For bowhunters, choosing the right arrow and broadhead for your hunting adventures might be the most important gear selection you make. The arrow and broadhead ultimately are what determine whether or not you fill a tag.
So how do you choose what’s best? Let’s start with the arrow.
Above all else, you need an arrow that suits your draw length and the bow’s peak draw weight. That calls for selecting the correct arrow spine. Spine determines how much the shaft flexes in flight. You want an arrow that flexes some but isn’t too stiff.
Arrow spine is determined by your bow’s draw weight, the length of the arrow — which is largely tied to draw length — and the weight of the point. Every arrow manufacturer has a spine chart that accounts for these three factors and suggests the appropriate selection for your setup. Stick to those charts to find the right spine for you.
Once you know the spine, then you can consider different arrow materials and configurations. You can get arrows constructed of aluminum, carbon or aluminum-carbon mixed. The shafts can be light, heavy or somewhere in the middle; large diameter or small.
Carbon arrows are the most durable and often the lightest. Aluminum arrows tend to be the straightest, but they can be ruined if they’re bent. The aluminum-carbon mixes offer the best of both worlds, but they tend to be expensive and heavy.
Inside diameter of most hunting arrows is essentially going to be .246 and smaller. Arrows fatter than that are best left for target archery.
Choosing hunting arrows is a series of tradeoffs, and you should consider the game you’re after and how you’re hunting when making your selection. Larger-diameter arrows tend to be more durable but are less aerodynamic. Smaller arrows can break more easily but are better suited for long-range shooting and offer superior penetration. Lighter arrows fly faster and have a flatter trajectory, but heavier arrows offer better penetration.
So with that in mind, if you’re hunting thin-skinned pronghorn antelope, you can expect long shots in open country. A light, small-diameter carbon arrow is a good choice. On the other hand, if you’re hunting brown bears, you probably won’t be shooting far, and you’ll want superior penetration. A heavy, aluminum-carbon shaft is probably best.
What’s heavy and what’s light when it comes to hunting arrows? Think of 8 grains per inch of arrow length as being average. Anything less than that is light, and anything more is heavy.
The same hunting parameters that helped you pick an arrow will help you select a broadhead.
Broadheads can be grouped into three major categories: fixed-blade, expandables and hybrids.
Fixed-blade broadheads have no moving parts and start cutting as soon as they make contact with an animal. They also can be prone to planing off course in high winds or if a bow’s tune is not perfect.
Expandable broadheads have blades that are tucked away in flight and then fold out on contact. They offer the closest comparable flight to a field point and can have a larger cutting diameter, but they can have weak penetration, especially through thick hide or if they hit bone.
Hybrid broadheads have fixed blades and expandables in one head. They offer the best of both worlds.
Fixed-blade heads are great choices for big animals like moose, elk and bears. Expandables work great on deer-sized game and smaller. Hybrids offer the assuredness of a fixed blade plus the large cutting diameter of an expandable.
These are general guidelines, however. A fixed-blade head will work great on pronghorns, and plenty of elk have been shot with expandables.
Shot placement is the most important factor in arrow and broadhead performance. If you can send an arrow through the soft flesh behind the shoulder and between two ribs so that it hits both lungs and/or the heart, any arrow and broadhead combination will do the job.
So with that in mind, the final piece to the puzzle of selecting the right hunting arrow and broadhead for you is practice. Once you’ve built your arrows, spend some time on the range shooting at the distances you expect to encounter while hunting.
How tight are your groups? Do you have strange, unexplained flyers that veer away from the others? If you can’t consistently hit precisely where you’re aiming, then you should consider changing the arrow, the broadhead or both. Sometimes, one type of arrow might fly better out of a specific bow than another, and the same goes for broadheads.
The key is to have an arrow and broadhead combination that offers the killing performance that you want and the precision accuracy that you need.