How to Choose Hunting Arrows

Follow the Arrows

As Texas’ hunting season nears, preparation is on every hunter’s mind. Time to get out last season’s equipment to repair or replace damaged items, then hit the stores for new gear. For archers, that will surely entail stocking up on arrows.

In archery, selecting the correct arrow is key to safety and success. The beginning target archer needs a good general-use arrow. Different materials, lengths and strengths are available. How do you know what to choose?

Materials. Arrows are made from aluminum, wood, fiberglass or carbon. Aluminum arrows are more user-friendly and are safer for beginners because they won’t splinter and are more easily repaired. Although they may seem more expensive in the beginning, aluminum arrows may actually cost less over time. As long as the shaft is straight, the nocks, fletching (traditionally, feathers) and tips can be replaced. For these reasons, major youth archery programs such as the National Archery in the Schools Program use only aluminum arrows. 

Wood, fiberglass and carbon are good materials for arrows, but they can become dangerous if damaged arrows are shot. These materials should be used only by experienced archers who know how to look for splinters. 

Regardless of the arrow material, always inspect all parts of your arrows before and after shooting them. Never shoot a damaged arrow.

Length.If an arrow is too short for the archer’s draw length, it could cause an injury to the bow hand, bow arm or more. To determine the right length for an arrow, an archer must determine his or her draw length. Typically, at full draw the arrow should be one inch longer than the front of the arrow rest for target shooting. Your arrow length will be longer than your draw length. (Hunters may want even longer arrows to keep the broadhead farther from their bow hand.) Websites such as and have helpful tips for measuring draw length. 

Strength. The strength of an arrow, also called spine, is based on the size and type of material. Spine refers to the stiffness or amount of deflection (bend) of an arrow in flight. The spine or bend of an arrow is affected by both the material used and the thickness of the arrow. A “skinny” arrow will bend more, while a “fatter” arrow will be stronger and harder to bend. 

Aluminum arrows have different diameters (written in variables of 1/64 of an inch), and the wall of the aluminum shaft comes in different thicknesses (written in 1/1000 of an inch). The diameter and thickness are usually written on the shaft of the arrow using four numbers. The first two numbers describe the diameter, and the second two describe the wall thickness. So, a 1214 size arrow will have a diameter of 12/64 of an inch and a wall thickness of 14/1000 of an inch. Typically, aluminum arrow sizes range from 1214 (skinny) to 2712 (fat).

The arrow needs to be strong enough to be used in the draw weight of the bow. If an arrow is too weak for the bow it could break or bend.

Tips. The weight of the tip affects the overall weight, which affects the arrow’s speed. For target shooting, a 60- to 100-grain target tip will work just fine. More versatile arrows will have a threaded insert so that the tip can be easily changed.

Fletching. For fletching, a solid plastic fletching or vane is great. Arrows typically come with three vanes. The vanes can be anywhere from 2 to 3 inches long. 

A vane may become damaged over time and can be repaired with a new vane, a fletching jig and some fletching glue. Refletching arrows is not complicated but can be frustrating. Strictly follow the directions on the glue, jig and fletching/vane package.

There are many great videos and tips on the Internet that can shorten your learning curve for repairing fletching on arrows.

Nocks. Arrow nocks for most aluminum arrows are push-in type nocks and can be easily changed if damaged. Simply pull out the old nock and insert a new one. The post of the new nocks will need to be the same thickness as the old nocks to fit properly. Also, the gap in the nock will need to be the correct size to snap tight on the center serving of the bow string.

The lowdown. For beginning archers, use aluminum arrows (1516 to 1816) and a bow with a draw weight of 20 to 30 pounds. A slightly stronger bow with a 40- to 60-pound draw weight would require a stronger arrow, 1816 to 2016.

Detailed arrow charts can be found on most manufacturer websites. Better yet, visit your local archery shop, where bow technicians and experts are always eager to help. 

Tell us about your archery experience: do you target shoot only, or are you an archery hunter?

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Texas Waterfalls

Falling Water

Waterfalls are a full sensory experience, perhaps adding in a bit of magic to what our eyes and ears tell us we’ve encountered. We can only imagine what those early explorers must have felt when — tired and dusty and thirsty — a waterfall suddenly appeared before them. Great time for a break for those pioneers, and us, in the middle of the endless Texas summer.

