Saturday, 19 February 2011

The fine art of killing

There is a a lot of discussion on various hunting archery forums about the type of arrowhead best for despatching one's quarry quickly, and with the least amount of fuss and shortest bloodtrail. That's the whole point of hunting; to kill as quickly and cleanly as possible. To me the best kind of kill is the 'one shot drop', where the target is struck in such a way that it dies as close to instantly as possible.

Regarding 'instant' death. Aside from being hit by a blast so large that the shock is enough to shred every single atom in a body simultaneously, or the vaporisation and / or complete annihilation of brain tissue, there is no such thing as instant death. With humans for example; decapitation is not instant; the blood flow may be gone, but the brain tissue does not actually begin to die for two minutes. If it's very cold, even longer. There are plenty of anecdotal instances where the shock of the decapitating blow has not been sufficient to cause immediate unconsciousness, so the actual victim may be construed as still alive whilst their still conscious head is rolling around on the ground. Electrocution does not always cause immediate unconsciousness, nor does poison either inhaled or otherwise ingested. Judicial Hanging likewise. As an aside, a bullet in the back of the head is possibly the quickest and least painful, as when done properly it instantly destroys the pons medulla, which controls respiration and heartbeat. A jacketed fragmenting round may be preferable as after penetration of the skull, it should break up and instantly destroy brain tissue, causing as close to instant death as is practical.

As far as humans are concerned; without the brain, we are little more than a series of biological pumps encased in meat. This is because the brain is the seat of consciousness and awareness. In the case of hunting a prey species, in order to convert living protein into usable meat, the brain must therefore be shut down. In the case of a chest trauma, this means depriving the brain of blood by wrecking the pumping systems that keep it alive. Anyone who has trained in CPR will tell you that you must keep up those chest compressions to replace the action of the heart. The idea being get keep blood flowing within two minutes of a cardiac arrest or the brain tissue begins to die. When sufficient brain tissue dies, the person or creature it guided is no more.

Notwithstanding the above, killing Deer with a bow differs from using a firearm, because an arrow kills mainly by cutting vital blood vessels and causing massive blood loss. Not so much by impact shock and tissue damage as with a bullet. To kill effectively with an arrow means being able hit consistently within a twenty centimetre circle at twenty five to thirty five metres range, and have sufficient fieldcraft to be able to stalk to within that distance. Arrows, generally speaking, are not the best tool for penetrating thick bone such as that of a skull, and unless hitting square on, will tend to glance off.

I've always felt there is more of an art to killing with a bow rather than the simple mechanics of squeezing a trigger, as with a crossbow or firearm. The bow is more of an extension of your own body. Although Compound bows with all their gadgets and mechanical aids have always seemed to me a bit like cheating, but then I'm more a fan of 'traditional' hunting archery. For me, the skill is the thing, not the bag size. Whatever the tool, killing for food is a fine art, and one that merits a little judicious study to get it right.

Bearing the above in mind and not wishing any animal I wish to grace my dinner table in installments to die slowly, I decided to research the topic in detail before thinking about going on a hunt proper. Considered judgement is that a chest shot is best and least distressing to the animal to be shot. Various angles are favoured, but the most likely to result in a suitable killing target is judged to be slightly from a rearward angle (30-45 degrees) from full side on. However, there is a lot of disagreement about the type of broadhead that kills best. There are mechanical broadheads, with trochar heads and 2, 3, or 4 blades. There are traditional forged heads, stainless steel, alloy and all sorts on the market, which all look suitably deadly (See below). Some of them even look like they were designed by wannabe starship designers.

Having examined some of the better ones, a few weeks ago I got into a discussion about the best tool for the job of hunting with an experienced bowhunter. I'd seen a number of fancy mechanical broadheads and was keen to try them out. When I spoke of my interest, my friend was dismissive of 'mechanicals'. He was quite blunt on the matter and told me not to "Waste your damn money." According to him, the best hunting arrow head was a simple bevel edged two blade broadhead with a three to one length to width ratio. He also referred me to the work of Dr Ed Ashby which is published here, which is often taken as the seminal work on broadhead bowhunting.

Having read Dr Ashby's body of work, which is considerable. I have elected to purchase a 3 pack of the classic 'Ashby' design. Over a hundred bucks a throw, but well worth the investment I feel. If unavailable, there are a number of other forged two blade hunting tips which may not be as robust, but will do the job just as effectively. From what I can see, the two blade designs offer better killing and penetrating power than the three or four. With access to a simple metalworking shop, it wouldn't be too much of an effort to make my own to a similar design.

There's also the issue of fletching. An arrow is above all, a silent killing tool. In order not to 'spook' the prey so it starts or jumps just as the shot is taken, and thus is only wounded, the arrow must be as quiet as possible. One of my more experienced bowhunting acquaintances has done a little work on this topic, and worked out that a four inch 'banana' cut feather is the quietest fletching you can put on an arrow.

If fresh venison is going to end up on my dinner plate, I'd prefer that the Deer in question died quickly without knowing what hit it. Just because I hunt occasionally doesn't make me a completely bloodthirsty heartless bastard. Just someone who acknowledges humanity's genetic heritage as a tribal hunter gatherer. Even if I do have a slightly more than warped sense of humour. H/T to the Filthy Engineer for the 'Sainsburys Bambi' picture.


Angry Exile said...

To kill effectively with an arrow means being able hit consistently within a twenty centimetre circle at twenty five to thirty five metres range, and have sufficient fieldcraft to be able to stalk to within that distance.

Damn. Just as I'd seen the merits of hunting with reusable ammunition along comes the downside. Oh well, I'd better learn how to make bullets before the collapse of civilisation. :-)

Bill Sticker said...

Yes AE, but haven't you heard? It's good to stalk. (Groan)

Angry Exile said...


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