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Is traditional bow hunting on death row?

The new Norms and Standards for Hunting Methods was recently published. They make it nearly impossible for women to hunt with traditional bows and require one to hunt animals with bows of excessive poundage. Rean Steenkamp, publisher of Africa's Bowhunter, writes about his hunting experiences with a lighter traditional bow and how effective this weapon was on the animals he shot.

>> Many women will not be able to hunt with traditional bows anymore because of the limits placed by the Norms and Standards for Hunting Methods. Marilize Kuhn successfully hunted this blue wildebeest using a 40-pound recurve and an Easton 500 arrow with a 175-grain Simmons Landshark broadhead. She got full penetration with this equipment on the animal. However, her hunting equipment is considered only powerful enough to kill rabbits.

 If ever there was a right time to join the Traditional Archers of South Africa (TASA) and stand up for traditional bow hunting, then it is now! If you have read the newly published Norms and Standards for Hunting Methods (see page 7 of the July issue) you will understand why I say so.

<< The author shot this warthog using a 46-pound recurve that delivered 33,51 foot-pounds. The arrow went right through the animal.

We were at the Sterkriver Traditional Shoot when Johnny Snyman handed me a 46-pound Scythian recurve. He wanted me to use it in the competition, but I was reluctant to do so. At that stage I was shooting a 60-pound, Assyrian-style recurve made by Gregg Coffey from Javaman Archery, and I thought that I might compromise my accuracy by switching to another bow.

Although I did not compete with the Scythian, I was impressed with the bow. It was the first Scythian-style bow ever built in the country and it looked beautiful when drawn. The draw was smooth when I pulled the string back to my mouth and the arrow travelled straight and swiftly when released. I had to have this bow and I bought it there and then.

The only problem was that the bow was light – probably too light for hunting. And I certainly did not want to hunt with a weapon that did not have sufficient power to kill the animal I aimed at.

However, the problem was soon solved when I visited my friend Johan van der Merwe on his farm in the Hammanskraal area. One of the impala ewes on Johan's farm died during the night and we decided to do tests on the animal. We propped the carcass in an upright position in the forks of two small trees.

I used a 460-grain carbon arrow tipped with a Tree Shark, which had a two-inch cutting width. The Tree Shark only penetrated fully and exited on the opposite side when I aimed at the rib area at a 90-degree angle. When aiming from other angles, the arrow penetrated up to the skin on the opposite side.

>> One of the impalas the author shot with his 46-pound Scythian-style recurve. The arrow, tipped with a Zwickey Delta, went right through the animal.

During further penetration tests I used a Zwickey and a Snuffer. The Zwickey flew right through the animal – like the proverbial hot knife through butter. The broadhead penetrated fully, exiting partly on the opposite side, even when I hit the animal through the scapula, neck bones or spine.

The Snuffers also penetrated completely when I hit the rib area, but did not achieve full penetration when hitting the spine or scapula – penetrating to just under the skin on the opposite side.

I previously killed two blue wildebeest with Grietjie, a bamboo-backed Osage orange bow that had a draw weight of 58 pounds. I used an arrow of just under 700 grains, tipped with a Tree Shark. On both occasions I got full penetration on the animals. When I tested the bow at Herman Brand's archery shop, we found that Grietjie and the Scythian recurve gave more or less the same number of foot-pounds of energy. Grietjie delivered an arrow speed of 150 fps with a 620-grain arrow, giving a kinetic energy reading of 30,98 foot-pounds, a momentum reading of 0,42 lbs/s and a penetration index of 13. The Scythian shot the same arrow at a peed of 156 fps, with the kinetic energy working out at 33,51 foot-pounds. Momentum was 0,43 lbs/s and the penetration index 14.

<< This blue wildebeest was shot with a 50-pound recurve, delivering around 35 foot-pounds. The Zwickey Delta penetrated through the rib cage of the animal and stopped under the skin on the opposite side.

