As a kid, I vividly remember my siblings and I building bows and arrows out of sticks and string. We would then pretend to “poison” the tips of the arrows with mud or some other type of concoction we mixed up outside. We had read about poison arrows and similar poisoned weapons in history books, as I’m sure most people have, mainly featuring Native American peoples as well as the ancient Greeks and Romans. However, it may come as a surprise to some that poison pods, a variation of poison arrows, are not completely in the past.
Poison pods are rubber “pods” secured with rubber bands just behind the broadhead. The pods are then filled with an extremely potent muscle relaxer in powder form. Once the arrow penetrates the animal, the rubber is folded back inside the wound, thus exposing the powder to the wound area. The muscle relaxer releases into the blood stream, usually causing paralysis within seconds.
Succinylcholine Chloride, or Anectine, is the muscle relaxant most commonly used in poison pods. According to research, deer are far more sensitive to small dosages than humans are. While the dosage will kill a whitetail, it will not taint the meat, making animals killed with pods still edible.
The most recent news featuring poison pods happened just this year. In January of 2023, ten people in Louisiana were cited for bowhunting violations involving poison pods. While bow hunting, the hunters (allegedly) had pods, and were intentionally looking to shoot whitetail deer. One of the hunters had even shot and killed an antlerless deer using an arrow with a pod.
All of the pods along with the antlerless deer were seized by agents, and the hunters will likely be facing hefty fines. There were several similar poaching cases in the past ten years, and one case in South Carolina made headlines when 4 hunters were caught spotlighting with poison pods. These hunters also faced hefty fines among other suspensions.
Poison pods are illegal in Louisiana, South Carolina and every other state except for Mississippi. The state of Mississippi laws state that it does not prohibit the use of drugged or “poison” pods/arrows in deer hunting. While years ago pods used to be readily available for purchase in sporting goods stores. Succinylcholine Chloride is now illegal to sell in Mississippi. If someone wanted to hunt with a pod, they would need to make a trip to the neighboring state of Alabama to purchase it. It would seem that it would make more sense to outlaw poison pods altogether, however that is not yet the case and may never be.
Combing through a few forums on Mississippi wildlife laws and the use of poison pods, one user stated, “Mississippi doesn’t have any laws against Poison pods, but they have no laws against hunting deer while on cocaine either. However, I wouldn’t suggest it as it’s highly unethical.”
Another user stated a fair point by saying “With today’s high-performance bows, a POD degrades arrow flight which, in my opinion, creates a higher probability of a marginal hit. A gut-shot deer will not be affected by the poison.”
Somewhat popular in the 90’s, many hunters realized that the effect the pod had on arrow flight made it extremely difficult to shoot accurately anyway. The question of safety also comes to mind, if you were to accidentally cut yourself and get some of the powder in your wound, it could potentially be a bad scenario.
Yet, some folks are still using them religiously, and claim that they can’t imagine hunting without them. “I use it (poison pods) religiously,” says huntersmky (user handle) when commenting on a BullNettle News forum. “Serves as insurance for me and I don’t really care who is for it or against it or has a problem with me using it. I started out shooting it in 96 or 97 and got away from it for a few years, then started back 3 years ago. I haven’t lost a single deer in 3 years. It took me shooting a mid 170’s to go back to shooting poison. I hit the deer high shoulder and he bled more than I’ve ever seen an animal bleed.”
The ethics of using a poison pod to kill a deer does make one question the “sportsmanship” behind it. If someone feels they need to use poison in order to take a lethal shot at a deer, I would be curious about their shooting skills and wonder why they chose to take up bowhunting in the first place. Most people choose bowhunting for the challenge and skill of takes to down an animal, and using a poison pod as “backup” does seem to take away from that.
I understand that the general idea is that even if you made a marginal or non-fatal shot, you would be able to recover the animal. Yet, even that seems to be walking a fine line between what is actually bowhunting, and what is overstepping the boundaries of respecting your game.
Ironically, the man who is known best for his bowhunting wisdom and accomplishments also had a hand in hunting with poison pods years ago – Fred Bear. After having some bad shots and no recovery on several big game animals, Bear developed his famous Razorhead. While the results were encouraging, they weren’t exactly what he was looking for, and in the 1960s he decided to try poison pods. In the few hunts he used pods, they proved to work successfully.
Bear even wrote a letter to the officers of the Pope & Young Club pushing for their acceptance of the concept in 1964.
“It is the word poison. It’s a bad word and conjures up visions of skull and crossbones. Of elephants stuck in the belly by pygmies who follow the victim for days before he succumbs to the venom,” Bear wrote. “The type I am speaking of kills quickly and…is not fatal to humans.”
However, the outcry from other hunters was what ultimately drove Fred to drop the idea, as many organizations threatened to boycott Bear Archery altogether.
Despite the few poaching cases that have evolved in the past few years, poison pods don’t seem to be extremely popular with the majority of bowhunters. General opinion seems to be that drugged arrows are not a substitute for good marksmanship and sportsmanship. Instead, they seem to be more of a novelty item that very few hunters use – legally or illegally.