An outstanding hunting innovator
Who is Gaston Houle? Where does all of his invention ideas come from? How does he proceed? Discover the fascinating story of a passionate, die-hard hunting innovator!
The man behind DrStirrup:
Hello! My name is Gaston Houle. I was born in 1953 on a dairy farm located in Wickham, Quebec (Canada), in the midst of the baby boom. The proof is I have eight brothers and one sister!
When I was 12 years old, my father sold the dairy farm and started manufacturing equipment to manage cow manure. Therefore, from a very young age, my brothers and I were involved in the company’s operations and machinery inventions. Our strength has always been an acute sense of observation and the ability to detect all improvement possibilities. In 1995, at the age of 42, I retired to dedicate myself to my passions: hunting, snowmobiling and downhill skiing. However, even though I was retired, I kept modifying products I bought to enhance their performance. This is something I really enjoy doing, and it is also how I came to develop DrStirrup!
The triggering factor
During a moose hunting trip in the great northern forest of Quebec, the idea came to me.
I was moving through a forest full of pine and spruce trees which had been logged, creating an incredible amount of brush. My Excalibur crossbow was across my shoulder on my back. While walking the hunting arrows were constantly moving & snagging on tree branches, causing them to fall to the ground. All of this was making a lot of noise. It was exactly the kind of situation where my frustration transformed into an invention idea!
After thinking about my idea for 4 months, I finally decided to add an ABS pipe to my “Matrix 380” Excalibur crossbow so that the broadhead was hidden. This way, blades could not touch anything when moving through the forest, including the hunter’s hands. This is when I quickly realized that l would have to move the stirrup: a design that had not moved since the Middle Ages! Hunter’s safety depended on it. When uncocking their crossbow with a rope cocking aid, the broadhead could easily pierce through their boots, possibly even their foot.
You could tell me that a hunter is stupid to forget to take out the arrow before putting his foot in the stirrup to uncock his crossbow. The odds are the same for forgetting to take out the arrow before uncocking as they are for forgetting to put one in before shooting. Sooner or later, everyone becomes a member of the dry fire club! This can happen to anyone at anytime. There are various reasons that can cause this distraction.
So, by protecting the arrow’s broadhead with a guard, it is now impossible to injure one’s foot since this setting requires our feet to be out of the arrow’s trajectory. It’s a win-win situation: the broadhead is inside the guard, and feet are out of its trajectory.
My prototypes in aluminum reached all my safety goals with success, but they were heavy, long and difficult to machine, and expensive. I also had the unpleasant surprise of discovering that aluminum generated a lot of noise when shooting.
Two life-changing encounters
The more I faced inconvenience, the more I wanted to stop it all. Is it was not acceptable for me; it was not for my fellow hunters. I met an engineer who suggested that I use plastic to design my kit. I didn’t have a choice; if I wanted to get rid of all the inconvenience of aluminum, I had to use plastic as the main material.
However, before going further, I had to ask the crossbow guru if my idea was, as I thought, worth being realized. I knew Don Katsumi from Toronto. Don is a custom crossbow rope maker, he is the “King of the String” and he owns more than 20 Excalibur crossbows. I arranged a meeting with him, and I was sure that he would fall in love with my idea. The fact is I has a few surprises.
The first surprise: Don is barely 5 feet tall! Because of his height, he was not able to cock my “Matrix 380” crossbow. When he was trying to cock the crossbow, his feet lifted off the ground. During the meeting, Don told me that someone, somewhere, should think about shorter hunters, as well as women, whom are unable to cock crossbows. What a major problem.
Don also told me to modify my kit so that hunters could cock their crossbows while sitting. This was a huge request. That’s when I realized that a “one size fits all” approach did not apply in the world of crossbows. I would have to work hard to resolve these major problems. Don told me my basic idea was good, but he clearly was not in love with my kit. On my way home, not more than 30 minutes later, I suddenly got a flash: a T-shaped double stirrup in plastic, leaning backward!
Prototypes and testing
At the beginning of 2014, my nephew and I drew many computer 3D prototypes. My mind was made up; I could not let such an invention go unmarked. In September 2014, I had all my final prototypes ready to be tested.
During the fall hunting season 2014, around 50 hunters tested my invention in real hunting situations. The result was unanimous. They couldn’t believe that in the last 1,000 years no such accessory had been invented. Such a practical product is nothing less than an indispensable crossbow accessory.
Made in North America
My products will always be manufactured in North America with raw materials from United States and Canada. It is easier to have full quality control on the final product by designing and manufacturing it here. The same goes for all my products in development. Let’s keep our jobs in North America!
P.S.: I almost forgot, Don Katsumi fell in love with my kit after all!
Like many other hunters, I transferred from the bow to the crossbow when hunting regulations changed allowing the use of a crossbow throughout the season, which was previously reserved for bow hunting. I immediately discovered that it was much easier to quickly develop accurate shooting, but I also noticed that the crossbow generated a lot more noise than the bow, like the majority of hunters who made the switch.
Too much noise
After purchasing an Excalibur “Matrix 380” crossbow, I noticed a much higher noise level than that produced by the other Excalibur crossbows I owned prior to this model. The reason is very simple: the more powerful crossbows become – and the race for power and speed is only just beginning – the more energy is released when shooting. This inevitably creates a loud vibration.
Like many other hunters, the noise when shooting profoundly annoyed me. I did some research and found that two major companies promised noise reduction with great illustrations of decibel meters as supporting evidence. I finally chose a silencer kit that installed easily by sticking the limb silencers inside the limbs. I tried to convince myself that the kit offered noise reduction but frankly, I was not at all impressed.
