On a Saturday morning earlier this spring, I ventured to Black Dog Outfitter to replenish my arrow supply. Whether it needed replenishing is a matter of opinion, but in this case mine was the only one that mattered. If it were up to my wife I would only own a dozen or two, which would probably suffice, but we all know it takes a room full to make an bowman happy. Am I right?
As I made my way to the arrow bin, I noticed a box of discounted wood shafts marked “DOUG FIR, $8.00 PER DOZEN” on the floor, and spent the next hour pawing through them. They appeared to be serviceable for the most part. Some had violated growth rings and splinters. Others were chattery at the ends. “Candy canes” would’ve accurately described 20 percent of them, but I enjoy a challenge and estimated at least eight quality shafts per dozen.
I happily carried the box to check out, ecstatic to pay $1.00 a shaft for enough arrows to last me several years. Buyer’s remorse set in as Tom (part owner of BDO) began ringing me up, so I asked him to elaborate on their origin and condition. Douglas Fir always makes me nervous. The wood has a beautiful grain, and good Doug Fir makes a great arrow. Bad Doug Fir makes a volatile arrow. The wood has almost a laminate quality that breaks sharply along its growth rings. It reminds me of breaking a length of door trim over your knee. If you can imagine that, you will have a better idea.
“I found them in the back while checking my inventory.” Tom said, examining one of the bundles. “No idea how long they’ve been there or where I go them. They are pre-cut but should make a 30″ arrow with the points and nocks. There are probably a few nice shafts in there, mostly stumpers, but what do you want for eight bucks?”
“Fair enough,” I concluded. “Would you mind tapering them for me on the Woodchuck? I hate tapering Fir.”
“Not a problem,” he chuckled. “I have time.”
Tom emerged from the back of the shop twenty minutes later with four dozen freshly tapered arrows, and I left $32 lighter. Four dozen tapered arrows for the cost of a single dozen is a bargain for any wood-slinging bowhunter and would keep me building throughout the year if I made them last. Though I seldom ever do. Something gnaws at me when there are arrows to be made. I have a hard time stopping once I start.
True to form, I set to work as soon as I arrived home, sorting the shafts by quality, and then again by weight with my digital kitchen scale. After culling anything potentially dangerous, I ended up with several bundles of six, and a few “odds and ends” batches of four or less. Having determined the cream of the crop, I immediately began straightening, staining, nocking, and fletching.
Little by little, the bundles began to shrink until only the odds and ends were left. They were not awful by any means, but they were not “field quality” by my standards. They varied a bit in weight, and were snakier than a spooled garden hose. I had to straighten each repeatedly. I decided to stain them orange, fletch them with whatever I had left in the feather drawer, and put them aside without bothering to crest them.
Over the next few weeks, I broke several of my premium cedar shafts against the cement wall in my basement while tuning a new bow. The endeavor left me exceedingly frustrated. I do not mind breaking arrows in the field, but doing so while mindlessly flinging arrows in the basement annoys me. I grabbed the oddballs out of desperation — they were expendable after all.
It only took a few shots to realize these were better than their “stumper” label. They grouped extremely well out of several of my longbows, and became my primary practice arrows throughout the summer. Their durability repeatedly exceeded my expectations, and their obnoxious color scheme made them harder to lose than a boomerang. I’ve shot the nocks off, skidded them off concrete, refinished, and watched my two-year-old furiously torque them out of my block target with enough force to break a window. I would probably have to incinerate them, scatter the ashes in a remote location, and sprint the opposite direction to be rid of them.
I owed them their due, but they were far too ugly for my quiver. No self-respecting bowhunter would ever grace the woods or range with arrows such as these! Deer would snort at the site of them.
A makeover was in order.
A few passes with a sharpie proved sufficient. I decided on a primitive pattern of alternating black, silver, and gold, and finished them off with my initials for good measure. The additional elements really set off the orange stain more effectively than anticipated. I am very pleased with the results, and plan on shooting them for some time. Though the odds are good I will break or lose them now that they’ve been christened…