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Outdoors Outpost
Cutting Off Our Beaks
Wednesday, July 31, 2013 • Posted August 1, 2013

My friend, Dale McCorkle, along with his dad, Ed, got me interested in archery back in the early 1980s. I will be forever grateful to them for the many happy hours I’ve spent since then, scratching around in high grass, fighting my way through beebrush and prickly pear, staring at the ground looking for arrows I’ve shot and lost.

See, that’s the great thing about arrows – unlike cartridges, arrows can be used over and over and over, as long as you can find them again. And as long as you don’t break them shooting something hard, like a rock or tree or the leg of a deer feeder. Arrows are forever, or until you shoot them, whichever comes first.

To get any good at archery, you have to shoot a lot, and you have to do that while you’re no good at archery, so by the time a novice archer isn’t a novice anymore, he or she has gone through quite a few shafts. To keep from going broke buying arrows, and possibly avoid divorce, most archers decide pretty quickly to build their own arrows, which is a lot less expensive than buying them already made. It also allows archers to waste even more time on archery.

When I started building arrows during the early 1990s, bulk cedar arrow shafts were available for about a quarter apiece. A nock cost about a nickel, a field point about twenty cents, and feathers were about twenty cents apiece. So I could build an arrow for less than a dollar. I could lose or break several arrows a day, but they were cheap. I happily sent the wood flying in all directions, and if I didn’t find my arrows I built more. I bought shafts a few hundred at a time, and there’s no telling how many turkeys shivered through the winters because of me.

And then some knucklehead in Oregon noticed a slight decline in the northern spotted owl population. I’d never heard of the spotted owl before, but that whiny little bird changed my life. I sat down once to try to figure out how much money the owl had cost me, but gave up in disgust. Traditional archers all over the U.S. hate that owl.

When the northern spotted owl was listed as endangered, logging came to a screeching halt in parts of the northwestern United States, to preserve the owl’s habitat. Some of those areas happened to be where the best cedar for arrow shafts grew, such as Port Orford. Consequently, the price of cedar shafts skyrocketed. It quadrupled in about a year, and they became harder to find to boot. Archers started spending more time looking for lost arrows than ever before.

The problem is that, even with all the efforts made by the US Fish & Wildlife people, and all the sacrifices made by America’s traditional archers, the northern spotted owl has continued to decline. Makes you wonder why people refuse to admit they can’t fix nature, but there you go.

One of the main causes for the spotted owl’s spotty track record is the barred owl, according to Federal wildlife officials. Barred owls are larger and less picky about what they eat, and they supposedly take over spotted owl territory and run their little cousins out.

So the USFWS has decided to spend $3 million on a program to issue special permits to hunters to kill about 3,600 barred owls in Washington, Oregon, and northern California during the next four years. Yes. They want to kill one owl to save another.

There have been dumber ideas in the history of mankind, I’m sure, although I can’t think of one right off the top of my head. One owl, as far as I’m concerned, is pretty much just as valuable as another, so the whole story makes me wonder what USFWS puts in the water coolers at its offices.

Now, if the spotted owl offered some contribution to society the barred owl did not, such as a cure for cancer or a really cool hoot, then I might see the point. But as far as I can discern the only claim to fame the spotted owl has is that it’s weak and wimpy. It’s the Justin Bieber of owls.

Nevertheless, I hope to be chosen as one of the hunters who gets to go shoot barred owls in the northwest. I’ve built up a lot of animosity toward owls over the past 25 years, and it would be a good opportunity to let off some steam. Matter of fact, I still have some Port Orford cedar arrows I’ve been saving for a special occasion, and it would be particularly satisfying to shoot some owls with those. Sort of poetic justice, or something.

Of course, I might accidentally stray over into spotted owl territory and shoot some of the real culprits, but I don’t see that as a big deal. After all, one owl is just as good as another . . .

Kendal Hemphill is an outdoor humor columnist and public speaker who believes killing one owl to save another is cutting off our beaks to spite our faces. Write to him at PO Box 1600, Mason, Tx 76856 or

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