There’s a good number of waterfalls on public land here, but some folks are lucky enough to have their own private paradise, complete with falling water. We may not get to experience those private jewels, but there are state parks with waterfalls available for all to enjoy.

Have you ever hiked back to Madrid Falls at Big Bend Ranch State Park or paddled down to Dolan Falls at Devils River? Spectacular!

Gorman Falls

Our readers’ favorite, and perhaps the most famous falls in Texas, is Gorman Falls at Colorado Bend State Park. View the 60-foot falls on a two-hour guided hike or without a guide along the 1.5-mile Gorman Falls Trail (steep section at the end). The falls and travertine pools with unique aquatic life are fragile. There is no swimming at the falls, but swimming is allowed at the south end of the park. Hiking, mountain biking and cave tours are other popular park activities.

Where’s your favorite Texas waterfall?

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National Honeybee Day

Honey, Be Sweet!

Did you know that August 17 is National Honeybee Day? Let your inner Winnie the Pooh indulge in nature’s sweetest treat, and let’s give a shout out to the heroes of the hive, the honeybee.

Honey comb

Of course, there’s more to these little buzzy beauties than honey production. We need bees to pollinate one-third of our food crops and 90 percent of our wild plants. Without a healthy honeybee population, our abundant food supply would change dramatically. 

Over the past decade, bees have experienced a precipitous decline in their numbers. By most accounts, populations are declining at a rate of 33 percent annually. While there’s no smoking gun yet to explain why honeybees are disappearing, the wholesale collapse of one of our most important pollinators has been dubbed colony collapse disorder, or CCD. 

According to the USDA’s Agricultural Research Service, CCD is defined as a “dead colony with no adult bees and with no dead bee bodies but with a live queen, and usually honey and immature bees, still present.”

Don’t despair, there are ways we can help pollinators, and especially honeybees. Here are five quick tips.

  1.       Plant pollen- and nectar-rich plants for year-round feeding. Try planting in patches of the same species and avoid hybrid flowers. Have a diverse selection. Download this PDF for tips.
  2.       Don’t forget about trees. Bees don’t just visit perennial flowers — they go crazy for a tree full of blossoms and their wood cavities make good shelters for them.
  3.       Go pesticide free. Remember that what you use to kill a “pesky” pest will also wipe out butterflies and bees.
  4.       Educate children. Children are fascinated by nature, and they’ll follow your lead. If you teach them that bees are wonderful participants in our food chain, they’ll grow up to nurture them, not just fear a sting.
  5.         Become a beekeeper. There’s plenty of help out there to get you started, and your family/friends will beg for the fruits of your labors. 

Got a backyard hive, or dream of having one? We’d love to hear about it. 

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Going to the Coast

The dog days of summer are in full swing and you'd better believe we’re all feeling it.  Hazy waves of heat are lifting off of asphalt, icy glasses of lemonade are sweating rings into everybody’s coffee tables and AC is either blasting freezing air into homes and offices or there’s a stifling silence as units give out at the worst moment possible. Gotta love summer.

It’s hot and all I want to do is head to the coast.  The idea of cool ocean waves licking at my feet and gulf breezes leaving the tang of brine in my nose spurs me on.  In Texas we’re lucky enough to have more than one choice when it comes to coastal getaways.

But how do you decide which beach is your beach?

Some beaches are known for surfing or kiteboarding, others for beachcombing or building sandcastles. Where you go may be as easy as knowing what it is you want to do once you get there.

As for me, I’ll be heading to my go-to beach at Padre Island National Seashore to get those salty waves and cool coastal winds.

It’s not exactly a hotspot for beachgoers, but when my kids run into the waves I can remember how tightly they gripped my hands the very first time I led them into the surf. That’s how I know it’s my beach.

Share the memories your Texas beach brings back for you. We’d love to hear your stories.

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Blanco State Park Beckons

Blissfully Blanco-ed

Luckily the car air conditioner can keep us cool while we escape to a swimming hole to catch a last splash of the summer. Sure, there are pools galore across the state, but swimming holes are those precious jewels that add a dash of natural adventure to your swimming experience. 

