for insects around ponds on a still morning may also reduce adult populations thus limiting the spread of disease.
You can also keep your herd healthy by supplemental feeding and using minerals. Ani-Logics Outdoors has produced a health additive for their feed and minerals that can increase immune system function. When the immune system is firing on all cylinders, the deer that gets bitten by an infected midge has an increased chance of survival. Those that are in poor bodily condition when bitten by the midge have a much higher chance of dying.
As for CWD, the best thing you can do to prevent the spread is not to move the carcass of deer harvested in a CWD area. Also, dispose of the remains in a state approved landfill or incinerator.
If you harvest a trophy buck in a CWD area, make sure the taxidermist you use is local, and make sure they properly dispose of the brain and spinal cord tissue without putting it back on the landscape.
If everyone hunting deer in a CWD area removed all the CWD positive carcasses off the landscape, prevalence would remain low enough that no population level concerns would ever occur.
There would be no way to eliminate the amount of prion proteins already deposited on the landscape, but at least we wouldn’t be adding more fuel to the CWD fire by always putting more diseased prions in the woods.
If you hunt in an area that is not known to have CWD, you should still get your deer tested because deer have been known to make very long excursions outside of their normal range.
Here in Minnesota, the DNR recently tracked a collared deer that made a 75-mile one-way trek. Thankfully it was not CWD positive at the time, but if one deer did it, that means other can as well.
Best of luck in having a healthy deer herd!
*deer skull article photo used by permission from Brad Alan