Arrows And Arrowheads by Eric Vance
My friends and customers often ask me what their best choice in points or shafts will be. While it’s an easy question to answer when I know the archer and their equipment, it’s quite subjective in the overall sense. I don’t get a lot of tournament archers in my business at the moment, but by and large they are fussiest bunch of the lot. Recreational shooters usually don’t have a clue as to how to maximize performance with their equipment, but are appreciative when they see the results of well-matched gear. Hunters are always on the quest for the most effective setup they can come up with, but still need guidance with exception of the few who have spent a huge amount of time and money trying everything they can and arriving at their own conclusions. I’ll try to break it down to the basics and outline the good, bad, and ugly to hopefully save some of you a little dough and brain-strain with all this. I’m not going to get into bows at all here, and let’s just assume that we’re talking about archers with good-to-better and best equipment.
I’ll start with target shooters and go from there. Like I said, avid tournament archers are very particular about their setup, and most either have the experience to know what works and know what they want, or are team shooters and have a team tech take care of all that. Anyway, these amazing archers can occasionally be seen in televised Olympic competition hitting a 9″ circle at out to 90 meters! Wowee! No small feat, even with the best of equipment, which they certainly have.
Tournament arrows would be mostly carbon these days, but many archers still like aluminum for the wider range of offerings in shaft sizes & spines. This is a strong consideration, especially with youth archers where sometimes carbon arrows are simply too stiff to work with low draw weight bows. I’m used to determining the correct spine of arrow for a given draw weight using the “pound” method. It’s more and more common to encounter spine reference it terms of “rate of deflection”, however, these days. We old-schoolers still prefer the more direct reference in pounds for the sake of quick mental calculation of the best arrow shaft for a given bow & draw weight. Just for instance, a 650-deflection rate equates to a 45/50# spine (at least for many recurve & longbows). The rate of deflection method allows for more fine-tuning of arrow spine, but for the sake of that same easy visualization for our readers, I’ll stay with the spine-by-the-pound method.
A tool called a “spine tester” is required to assess a shaft’s stiffness, not something your average home arrow builder will have, so he has to source out his/her best options with assistance from their supplier. In a nutshell, tournament archers want the lightest weight arrow shaft that will work efficiently with the draw weight of the bow it will be shot from. From there, we look at nocks & points. A light grip of the nock on the string is usually a good thing, but a nock that’s too tight robs noticeable arrow speed from the potential. Point weight is critical in the formula in positioning the front-of-center (FOC) balance point of an arrow. It’s generally a bad thing to have an arrow balance in the middle. This makes an arrow extremely sensitive to shoot. If you’re not 100% rock steady, it’s likely that you will experience inconsistent arrow flight. This is due to the flex an arrow shaft undergoes upon liftoff. With tournament setups, and any other “centershot” bow, it’s fine to shoot a stiffer arrow than will fly well off a traditional recurve or longbow that may not have a centershot arrow shelf – more on that later.
Selecting a proper shaft is all about overcoming “paradox”. That is the effects on an arrow as it leaves the bow. First, even the stiffest of arrows flex on lift off. It is important that flexion is directed “away” from the bow so that the path of the arrow is not deflected from its intended flight to the bull’s-eye. With all centershot bows (target bows, compound bows, and some traditional recurve bows), the path of the arrow is mostly uninhibited as it passes the arrow shelf. This allows the use of the maximum stiffness, spine, of arrow that reacts well when released. There is still some flexion of the shaft that must be controlled by the point weight. The heavier the point, the more flex. The lighter the point, less flex. A “little” flex allows the arrow to bend away from the bow with little or no impact on the arrow shelf that will upset the flight of the arrow. Target arrows often us internal weight systems behind the point to adjust this cause and effect for the best results, often a matter of trial and error once you’ve got the best spine figured out with the shafts.
A tool called a “paper tester” is very often used to determine how well an arrow leaves the bow. This gives the archer a quick and sure visual of how the arrow reacts as it passed the shelf. Shooting through stretched paper at a very close distance will show where the tail of the arrow is upon release. Vertical tearing, up or down from the entrance point, is all about nock adjustment and is covered in a previous article. The left or right of entrance point is what we’re concerned with here.
For right-handed shooters, tearing to the left means the spine is too weak, and to the right, too stiff. Obviously, this is just the opposite for left-handed shooters. When you have the correct arrow spine, there will be no left or right tearing. The paper makes this easy to see, but this test can be done by shooting unfletched arrows into a soft target and simply observing for “tail left (soft), or “tail right” (stiff). While paper shooting is done right up to the paper, a few feet away, “bare shaft” testing should be done at about 10 yards.
