5th In The Series Of Traditional Bowhunting:
Broadheads and Arrows
David Williams, Bass Pro Archery Cabin Gurnee, IL.
It was quiet and there wasn’t the slightest breeze. A bear passed by, probably 50 yards away, and I could hear every step. Then the music of an amorous buck came through the forest looking for his mate. I have spent over three hours spot ‘n’ stalking, finding a good trail. I sat as still as possible, listening, enjoying the sounds of autumn, and waiting patiently for something to happen.
My sitting stump was positioned along an old field in which gave me an unlimited view in either direction. Just as I was beginning to think the amorous buck must have found his interest, an antlered head emerged from the shadows, this time staring at another buck from the other side. The deer’s ability to move through the forest silently is truly uncanny. The younger of the two bucks started to move towards the older and larger buck, within seconds he was 8 yards away and stopped.
A smooth full draw I anchored, and aimed naturally slightly back off the shoulder to compensate for the quartering away angle, and released. My arrow hit and the fletching burrowed through the buck. In a blur the buck jumped sharply forward, and bolted away. A second or two later an unforgettable death moan echoed through the Wisconsin forest. The buck had fallen a mere 15 yards from where it stood at the shot. My arrow downed that buck in about three seconds. Impossible you think to bring down the deer that quickly? For a quick, ethical, humane, harvest like this experience, we need the last, most important and controversial tool added to our arrows…the broadhead!
To-date we have stayed within our original ~$300 or so budget to hunt this year. Now in order to harvest our game we will need to focus on the specific tool in order to ethically and humanely harvest our game.
At Bass Pro Shops we literally have pages and isles filled with different types of specifically designed broadheads. Then looking at all the broadhead manufacturers that are available outside of Bass Pro Shops can make choosing a good hunting tool for our traditional arrows quite daunting and overwhelming to say the least.
In the BPS Archery Cabin we want to make sure we know what and how you’re going to hunt so we can help you choose the right broadhead. In this case we already know we are hunting traditional with recurve and carbon arrows. Simple? Volumes have been printed, emotions run high, opinions…well everyone has one, even when it comes to traditional broadheads. Yep, even me… have you ever had a favorite truck conversation?
First and foremost, NO Mechanical Broadheads these are strictly for compound bows. Period.
So, this then narrows our choices to Fixed Broadheads. You’ll still find variety enough to make you scratch your head. Here’s where knowing your state hunting broadhead requirements in cutting inches, bow poundage, arrow length, weight, and your abilities come into communication with the BPS Archery staff. Here’s where the experience and your goals come together in making the choice of a good broadhead.
We have been practicing out to 25-30 yards and we are hitting the target consistently but we are dead on at 10-15-20 yards meaning all our arrows are within a 10-inch circle. Being an ethical hunter is being honest with us in choosing a broadhead. Mother Nature will thank you when she gives up her bounty to you.
In this blog, remember the fun about traditional bow hunting is the dynamic simplicity of our equipment. One other comment before I start, the broadheads discussed will be the fixed blades we carry at Bass Pro for the purpose of this blog.
How A Broadhead Arrow Works
Generally speaking arrows tipped with razor sharp broadheads harvest by cutting major blood vessels, both arteries and veins. This causes massive blood loss, reduced blood pressure, and loss of oxygen to the brain. An animal needs to lose about one third of its blood volume for this to happen. This process can take from seconds to several hours depending on where an animal is hit.
The best placement of the shot is by puncturing the lungs. When the lungs are punctured the lungs collapse. The collapse of the lungs is known as a pneumo-thorax, and interrupts the exchange of oxygen in blood. When this happens the supply of oxygen to the brain is immediately interrupted and death comes within seconds. Since the aiming point on all big game animals is the lung area, most good shots result in a combination of these three factors. If you hit the lungs you will automatically slice through numerous veins and arteries, causing death within seconds.
Range, Shot Placement, and Self Control
The effective traditional bow range of most hunters is within 25 yards. Of course, this varies by hunter. I consider effective range whatever distance an archer can put 10 out of 10 arrows inside 10-inch circle or a paper plate is a good example to use represent a whitetails lungs... Some hunters have to limit themselves to shots less than 20-yards. In my own hunting experience most of my actual shots are less than 20-yards, with my average around 15-yards. The closest shot I ever took was five yards, and the farthest forty-four. Hunting animals so close you can even smell them is one of my main attractions and challenges of traditional bowhunting.
Even when game animals are at such close range the shot isn’t guaranteed. A bowhunter must wait for the correct angle before shooting. The most common shot position is having game standing broadside. This gives the archer a clear shot to the lung area. The most effective shot angle, however, is quartering slightly away. An arrow shot from this angle almost always enters the heart lung area causing a quick death. A well-placed arrow in either of these positions will generally pass completely through the animal leaving a large blood trail to follow. Most other shot angles generally speaking shouldn’t be taken with bow and arrow, or at least not without a great deal of experience. It is also important that bowhunters take shots that enter just behind the shoulder on most animals. The heavy shoulder bones of animals can sometimes stop arrows, so it is simply best to avoid them. I have often had large mature animals well within shot range only to let them pass without letting loose an arrow because a good shot angle never presented itself. Being patient, knowing your limitations as an archer, and waiting for good shots, is a major part of Traditional bowhunting.
