Many archers in adventure stories and comic books use arrows with unusual heads. These include the standard explosive and grappling hook arrows, and the not-so-standard boxing glove arrow, Greek fire arrow, handcuffs arrow, and the ever popular atomic warhead arrow. While real archers generally have to make do with target and field heads, Louisiana-based archery company Rac-Em-Bac is now providing some spirited alternates.
A hunting arrow shot by an archer will on average have a kinetic energy about equal to that of the lowest energy .22 short cartridge and momentum about three times that of the .22 short. Still, some bow hunters might want a bit more bang in their quiver when up against an animal as tenacious and well-armed as a New Mexico javalina (collared peccary) or the latest costumed criminals. For these folks, and others simply interested in unusual archery ammunition, Rac-Em-Bac of Southwest Louisiana offers three rather atypical arrowheads.
The first, and arguably the strangest, are the Preloaded Scent Arrowheads (PSA), which serve to set the scene for the hunt. They come in ten scents, some of which are far less pleasant than others, and disperse their scent in a three to five foot (1 to 1.5 m) area centered on their impact site. The object is to place a scent that will attract game, or at least be sufficiently interesting to make game animals stop and sniff, so that the hunter can shoot at a stationary target.
By dispensing the scent via arrow, there are no traces of human scent leading into the scented area. I'm sure that an enterprising urban crimefighter could adapt these to contain Russian knock-out gas, but I suspect that the smell of rutting bears would be sufficient for most uses.
The second is the Bow Shot, a preloaded arrowhead quite similar in design to the PSAs, but containing #7 steel shot instead of scent. There is no powder charge to propel the shot so relies on the kinetic energy of the arrow to dispel the shot. The overall effect is rather like a Glaser Safety Slug, a prime self-defense handgun round which releases a cargo of #6 or #12 birdshot (#12 is half the size of #7) when it hits a resilient target.
However the Glaser releases its shot at perhaps 900 ft/s (275 m/s), many times faster than shot would be released from an arrowhead. This brings the #7 shot into the realm of truly tiny energy (about 1/1,000 of a .22 short bullet, which limits its use to hunting small game and vermin.
Finally, we reach the powerhouse of the Rac-Em-Bac offerings, the Bow Mag. The concept here is that you attach a hollow plastic arrowhead (the Bow Mag) to your arrow after inserting a .38 special or .357 Magnum handgun cartridge. The Bow Mag has certain similarities to the 3D-printed Liberator, as the construction is all plastic save for a metallic firing pin. The other distinction is that the Bow Mag is not intended to survive even a single shot.
It may reasonably be asked what difference exists between launching an arrow tipped with a Bow Mag, and launching an arrow tipped with a powerhead? A powerhead is a specialized firearm that is used for underwater protection and hunting. It consists of a short tube, within which is chambered a round of firearm ammo together with a firing pin. The firing pin may be spring-loaded so that the powerhead fires when it gently touches the target, or may be inertia-fired, which requires a stronger contact.
To this casual viewer, there is no difference whatsoever between the Bow Mag and a spearfishing powerhead when both are attached to an arrow. Powerheads are more expensive, as they are usually made of stainless steel, which also allows them to be reused. They also have a safety, which seems a good idea.
The Bow Mag has only an inertial safety of sorts, which is strong enough that the Bow Mag often fails to fire when it impacts a target, as can seen in this video. In both cases, the added killing power is provided more by injection of the propulsive gases from the fired cartridge into the prey than by the bullet, which will be moving very slowly indeed in the absence of a barrel.
There are some potential legal issues, particularly with the Bow Mag. While most oddly garbed crusaders tend not to sweat the small things, the US laws about weapon restrictions for hunting are different in each of the 50 states, and often vary for localities within a state. Rac-Em-Bac states in their FAQ section that, "It is important to check with your local or state game warden before hunting with the Bow-Mag, although it is legal to hunt certain types animals, such as wild hogs, coyotes or other nuisance animals."
There are other potential issues, as powerheads are considered firearms if not permanently attached to a speargun shaft. As with all unusual weapons, the purchaser should do their homework before parting with their cash.
In the end, do the Rac-Em-Bac arrowheads make hunting easier or the kills more humane? Time may tell, but I can't make a forecast. Reports will come in as serious hunters try out these devices, but I am most interested in hearing the exciting tales of those who bravely wear the heroic unitard.