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Coulee Critter on the Diamond K

by Daniel James Hendricks 24. December 2011 04:07
Daniel James Hendricks

Since 2003, Kim and Cindy Kafka, owners of the Diamond K Ranch in Havre, MT have generously donated an Elk Hunt on their ranch to be auctioned off at the Annual UFFDA Banquet in an effort to support its mission.  The 2011 hunt was purchased by UFFDA Charter Member and longtime friend, John Swanson of Sauk Rapids, MN.  John lost his right leg during Desert Shield in 1990.  He has been a hunter since the very first UFFDA hunt back in 1995 and has served on the board of directors; he is also the current Range Master at the UFFDA Camp Wilderness Hunt in Park Rapids, MN.

Havre, MT is located in Central Montana about 40 miles south of the Canadian Border.

The third element of the Diamond K Adventure was the ranch’s Elk keeper, Skip Owens.  Skip has been the guide on each and every UFFDA hunt at the Diamond K since 2003, and like the Kafka’s, not only has he served us well, but he has become a very dear friend.  This year, instead of staying in a hotel, Skip and his mother, Berta invited us to stay in their home where we were treated like visiting royalty, helping to make it the best trip yet.  As with each and every UFFDA hunt, one thinks it can’t get any better; then the next one comes along and amazingly, the bar is raised.

Bringing the Kafka’s, Owens and Swanson together was my assigned job and suffice it to say, I love my work.  Taking photographs and the literal documentation of the hunt, as well as serving as the court jester were my responsibilities and I dived into my chores with gusto.  

Although the hunt was rigorous, John Swanson reveled in the experience. 

The 15-hour trip out to Havre was marred by bad roads for part of the journey, but even the slick byways were unable to squelch the excitement that had us as giddy as a couple of lads bound for their very first “big-hunt”.  John had never taken an elk; but had dreamed about a trip to the Diamond K hunt since the very first year it had been offered to the UFFDA membership. 

On the first day of the hunt, we awoke to partly cloudy skies and mild temperatures for early December.  A fresh dusting of snow had fallen over night adding to the 3-inch base, freshening up the surface and making it easy to identify fresh tracks.  The elk was in a 2600 acre pasture that we were able glass from Skip’s front porch.  We tried to locate the bull, but were only able to see a few of the 40 to 50 head of the buffalo that populate the pasture. 

The pristine beauty of the mountain slope was made even more so by the layer of white frosting of freshly fallen snow.

The first order of business was to sight in the crossbow to make sure that it was still on the mark.  John had asked to borrow my Scorpyd 165, not only because he admires the bow for its performance, but also because it is equipped with the HHA Optimizer Speed Dial, which allows the archer to launch an arrow accurately from zero to 80 yards with a simple turn of the dial.  He realized that in order to take the bull with a crossbow, he had to be prepared to take a longer shot than what he was used to.  The Scorpyd and the Optimizer Speed Dial would make that shot possible, if it had to be made.

We loaded up and headed for the bull’s stomping grounds, each filled with excitement over the onset of the chase.  The first objective was to find the bull and that task proved to be no easy chore.  As we began our search, John discovered that what appeared to be a smooth, but steep slope from a mile away was instead was a complicated system of hidden coulees that spread out over the mountain side like the veins of the circulatory system in the human body.  The natural gashes in the landscape ran deep and were shrouded in thick underbrush providing all the natural cover that any wild thing needs to hide and survive. 

John’s special prosthesis enabled him to negotiate the treacherous terrain like a pro.

Finding the bull proved difficult, but a steady search of the coulees with three sets of eyes eventually located the animal bedded down in thick brush halfway up a draw.  We analyzed the situation and then Skip carefully laid out his plan of attack.  The objective would be to sneak down an adjoining coulee to where it emptied into the ravine that held our bull.  John would have to make about a 40-yard shot to take his trophy if the stalk worked as planned, but of course, it didn’t.  As soon as human heads came into view, the bull jumped up and bounded out of the coulee stopping on the top of the rise to peer back and scoff, erasing John’s chance for a shot.  The bull paused long enough for me to nail it half a dozen times with my camera and then disappeared, making a clean escape.  Round one went to the bull.

Our quarry was far too smart to let us get close after the first stalk.