Even if arrows shot by a crossbow are usually faster than those shot by a bow, a crossbow gives the hunter a slight advantage. If we compare the speed of arrows to the speed of sound, the latter is 1.125 ft/s and a really fast crossbow is “only” 400 ft/s!
For example, an unalert deer standing at a distance of 25 yards has only a 1/4 of second to react to the sound of the shot and jump away before the arrow touches him. Very few deer can avoid an arrow because of the sound generated by a crossbow.
Pour resistance of silencers
During this same season, I was hunting in Ontario in December. The weather was around -25oC (or -13oF) and for 11 consecutive hours I was positioned in a hunting stand 30 feet from the ground. That evening, back at the hunting camp, my friend and I shot a practice arrow to check shot accuracy in these freezing conditions. While shooting, a noise reducer fell off one of the limbs.
While examining the piece that fell on the ground, I noticed that the material of the noise reducer had separated from the sticky surface attached to the limb. I was furious. Not only had I lost one of the two limb silencers, but also I knew I would have to take out the other one and retune my crossbow because the limbs were now completely unbalanced. On top of that, I had to do it using the lights on my pickup truck and all this in a Siberian temperature: NOT FUNNY.
After that hunting season, I made various prototypes. My first non-negotiable point was that pieces would not be stuck to the limbs because once they are in place it is impossible to fine-tune them. To insure the pieces stayed in place, I had a very simple solution: encircle the limbs with the silencers, a bit like a rubber band that we would put around our wrist. I was surprised to discover that when I put my limb silencers in the right location, I suppressed a lot of the noise. And as a bonus, I only lost a tiny 1 ft/sec. of speed. I decided that if it was good for me, all hunters should have the chance to benefit from it.
Innovation in progress
After analyzing and observing every part of the Excalibur crossbow that generates noise, I developed a complete line of products that significantly lower the decibels: the dBKiller. My dBKiller silencer is unbreakable and highly effective. It is manufactured in North America with high-quality elastomer materials.
Check out and try my dBKiller line, and I promise you will be satisfied! Furthermore, I am working on new products to reduce vibration and noise generated by other crossbow parts on the Excalibur and all other bows on the market.
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History of the 4X4Kocker
When purchasing a 380 Excalibur crossbow, I realized that the increased speed of new crossbows on the market made it harder to cock them because of the increased limb strength.
I have always found it a bit absurd that most of the cocking aid handles only have space for two fingers. Made this way handles put a great deal of pressure on the two fingers, leading to major discomfort. I also noticed that with the T-shape handles, I had to move at least one inch before the string of the crossbow began to move up. The short T shape handle made it almost impossible to hold it between two fingers and close to the palm because it hurts badly when pulling up.
Loss of efficiency
I lost about 3 inches of vertical lift when pulling the string of the crossbow upward. In fact, when I lost 1 inch at the bottom, I also increased the length of vertical lift movement by 2 inches at the top. So, by having a new handle design long enough to use 4 fingers instead of 2, I decreased the length of the movement by at least 5 inches. This is huge!
I gave my testing team plain round handles 4 inches long with simply a 1/4 hole in the middle for testing. Once again, the results were unanimous. They all appreciated shortening the movement required to cock the crossbow, they needed a handle large enough to use 4 fingers.
At the same time, when regularly navigating Web forums about crossbows, I learned that an increasing number of hooks were suddenly breaking. I saw pictures of hunters who were injured in both the abdomen and the face: not funny. I read that a lot of hunters were afraid every time they were cocking their crossbow. An atmosphere of distrust was beginning to set in toward this necessary tool for cocking the crossbow. On forums, you could even read: “We want better hooks! We do not imitations; we want innovation, stronger, more efficient cocker hooks. In fact, we want them to be completely safe.”
All these problems result from increased crossbow power. Faster crossbow mean crossbows with stronger limbs, so more pressure created on hooks. For Excalibur crossbows, the problem is even more severe since they do not have pulley cams to help diminish the pressure required to cock them.
On January 1st, 2015, I made the decision to create a whole new type of rope cocking aid; however I did not intend to imitate other similar products already on the market. In less than 24 hours, my design was ready. Hooks would be much stronger so they can resist today’s increased pressure; yet would be designed to hang easily on the string before pulling the handle and, more importantly, when paired with my new handle the kit would not increase movement, but rather decrease it. Furthermore, a last but very important point: hooks must increase the arming accuracy level. What a great challenge!
Excalibur crossbows have lots of qualities, but they also have their downsides. They have a simple design, they are reliable and strong, but require greater effort and pressure to be cocked. But personally, even with their downsides, I will never put down the Excalibur crossbow. This is my crossbow of choice and the one that will make me choose another brand has not yet been born.
Noise and alignment
The only solution for this last point was to add pulleys just like those used for the string cocking device, but this time at the crossbow’s string level. Simple, but very effective. No more hooks moving loudly against the crossbow barrel when cocking a no more friction of the hooks against the crossbow’s string. The result: less wear on the string, but more importantly, a perfect repetitive alignment of the crossbow string with the trigger mechanism.
I began the required process to patent everything and made first drafts of the kit. I set up a meeting with Don Katsumi, the crossbow guru, to get his opinion about my invention. I met him in Belleville, Ontario in February of 2015 during a “Made in Canada” snowstorm. When Don saw my drafts, he was speech less! I managed to impress a man who is rarely at a loss for words. I made the decision to market the kit, and make sure it will be ready for launching at the Boofest held at end of July every year at Don Katsumi’s place.
I had to work at lighting speeds in order to be ready!
I was more than happy to see smiling faces when people tried my revolutionary cocking device for the first time at Boofest 2015.
I was not mistaken: my products are a great success and grant total satisfaction.
This is not the end of my story. In the years to come I plan to put out very innovative products that will make everyone happy, bow as well as crossbow hunters.
My story continues…