After the tests, and knowing that the bow hit harder than my 58-pounder, I was confident that I could take animals with it.

Soon after that I killed three impala with the bow. One impala, a ewe, was standing in a quartering-away position. The arrow went right through the animal and half of the shaft exited in the chest area. The second impala, a young ram, was standing square-on and I hit it with a Zwickey Delta. The arrow passed right through the animal. I also shot a bigger ram on another occasion and also got full penetration.

In addition, I had the opportunity to shoot a warthog with this bow. The pig string-jumped me and the arrow hit it a little to the back. However, the two-inch Tree Shark I used cut part of the lungs and the liver and penetrated right through the animal, killing it.

Soon after that I received a Scythian recurve from Lucas Navotny. This bow had a 50-pound draw-weight – more poundage than my other Scythian. Since this bow had more speed and thus more foot-pounds, I decided to hunt bigger animals with it. I also decided to use Zwickey Deltas instead of Tree Sharks, since the smaller cutting edge and the shape of the broadhead would give me more penetration.

>> This big kudu bull was brought down with a 50-pound recurve, which had enough power to drive the arrow right through the animal.


I also contacted Harry Marx, chairman of SABA, and gave him the information on the bow – ie the arrow weight and arrow speed and the type of broadhead. Harry did his famous calculations and assured me I would get more than enough penetration to kill a kudu or a blue wildebeest.

Well, the rest is history. Since then I have successfully hunted five kudu bulls and one blue wildebeest bull with this bow. In all the cases I got more than enough penetration to kill the animals quickly, and on two occasions the arrow flew right through the animal, exiting completely on the other side.

My point thus is that my 50-pound bow, which delivers about 35 foot-pounds of energy, proved itself more than adequate, time and again, to kill kudu and wildebeest. Why do the new norms and standards require a minimum of sixty foot-pounds to kill these animals? Who did the tests on which these minimum standards are based? To reach that amount of foot-poundage one would have to shoot with a traditional bow of around 72 pounds. This is fine when shooting a compound, but a traditional bow is different. You actually have to hold the full poundage of the bow at your mouth when shooting – and having to do so with heavy poundage compromises one's accuracy.

The truth is that, according to the new standards, my recurve is not adequate to hunt anything but game birds, small carnivores, hyraxes, rabbits and pygmy antelope. To kill impala, blesbuck and warthog I would need a bow with 50 foot-pounds of energy – or a draw-weight of 60 to 62 pounds.

I can draw a 60 or 70-pound bow and will do so in order to continue hunting with traditional equipment, but most women will not – neither will young boys and older men. Hunting with longbows and recurves will thus be out of reach for many traditional enthusiasts.

There would be no problem at all if the minimum standards were required to make sure that no animal suffers unnecessarily. However, it is not the case! The standards have no merit. It just means that many traditional bowhunters will have to hang up their bows for no real reason. Even some compound hunters will not be able to hunt anymore. And the rest will be hunting with equipment that will make them more prone to wounding. In the end it will not be to the benefit of the animals hunted, nor of the hunters hunting them.

Updated: Tuesday, August 16, 2011 3:17 PM


About the Author

Rean Steenkamp

Rean Steenkamp

Rean Steenkamp, editor and owner of Africa’s Bowhunter magazine, is an enthusiastic traditional archer and bowhunter. He started hunting with a longbow in 1997 and has since bagged many African plains game with traditional bows, compound and black powder rifles. He also dabbled in bow building and published a bowhunting book titled “Let loose the arrow!”

Rean started his career in journalism in 1984 at a newspaper in Pretoria, South Africa. He interrupted his career at the end of 1991 when he joined the 37th weather team expedition to Gough Island, where he worked for 14 months as the communicator. The team consisted of only seven people living in isolation on the seven by 16 km island. Rean started the Africa’s Bowhunter magazine in 2000 while working as editor for the Game and Hunt magazine.


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