From that point on, the bull was on the constant move successfully keeping itself far away from the danger that it had correctly recognized us to be.  No matter what we tried, the elk out maneuvered our attempts to close the gap, rendering our efforts fruitless.  It was Skip that first detected a pattern in the animal’s flight pattern and his knowledge of the mountainside gave birth to a new brainstorm.  He took us to a ravine that was dotted by the fresh tracks made earlier by our quarry.  He pointed to the thick cover of pucker brush and tall prairie grass that covered one slope and told us to find a good spot there and wait.  It was on the alee side of the coulee so we were protected from the frigid wind chill and had to deal only with snow packed ground on which we rested our cold-sensitive butts. 

Ambush was our only recourse and Skip found a perfect spot for John to set up.

Skip moved away to begin to dog the bull hoping that the plan he had hatched would successfully provide John with what he believed would be a 30 yard shot.  John set the Speed Dial at 30 yards and we nestled deeply into the shelter of the underbrush to wait.  Positioned myself above John, I dialed my Sony camera to the video mode hoping to catch the all the action live if Skip’s scheme went as planned.  John was the first to detect the approach of the elk as he picked out the bull’s ankles popping as it neared our ambush.   Instead of following the trail along the ridge it angled down to the bottom of the coulee, moving directly towards the hunter.  At ten yards, I heard the subtle bark of the Scorpyd as it launched its projectile into the unsuspecting creature.  Taken totally by surprise, the big bull spun in a blink and bounded up to the top of the coulee.  It stopped and turned, staring back at the bottom of the ravine in a vain attempt to determine what had just happened.  After a short pause, the confused bull turned to flee taking only ten steps before gracefully somersaulting into death.  It was over!

After the shot, John was all smiles.  The elk never had a clue that John was there until it was too late.

Skip had watched the bull come back out of the coulee thinking we had been busted and that the elk had made good its escape.  Then, through his field glasses, he saw the blood escaping from both sides of the animal before it crashed to the ground.  Rushing to the coulee, he triumphantly joined us for the celebration we had all been working towards.  After many photos had been taken of the successful team, the real work began.  The animal was field dressed and then slowly, but surely drug by very small gains into the back of the pickup.  Thank goodness the huge expired beast came equipped with a pair of really big handles!  We hauled our trophy back to the ranch, where big machinery helped to complete the final processes of skinning and quartering the elk.  Once that was done, it was off to the locker where the bull was to be cut and wrapped.  From there, it was home for supper and a jubilant celebration that brought a fitting end to what had been a very special hunt. 

Guide, Skip Owens and John with his trophy of a lifetime.

The next day was spent tying up the loose ends and spending some quality time with our hosts.  On Sunday morning, John and I stopped at the ranch and collected the meat and the head then headed for home warmed by all of the good things that had taken place over the last four days. A hearty thank-you goes out to Kim and Cindy for their continued, generous support of the UFFDA Mission and their warm and wonderful hospitality.  We truly thank Skip and Berta for opening their home to us and treating us like part of their family.  And to Skip, a very special and heartfelt acknowledgement for his extraordinary service and all the hard work he put forth to make this hunt such a great success.  We love you all. 

Left to right: John Swanson, Kim Kafka, Skip Owens and Cindy Kafka.

Until next year, my Diamond K friends, fare the well!

The Maximum from The Axiom

by Daniel James Hendricks 13. June 2011 09:06
Daniel James Hendricks

With spring bear season right around the corner, Excalibur offered me their 2010 Axiom to field test against the mighty bruins of Manitoba.  I deduced that nothing should work better on a Canadian black bear than a Canadian crossbow so eagerly accepted their offer and shortly thereafter received the Axiom package directly from the Excalibur factory in Ontario.

Not only is the Excalibur Axiom a dependable, consistent and powerful crossbow, but it is real purty, too!

My first reaction when I opened the box was that the bow was “real purty”.  You see, the truth of the matter is that I am not really interested in the statistics of a crossbow like the fact that the Axiom has a draw weight of 175 lbs and an arrow speed of over 300 feet per second.  Or that it has a power stroke of 14.5”, an arrow length of 20”, a minimum arrow weight of 350 grains, a 3 lb trigger-pull or a mass weight of 6 lbs.  That is information for the technically minded, which is exactly why we have the cool and calculating brain of our European Correspondent, Geoffrey Toye on the HBM staff to masterfully and with great detail review our bows from the mechanical point of view. 