At the eastern edge of the Hill Country, Blanco (pronounced BLANK-oh, not like the Spanish word for white) beckons. It’s the name of the river, the state park and the town, and each is a delight for families, seniors or young wanderers.

Blanco State Park was just the seventh state park in Texas. Meandering through the 105-acre park, the river showcases limestone terraces, majestic bald cypress trees and our state’s Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) history

Small dams creating pools at the park

Several CCC-constructed dams create swimming holes that are the park’s main attraction on hot summer days. When the air stills and the temperature peaks in late afternoon, visitors enjoy the showers beneath the dams’ spillover and float in the cool pools. Kayaks, tubes and canoes can be rented in the park.

Sunfish, catfish and bass (and rainbow trout in winter) are abundant here, making fishing another one of the park’s draws. 

When you long for a little civilization, head over to the Redbud Café to hang out with locals and enjoy for artisan foods and craft beverages, with live music on weekend evenings.

What's your favorite site park? When do you go? Let us know what you think in the comments.

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Dove season is almost here — get ready now

Tips to Improve your Shotgunning Skills

Of all the shooting sports, shotgunning may be one of the most difficult to master. Picking up a fast-moving target with your eyes and developing the proper lead and follow-through are skills that take a lot of patience, practice and persistence. Whether shooting a bright orange clay bird on a skeet, trap or sporting clays course or a real bird on opening day of dove season, your skills depend on practice. 

The good news is there is always room for improvement. The bad news is there are no shortcuts to shotgun shooting success. 

Practice before hunt season begins

Gil and Vicki Ash of OSP Shooting School in Houston offer these tried-and-true tips that are being adopted by hunter education programs across the country and the National Shooting Sports Foundation. 

Tip #1: Get to know your shotgun. 
·     The best place to practice is at the shooting range (find a range at If you cannot get to the range regularly, continue to handle your shotgun as often as you can. After work or school, or whenever you are home, take your unloaded shotgun out of its case and handle it. (You must still follow all gun safety rules, of course. This rule surpasses all others: Keep the muzzle pointed in a safe direction.) 
·     Practice mounting your shotgun. Work on your stance, swing and follow-through. Move around in different positions with your unloaded shotgun, depending on how you expect to be shooting. If you are a waterfowl hunter using layout blinds, lie down and practice sitting up to take the shot. If you will be in a blind or in an open field, practice sitting in a chair with your unloaded shotgun, then stand up to take the shot. 
·     When shooting at a target, your shotgun becomes an extension of your arm. Finding and focusing on a target takes practice. Once you have mastered the skill of target location and focus, your shotgun should automatically locate the target because that is where you are looking — at the target. This reaction takes only a matter of seconds. If you have handled your shotgun frequently, this becomes automatic and instinctive. 

Tip #2: Practice your gun mount. 
·     A proper gun mount is critical to successful shotgun shooting. Practice often at home in a safe place, free of distraction and with plenty of room to move around. Mount your unloaded shotgun to your shoulder and cheek, over and over again.You’re trying to accomplish a fluid, smooth motion to the shoulder and cheek, with your eyes aligned naturally down the barrel, focused on the target without having to think about it. 
·     One helpful exercise is to focus on the seam of your wall where it meets the ceiling. Imagine the seam as the path a clay target or live bird travels from left to right, or right to left. Next, insert a small flashlight into the barrel end of your unloaded shotgun and turn it on. Beginning at one corner, intensely focus on the seam. As your eyes slowly travel across the seam, raise your unloaded shotgun to your shoulder and cheek as you continuously move your eyes to the opposite corner of the ceiling. Swing your shotgun, following the “target,” as your eyes travel the line.
·     Continue this exercise slowly and with precision, so the movement of bringing your shotgun up to your shoulder and cheek embeds itself into muscle memory. This exercise is very revealing in showing how smooth — or not — your gun mount is. 