Practice taking in consideration of angles like shooting from a tree stand, BPS has 3-D targets will help with shot placement. Practice taking different shot angles at varied distances. The season is just around the corner.
Note the angle difference of the broadside on the ground versus the broadside from a tree stand.
100-grain Broadheads Versus 125-grain Broadheads
The real difference here for many new bowhunter is a heavier arrow flies slower than a lighter arrow so a 100-grain arrowhead will shoot a flatter trajectory than that of 125-grain arrowhead. When the BPS Archery staff set up your arrows initially they may have determined 100-grain was the way to go for you. If so, the weight has been determined thus narrowing decisions.
There’s more to follow on arrowhead weights and their affect on arrow penetration.
2-Blade versus 3-Blade Broadheads
The afore mentioned hunting harvest I used a G5 Montec, 3-blade broadhead, 125 grain weight, with a 1 1/8th inch cutting diameter on a Beman carbon arrow with 5 1/2-inch feathers shot from a 63 pound bow. The draw weight of your bow will dictate the number of blades and weight of your broadheads.
I will be hunting with Sage 45 pound bow, my draw is 29-inches making my draw weight 48 pounds (Measured in the BPS Archery Cabin), and the arrow of choice is the Blackout X3 Hunters with 4” feathers and 125-grain arrowhead weight.
When it comes to broadheads more blades are not necessarily better. The dynamics of our arrows is to capture and deliver the energy transferred from our bows to the arrowhead/broadhead thus meaning penetration at the animal. Our goal is always to obtain complete pass through of the lungs. Hence the controversy over broadheads 3-blades cut more creating more trauma than 2-blades do. However, the 3rd blade creates more drag or takes more energy from the bow for penetration. Make sense?
Ok, we’ve established the one undisputable fact that the arrow delivers the bows energy. This energy is referred to as Kinetic Energy. We are Stick ‘n’ String traditional Bowhunters here so all we want is an arrow to hit hard. There are two ways of accomplishing this; the weight of our bow and the weight of our arrow at our effective distance. Being honest with how we shoot is key in discussing options with the BPS Archery Staff!
My personal preference has always been a harder hitting arrow (even on my compound bows) so I naturally will gravitate to the heaviest arrowhead I can effectively shoot at my ideal hunting range of 20-yards and under.
Now the Sage I am hunting with this year is 15-pounds lighter in draw weight than the recurve I shot the 125-grain, 3-Blade G5 Montec with…so choosing a 125-grain (I like heavy arrows), 2-blade broadhead makes mathematical sense to obtain my goals. We will be fitting our arrows with any one of the following Muzzy Phantum, Magnus Stinger or Steel Force Broadheads. Now in order to get to 125-grains the manufactures have added what is called bleeder-blades…(wait Dave you just said 2 are better than 3 now you have just added 2 more blades making this broadhead a 4-Blade!) Yes, it’s true however bleeder-blades are smaller in size so the primary 2-blades deliver the energy cut which is wider first, while then smaller bleeders cut more tissue and veins. The bleeders being smaller slide around bone easier too.
I am a firm believer in the 3:1 ratio rule when it comes to broadheads (3” long x 1” wide) for the best flight and penetration. At BPS we don’t carry any broadheads with in this rule so…I will shoot the longest Broadhead BPS carries to achieve my goals. As a traditional archer there are some mathematical rules that help and make our arrows perform to the best albeit 3-blade or 2-bade the closer to 3:1 the better off you are.
Once you make the decision on your broadheads my advice is to purchase another set arrows and have the BPS Archery Staff put them on for you and keep them in an arrow box. This will make tuning them to you bow easier if need be.
Tuning Your Broadheads
Here’s where the 3-blade broadheads like the BlackOut FXD Cut-On-Contact, G5 Montec and NAP HellRazor shine. They are already spin balanced which makes them easier to tune to you arrows and bow. The 2-blade Muzzy Phantum, Magnus Stinger or Steel Force broadheads require a little more attention when tuning and you BPS Archery staff will guide you through it if you choose to shoot the 2-blade like me. Note BPS has added the Magnus Black Hornet and Black Hornet Ser-Razor to our product line. These are like the 3-blades in that they are spin-tested for accuracy. I have not gotten my hands on these yet…but. Who knows, we may shoot two different broadheads this season. I can harvest 2 deer; one from Wisconsin and one from Illinois.
The Overall Importance Of The Arrow
The arrow is the single most important part of any bowhunters gear. Most bows can be tuned to launch the right arrow with accuracy, but the wrong arrow won’t fly well from any bow.
I’m assuming you and the local BPS Archery Staff have arrow selection basics down already. But just in case you are doing this remotely be sure to match your arrow shaft size to your draw weight, draw length and shooting style.
The Correct Hunting Shaft
The Hunting Shaft Selection Charts are great starting points, but it is only a reference point, not guaranteed to be an EXACT match for your bow. Again discussing with the experienced BPS Archery Professional and/or testing are important at this time. Up to this point has been working on form and shooting. Now you’re moving into the details that insure an ethical humane harvest. This process as frustrating as it sounds separates you from an arrow slinger to a hunter!