The Axiom possesses all of the classic lines that Excalibur has become so famous for.

The practical components of a crossbow are what flick my personal switch and during the assembly, the first thing that I really appreciated about the Axiom is that with its Advantage Timber camouflage skin and with the graceful lines of its traditional Excalibur contour, it is most pleasing to the eye.  That is the kind of high-tech thinking I conduct.  Once it was completely assembled, the Axiom and I did a bee-line for the backyard range with a hand full of arrows, a cocking rope, my trusty KneePod and a camp chair.  My first shot at ten yards hit the bulls-eye dead center, which is the exact kind of practicality my technical-less mind truly appreciates – a bow that comes out of the box and is almost perfectly sighted in on the very first shot. Now that is the kind of technology I can really sink my teeth into.

 The Axiom fires a 350 grain arrow at just over 300 feet per second.

Only a couple of minor adjustments were required to zero in at twenty and thirty yards, which is pretty much all I am interested in as I have never been a big fan of long shots with any kind of a bow.  Out to thirty yards I know that the Axiom (as well as all other Excalibur crossbows) is capable of dotting the “I” with every shot, when using a bench rest.  One must make sure to shoot at a different spot with each release or a target-shooting session will quickly turn as expensive as a hardcore junkie’s drug habit.  The only junk the single-spot archer will have to deal with when shooting an Axiom crossbow, however, will be the numerous arrows that will be trashed by its deadly consistency of its arrow flight. 

The Axiom is proudly made by Excalibur Crossbows in Ontario Canada.

The time I spent on the range established the benefits of Excalibur trigger, which according to many is finest in the industry. Three pounds isn’t much and it definitely will surprise you with its release when it is squeezed slowly providing even more fine-tuning to the degree of accuracy obtainable with this incredible little bow.  The Excalibur Multi-Plex scope that comes with each Axiom is 2.5 power, crystal clear and all that one needs when hunting with a crossbow.  The Axiom kit also includes an attachable quiver, four Firebolt arrows and field tips.

The 2.5 power Excalibur Multi-Plex scope provides all of the magnification necessary for the Axiom.

The Axiom is built to hold up under the most difficult conditions and remain virtually problem free.  Its rock-solid construction proved itself on the Canadian trip when the bow was blown off the hood of a pickup by high winds and landed upside down on the pavement.  A quick trip to the target range established the fact that the bow was still perfectly zeroed and that no limitations had been placed on the performance of the bow in any way.  There were a couple of cosmetic dings that would serve as friendly reminders of the experience as well as giving credence to the Axiom’s undeniable toughness.  In all likelihood, the only serious mechanical challenge that will shorten a hunt with this bow is a broken string and that is easily remedied by carrying a spare in your fanny pack or gearbox, which I always do.

The Excalibur trigger, according to many, is finest in the industry.

Another component of the Axiom that I really appreciate is its overall light weight.  By using a separate self-enclosed back quiver, I am able to pare even more weight off an already light bow making the load even more pleasant to bear and easier to hold steady when the moment of truth has arrived.  While in Canada, all of my hunting partners commented on how light the Axiom was compared to the bows that they carried.  In every situation, the lighter weight of the Axiom proved advantageous to me, broadening my appreciation for the bow and making it an absolute delight to carry in the field all day long.  

The Axiom safety must be engaged manually each time the bow is cocked.

Our trips into and out of the field were long, rough, dirty and wet.  They had record rainfalls this past spring and the water was deep and the mud was plentiful and sticky.  The Axioms sleek design was easy to access for cleaning making it simple to get at the critical areas for mud removal.  Never more have I appreciated the benefits of scope covers as on this hunt as well as the easy to clean surfaces and recesses of the Axiom.
The many hours spent with the Axiom on the range, traveling into and out of the bush and sitting on the stand gave me a great appreciation for the bow.  But, how did it perform in the killing department with the mighty Manitoba black bear you’re asking.   How would I know!  I didn’t even see one.  My five hunting partners all killed bears and I was the only one that had to hunt until the very last minute of the very last day without seeing a bear.  I am quite positive that word got out in the bush that Daniel Hendricks was there with a brand new Excalibur Axiom and that was all that was necessary for every bear in Manitoba to steer clear of the baits I alertly guarded.  Of course that is just a personal theory of mine; my hunting partners weren’t buying into it, actually I believe they were scoffing a bit.

