In 2000, I qualified as “disabled” under the then-extant law in Virginia that permitted people who couldn’t use a conventional compound bow to hunt with a crossbow (of course, the law has since been changed, and one no longer need be a Gimp to do this).  So I bought myself a nice Excalibur “Vixen” recurve crossbow and got into bow hunting as a way to extend my deer season.  My success rate wasn’t all that good, and the one time I did manage to put an arrow into a deer—I’ve written about this recently—I lost her; but that’s another story.

After two seasons I’d run through my stock of "good" arrows for the Vixen and needed to replace them.  I also decided to switch to mechanical broadheads so a re-organization and standardization of equipment seemed in order. I wanted two dozen Easton XX75's, #2219's, 18" long, with flat nocks and inserts, identical to the ones I’d bought with the bow two years before, from Dan Miller of Horizontal Archery in Sardis, OH.

I know a lot about guns but just enough about archery gear to know I don’t know much, so I rely on expert advice.  What The Gurus say is what I do.  I decided to “buy local” for such things as arrows and broadheads; so I called one of the few bow shops in this area to ask if they could provide what I wanted.  Crossbows aren't yet widely used around here but obviously there is some trade in them, because the shop stocks crossbow arrows.

My Vixen came with aluminum 18" arrows: I had called and spoken with the bowyer, and asked him if he had 18" arrows.  "No," he said, but I can cut 'em off for you." He assured me there would be no problem, I could have them any length I wanted.  So I told him I'd be in later that day to get a couple of dozen, along with half a dozen mechanical broadheads.

Every time I go there my teeth ache from clenching my jaws.  I’m pretty good at dealing with anyone at almost any level, and I can fit into nearly any circle reasonably well; I have no particular prejudices and my extensive experience with different cultures and nations have made me a pretty tolerant guy. But the characters in this shop are like something out of "Deliverance.”  They're the living embodiment of every stereotype the Trendy-Lefties have about Good Ole Boy Hunters; if PETA went looking for Bad Guys for a TV ad, Central Casting would send them these clowns.  They're genuine Neanderthals: I know better than to lump all bowhunters together, but someone wanting to denigrate hunters in general and bowhunters in particular would find these guys really useful in a propaganda campaign.

The usual crew of knuckle-draggers was there, loafing around and watching the bowyers work while the proprietor chewed the fat with a couple of people who'd brought their baby around to see if they could get a camo liner for the kid’s car seat (no kidding, and yes, they could) while simultaneously talking on the phone, AND installing a scope on a rifle, etc., etc.  The proprietor of this shop is the only person I’ve ever met who NEEDS one of those hands-free things; he’s ALWAYS on the phone, and he'd probably save some time if he had it sewed to his ear.

It’s a rare thing to go into this shop and not spend at least 20 minutes standing there waiting for someone to ask me what I want. It’s not that they’re all that busy, it's just that time has a entirely different meaning to the people who frequent the place.  It's as if the shop exists in another dimension of the space-time continuum.

None of the regulars are employed, so far as I can tell, except the bowyers who work there, and of course the shop owner.  Most of them are younger than I am, so they can't be retired.  They obviously aren't independently wealthy, because if they were, they'd have indoor plumbing and take a bath once in a while, which obviously isn’t the case. They aren’t buying anything, either.  I’ve never actually witnessed a sale of anything more significant than a box of .22’s there.  They’re just…hanging out. I can't figure out how they live, but the same crew is always present, leaning on the counters, shooting the breeze, passing the time.  Perhaps they serve to keep the bowyers from getting bored, and in the rare intervals when the owner isn't on the phone, to keep him awake.

About half an hour after my arrival the assembled congregation reached a pause in the discussion of the best type of release and whether or not Old Mossyhorns had made it through the drought, and one of them looked up long enough to notice I had been standing at the counter, waiting for their attention.  This, of course, made them all stop talking and stare at me, so the bowyer asked what I wanted.  I told him I was the guy who'd talked with him that morning, and that I was there to get some 18" #2219 crossbow arrows.

"Ain't got any," he replied, "I only got 20 inch arrers." 

I had thought to bring along one of mine and said, "No Problem, just cut them to match this."

Whereupon he solemnly assured me that this was impossible, as his arrow cutter wouldn't adjust that far.  Twenty inches was do-able, but 18, no way.  "Heck, no one uses 18 inch arrers!" he insisted.  "Even 16-inch arrers sell better than 18's does!" He then went on to explain that my only option was to cut them myself and use a tubing cutter, but "...don't turn it too tight, you'll crimp your arrer."

I explained that I didn't want 20" arrows; I wanted 18" ones, because that's what Excalibur said to use in that bow.  If he wasn't able to provide them, I'd just have to order them from someone else.  He said I was out of luck, so I walked out and drove home.

Next step was to call Horizontal Archery.  Then came the big surprise: "I don't sell aluminum arrows."

I reminded him he'd sold me the original ones; after a pause he said "That must have been a long time ago."  When I told him it was about 2 years, he said, "Yup, that's about when I stopped selling aluminum."  He then proceeded to give me a long discussion of the virtues of carbon arrows, and how the extra cost was justified.  "Carbon will do to aluminum what aluminum did to wood," he claimed; "Aluminum was good but carbon is better."  After some hesitation I gave in.  I let him sell me some of those plus some broadheads.  All told, that package cost me $202 for 24 arrows and 6 Spitfire mechanicals.

Now, this comes to about $8.42 PER SHOT.  If it takes more than one shot to kill a deer I could spend almost as much to kill the animal as process it!  It would be cheaper—a LOT cheaper— to hunt deer with a .460 Weatherby, for God's sake: those cartridges only go for about $4.00 a round, and even a .600 Nitro Express wouldn't be much more than the Vixen.  Aluminum is expensive enough, but I'm seriously beginning to wonder whether bowhunting is worth the trouble and expense at all. It costs more than hunting ducks does, and THAT's saying something. The gentleman at Horizontal Archery said "You can't bend them," but I have my doubts.  I've bounced a couple of aluminum ones off trees or rocks and pulled a couple out of deer, and they're always twisted beyond use.  So far, I’ve lost two of those nearly-$9-each arrows, so I can’t attest to their non-bendability.

I’d sunk about $500 into the original rig, including an extra string, the first batch of arrows, the crank-cocking gadget, etc.  Add to that a field cocking device ($25), a case ($25) and a back quiver ($60) and the sums rapidly mount.  I don't ordinarily mind spending money on my hobbies, but there are limits: shelling out another two bills on top of that just to “reload” seems a bit excessive.   It's not as if I'm passionate about bow hunting; it's just a way to get a longer season and to be able to kill deer of either sex.  Given my “success” rate to date—two lost arrows, three clean misses, one wing feather clipped off a turkey, one squirrel, and a deer I lost—it’s a damned expensive way to do it.