Drawing back an extra-long arrow to full draw and having someone mark the arrow one-to-two inches in front of the handle determine
1. Determining the Correct Hunting Arrow Length for traditional bows. Bow draw length is measured at full draw from the valley of the nock groove to the back (far side) of the bow. Actual arrow length and draw length are only the same if the end of the arrow shaft is even with the back of the bow (far side) at full draw. BPS recommends adding at least 1" to draw length for a proper arrow length.
2. Determining Actual Peak Bow Weight for Your Recurve
Actual Peak Bow Weight for traditional bows should be measured at your draw length. Using an accurate bow scale draw the bowstring until you hit your desired draw length and hold. Observe the weight on the scale. This can be done in the Bass Pro Archery Cabin/Department.
Fletching angle matters. Fletching that’s glued on the shaft at an angle (helical) will spin your arrow. Tests by TruFlight Arrow Company have shown that best broadhead accuracy is achieved when an arrow spins one complete time during 30-36 inches of forward travel. This means the arrow makes 20-24 complete revolutions before it hits a target 20 yards away.
Unlike a target point, a broadhead has flat blade surfaces that tend to drive it off course. This phenomenon is called “planning.” When an arrow spins, it constantly corrects a broadhead’s tendency to plane, and this ensures an accurate shot. Most good hunting arrows are fletched for proper spin. Before you buy complete arrows or fletch your own, be sure that the fletching is angled slightly along the shaft to spin it through the air. You may have discovered this already and discussed this with your BPS Archery professional.
The arrows I am using for this blog all had straight fletching and I refletched these arrows to achieve my desired results. Here at the Bass Pro in Gurnee, IL we will refletch traditional arrows for a fee.
Max your penetration.
All else being equal in traditional bowhunting, a heavier arrow from your bow leaves with more penetrating energy and retains that energy better downrange than a faster, lighter arrow. The difference directly in front of your bow isn’t huge—about 2½ percent for every 100 grains you increase a 100-grain heavier arrow reaches 40 yards, it possesses an energy advantage of 8-10 percent, which can be significant on large animals such as bear, elk, caribou, and moose. I can see no penetrating advantage in a smaller-diameter shaft. Arrow penetration tests through foam, ballistic gelatin and other artificial materials are meaningless. In a real animal, the broadhead cuts a large hole and the shaft—regardless of size—slides along behind with little or no friction. Flesh springs away from the wound, and body fluids such as blood help to lubricate the passage of the shaft. By comparison, broadhead design is everything in penetration. This is where broadheads designed in the 3:1 ratio rule show their advantage.
The same arrow from the same bow will pass completely through a deer with a cutting-nose broadhead attached. Older-style, fixed-bladed heads such as the Bear Razorhead, Zwickey No Mercy, Muzzy Phantum or Magnus Stinger or Steel Force Broadheads and all possess cutting noses and have a reputation for penetrating well.
Note: Smaller diameter arrow shafts benefits show up in less wind and cross wind resistance.
In general terms, broadhead tuning is done by first shooting a group of arrows with field points into the target, and then by shooting a group of arrows with broadheads. The two groups are compared and the appropriate adjustments are made.
The field points should be as close in weight and FOC as possible to the broadheads. Because it is necessary to first establish a good group with field points, broadhead tuning can be done only after acceptable tuning has been established with field points.
Shoot a group with field point’s set up a suitable broadhead target at a distance of 20 yards or your comfort range. Using a set of field-tipped arrows that have been tuned with your bow, shoot a group of 3 arrows into the target. Take care to shoot as good a group as you are capable.
Shoot a group with Broadheads
Using identical arrows tipped with broadheads shoot a group of 3 arrows into the target. Use the same aiming spot that was used for the field points.
The shot group is the key. If you are satisfied you have shot a respectable group based on your ability, then compare the position of the two groups. Make the adjustments listed below to your setup and shoot both groups again. Keep adjusting and shooting until both groups (field points and broadheads) group in the same area.
Adjustments sometimes effect more than is expected. It is best to always make the up/down adjustments first. Once the two groups are on the same horizontal plane, then make the left/right adjustments.
- If the broadheads group above the field points, move the nocking point up.
- If the broadheads group below the field points, move the nocking point down.
- If the broadheads group to the left, they are behaving as if the shaft is too stiff (for a right handed archer). Any, or several, of the following can be done to correct the point of impact.
- Increase the poundage on the bow or brace height.
- Change to heavier broadheads.
- If the broadheads group to the right, they are behaving as if the shaft is too weak. Any or several of the following can be done to correct the point of impact.
- Decrease the poundage on the bow or brace height.
- Change to lighter broadheads
- Multiple adjustments
- First move nocking point
- Make spine adjustment
The main purpose of an arrow quiver is solely transporting and making available your arrows. The style is one of personal choice albeit back, hip or on the bow quiver.
If you choose the on the bow style quiver you will need to check out how your bow shoots and will quite possibly have too re-tune it.