Tip #3: Focus on the target.
·     Those four words seem so simple but are the main reason we miss. We lose focus on the target. When you identify a target and begin your gun mount, your brain has the remarkable ability to recognize the target you are seeing. Your brain judges its speed, flight path and distance, then predicts where it is going. If you let your brain do what it is supposed to do, as you continue to focus on your target and mount your shotgun, your chance of success is great. 
·     Any visual distraction away from the target interrupts the message your brain is receiving about the speed, path and distance of the target, and you miss. Looking at the barrel is the top culprit. Oftentimes, when shooters mount the shotgun, the movement of the shotgun barrel catches their eye and for that moment, they look away from the target, then quickly try to relocate the target, chasing it across the sky with their barrel. They miss every time. 

·     Here’s an exercise you can practice to not get distracted by the movement of the shotgun barrel. Place three targets (cups, balls, shotgun shells) on a ledge or counter about 8 to 10 inches apart. Stand with your unloaded shotgun and focus on the center target. Keeping your eyes on that center target, slowly raise your shotgun and mount it to the left target. Lower your shotgun. Continue to focus your eyes on the center target. Slowly mount your shotgun to the right target. Repeat often. This exercise forces you to “accept” your shotgun in your peripheral vision rather than taking your eyes off your target. 

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Tips for taking ‘moving water’ photos

Tricks to Better Photos

Somehow, the idea of Texas having an abundance of verdant, fern-framed creeks and waterfalls seems almost foreign. However, with the recent higher-than-normal rains, runoff has filled tributaries, regenerated springs, and raised creeks and rivers to full and sometimes overflowing levels. The abundance has caused headaches for many people but also has presented scenic possibilities for outdoor photographers. In fact, water in almost any form can make a landscape photograph even better.

Basically, there are two approaches to photographing moving water.  Either shoot it very fast — or very slow. Shooting at very fast shutter speeds (1/500th second or faster) stops most motion and maximizes the clarity and perception of raw power by freezing the motion of each water droplet. Conversely, shooting at very slow shutter speeds gives us that “silky” artistic quality often seen on calendars. It’s that silky (or laminar) effect that many photographers prefer, but it’s often one of the most elusive to capture.

Creating stunning stream images

The secret to getting flowing water to render as a silky effect is to use a slower shutter speed than you would normally use on an outdoor photo. This typically means manually setting the exposure to shoot at shutter speeds of around one-half second to two seconds — or slower, depending on the speed of the flow.

These slower speeds mean that a tripod is an absolute must to eliminate any camera movement. An electronic or physical cable release is also helpful to minimize any vibration from touching the camera. Alternately, you can set the camera’s shutter delay for a couple of seconds, which will allow you to hit the shutter button and step away from the camera.

If you prefer using the camera’s automatic settings, you can choose the shutter speed priority setting, marked “S” on some cameras and “Tv” on others. With these settings, the camera will choose the appropriate aperture to achieve the correct exposure with the shutter speed you have selected. 

However, because of the very slow exposure, there is a point where the lens aperture cannot close down enough to balance the exposure, and this runs the risk of an overexposed image. Many cameras will give you some type of flashing overexposure warning. 

Setting your camera at its lowest ISO will also help lower the exposure sensitivity. A screw-in polarizing filter becomes useful here by cutting down on the amount of light entering the camera by approximately two f-stops. There are neutral density filters that cut down on light even more. One filter even cuts light by 10 f-stops, which can give you an exposure time of several minutes, resulting in some extremely interesting possibilities.

Another consideration in capturing the beauty of water’s flowing and swirling patterns is shooting in lighting that best captures the nuances of the delicate tonal highlights and colored reflections on the water’s surface. Usually this means shooting in the soft, non-contrasty light of an overcast day or later in the evening when the sun dips low, rendering the silky water flow with pastel colors reflected from the sky above or from surrounding vegetation. Be aware that it is very easy to overexpose flowing water and lose delicate highlight details, so be prepared to shoot a couple of slightly darker exposures to produce that one image that gives you the sense of being able to “feel” the water. 

Our friend the polarizing filter once again becomes useful with its ability to not only cut down on the amount of light entering the lens for those slow exposures but also to control the bright reflections from the water and add color to surrounding vegetation. Just rotate the filter to get the level of enhancement that looks good to your eye. 

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