For non-centershot bows (selfbows, traditional style recurves, and all longbows) it is most important to use specifically spined arrows for the draw weight and degree of center-cut at the arrow shelf. Many selfbows (like English longbows) lack a shelf at all and have a huge paradox to overcome. Most selfbow shooters I’ve encountered have never tried bare-shaft testing, but to arrive at the best possible shaft for a primitive bow, it’s actually more critical than with modern bows. A centershot bow will have a wider spread of useable spines with arrows, but a bow that is not centershot will show “too hard” or “too soft” for all but the perfect spine for it when bare-shaft testing.
As for points with target arrows, again, lighter is better, but not if the FOC pushes too far back towards the center of the arrow. It’s necessary to play with point weight to arrive at the most efficient setup. The lightest weight arrow is not always the best. Sometimes a little added weight to the point makes energy transfer, in cooperation with paradox reaction, more efficient with faster more stabile flight. The two “hidden” factors that create efficiency are 1, transmitting maximum energy into the arrow and 2, overcoming paradox. Simply put, if your arrow leaves the bow straight and clean with fast “recovery” from paradox, and you experience minimal or no hand shock, then you likely have maximum energy going into the arrow. This cannot happen if the paradox is not at it’s minimum.
With target points, the most common is a basic “cone” point. It is cylindrical with a shallow cone at the tip and offers decent aerodynamics and limited target penetration. Sometimes a more streamlined point is better for some targets. Cone points are more subject to irregularities in the target surface that may “cock” the arrow upon penetration. For a target shooter this can be a problem with the shaft possibly crossing the aim point of the scoring rings. If the target surface is not fresh, sometimes a field point, or one of the new soft profile sharper points, is better to ensure that the arrow penetrates nice & straight.
Recreational & field shooters generally use the step-shouldered field points. It’s a rugged point and serves outdoor use well. The field point has been the industry standard for eons, and only recently enjoys competition with some modern streamlined point designs. I fully recommend the standard field point for the usual types of targets used in outdoor shooting, including 3-D, excelsior bales, foam, rags, etc. One wonderful point for outdoor shooting is the blunt and “Judo” points. A plain blunt is good for stump shooting and small game but it can submerse in the undergrowth and get lost. A Judo point has a special limited penetration point with spring hooks behind it that snag the brush and stop cold without getting lost. This is a wonderful invention, devastating on small game, and when used for stumping, is the best hunting practice possible. Shooting random unknown distances at rotten stumps brings a certain realism to your outdoor practice and really hones you up for the hunting season if you’re shooting without sights. I don’t know too many compound shooters that use Judo points and go stump shooting because of the higher arrow speeds that will wreak havoc on arrows hitting hard targets. But for recurve & longbows, it’s topflight fun!
There are several nice blunt designs specific for small game hunting, but these are not good for stump shooting. One is the “hex” blunt, or “bunny buster”, that has a sharp edge on the hex and a slight cup in the tip. This cuts a clean hole in the pelt and causes massive internal shock to a critter. The Magnus blunt has a wide disc on the front of the tip that can be fitted with a standard bleeder blade for extra takedown effectiveness. Old-timers used to glue a .38 shell on the end of an arrow, cross drill behind the end, and install a couple of 4d nails, glued in, to work like the modern judo arrow. This is still an effective small game & stumping point.
For hunting, there’s a huge variety of broadheads available that I cannot possibly cover in any complete manner. Instead, I’ll just go over the basic variants. All fixed blade heads offer different combinations of width of cut-to-length ratios. The hands-down penetration king are the models that offer the “3-to-1” length to width ratio, respectively. In other words, the length is 3 times the width. This long & lean taper passes through tissue with great ease, and can be very helpful with big wide-body or tough creatures. For deer, many prefer the wider 2-to-1 (approximate) heads the offer better bleed-out for a faster kill and/or better blood trail. These heads can be had in 2-blade (flat), 3, or 4-blade designs for those who feel better with maximum cut & drain in their quarry. The trade off with multiple blades is successively increased resistance and reduced penetration with the increase of blades. I’d have to say the 3-blade is the best compromise in that respect, but many traditional archers still prefer a classic flat, or 2-blade head.
Last to consider are the mechanical broadheads that open on impact. These typically offer the absolute widest width of cut, and for compound shooters, great arrow flight without having an extra “wing” out front that can give unwanted input to the arrow flight. I strongly recommend “against” mechanical heads for recurve & longbows because they do not have the velocity to open the head properly on impact. But for high-speed compound bows they are a great invention. Is one better than another? Possibly, but the effect is undeniable, and you can break the bank trying them all out. I’d say that the one you have easy access to is fine.
Well, I hope this is good information for many of you. Others may know all this and only get a big “yawn” from this entry. ‘Till next time, keep a steady bow hand and an unflinching focus on the mark. Consistency is the key to accuracy, no matter what your preferred bow and type of shooting may be.