When locked and loaded, the Axiom fits very comfortably on my lap making a long watch more pleasant.

From my humble point of view, the Axiom is a user-friendly bow that is easy to assemble, comfortable to use and tough as granite, while being very simple to maintain.  It is deadly accurate with consistent arrow flight and packs more wallop than necessary to kill any animal in North America.  It is light to tote, has a dynamite trigger and best of all it retails for around $650 for the whole kit and caboodle.  From a simple crossbow hunter’s point of view, one that likes things sweet and simple while still maintaining complete and trustworthy dependability, the Excalibur Axiom is a great start-up crossbow for the newbie or will make an excellent addition to anyone’s crossbow collection as a tough, dependable, hunting crossbow.  One can expect the maximum for the Axiom.

 Excalibur’s Firebolt Arrows are the perfect match for the Axiom.

















SKB Makes Transporting Your Compound Bow or Crossbow Easy and Safe

by Bow Staff 16. November 2010 08:06
Bow Staff

The SKB Transportation Corporation has been the world's transport authority since 1977.  Their motto, "Protection Obsession" is just what bowhunters want to hear.  If you are a bowhunter and have an out of state trip planned or need to transport your bow via plane or long car ride, the wear and tear during the process can take its toll on your bow if it is not transported correctly.  Fortunately, SKB has designed two bow cases, perfect for the parallel limb compound bows and ideal for the crossbow shooter as well. 

Parallel Limb Bow Case

 SKB’s new MIL-STD Injection-Molded Parallel Limb Bow Case has four patented trigger latches (two built-in TSA locks), four reinforced padlock locations, a molded-in hinge with stainless steel hinge pins, an automatic ambient pressure equalization valve, stacking lugs for stable transportation of multiple cases, is resistant to UV, solvents corrosion, fungus and impact damage, and cushioned snap-down handles on three sides with recessed in-line style wheels for easy portability.  The interior of the Parallel Limb Bow Case features a custom foam insert for cushioning your bow and a foam arrow system that holds up to a dozen arrows.  Interior dimensions: 41 ½” x 14 ½” x 5 ½”

Hunter Series Crossbow Case

The Hunter Series Crossbow Case is available with ABS exterior rigid molded EPS foam inserts, stylish embossing that adds structural support to the lid, molded-in bumpers to protect hardware from impact, lockable draw-bolt metal latches, convenient wheels, molded-in pull-handle and comfortable carrying handle.  The interior is 100% fabric lined with extended capacity to accommodate larger scopes.  Overall dimensions: 41” x 30”.


Barnett Buck Commander Crossbow

by Bow Staff 22. September 2010 09:42
Bow Staff

Love them or hate them, crowssbows are apart of today's archery world.  Love them or hate them, their technology astounding.  The Buck Commander by Barnett Crossbows is a prime example of modern technology impacting the archery world.  The all new Barnett Buck Commander shoots 365 FPS with a 14 inch power stroke and packs 126 ft. pounds of energy. It comes with Barnsdale laminated limbs encapsulated with Barnett's AVi technology to reduce the noise 20-30 percent. The Buck Commander features an aluminum flight rail, Barnett's Whiplash Cams combined with "Crosswire" Strings and Cables providing for a faster quieter more precise shot. Its patented shoot through foot stirrup allows for more power with a more compact fit. The crossbow comes with our new ADF trigger system. In addition the all new Barnett Illuminated 3x32 multi-reticle red/green dot sight allows you to have the illumination of a red dot sight with the efficiency and accuracy of a multi-reticle scope. The Buck Commander truly is a leap ahead in crossbow power and performance.


  • Velocity- 365 fps
  • Draw Weight- 175 lbs
  • Energy- 126 ft. lbs
  • Power Stroke- 14 in.
  • Weight- 8.9 lbs.
  • Length- 36.25 in.
  • Width- 24 in.
  • Arrow Length- 22 in.


Be sure to check out the Buck Commander and our other crossbows and accessories right here at!


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