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Author: Chuck Adams
Choosing and using arrow fletching is more complex than an average deer hunter imagines. The proper fletching will resist weather, fly true, and fool deer incredibly well. The wrong fletching can be a bowhunting nightmare.
What’s best for deer hunting-plastic vanes or feathers? This is a long-standing debate among archers.
I strongly prefer plastic vanes instead of feather fletching for all modern compound bows. Such bows are strongly centershot, allowing a wide margin of clearance between the bow handle and the arrow fletching. If you select a proper bowhunting rest (as opposed to a touchy target rest), you can achieve perfect fletching clearance and great flight every time.
I am appalled at how many bowhunters have been coerced into shooting target setups. Sold a bill of goods by gear manufacturers, convinced by target-only shooters, and fooled by their own experience with 3-D, non-broadhead shooting. Shooting deer is worlds apart from shooting bulls-eyes.
With broadheads, in cold, tiring, or exciting circumstances, arrows must be extra-stable. Fletching must be bigger, and must (I repeat MUST) be spiraled rather than straight. In imperfect deer-shooting situations, a broadhead must rifle through the air like a bullet and be dragged from behind by extra fletching friction. Otherwise, it might not stabilize and fly true to the mark.
Unfortunately, you cannot shoot larger, spiraled vanes through a wimpy, small-gap two-prong rest. The wad of fletching is too large. You must shoot a full clearance, very forgiving rest like the flipper/plunger (with fingers) or my own vertical-plunger Super Slam Arrow Rest. I designed the Super Slam because so many bowhunters were complaining to me about accuracy-destroying collisions between plastic fletching and target-style arrow rests.
If you apply talcum powder to your fletches and experiment with nock rotation until arrow-rest scuffs on the fletching disappear, you can achieve great broadhead flight with vanes.
I love plastic vanes for deer hunting, because plastic is weatherproof, quiet in a quiver and through the air, and very durable. With a moderate one-degree spiral or helical fletch, three five-inch vanes on arrows over 500 grains or three four-inch vanes on arrows under 500 grains will slow the arrow about one foot-per-second during every three yards of forward travel. These same setups will rotate one full turn during every 30 to 36 inches of arrow travel. Such characteristics will stabilize broadheads extremely well...a fact proven by tests from Easton, Satellite, and other reputable firms.
Vanes must be good quality to withstand UV light and resist damage in the field. You should insist on top products like those from Arizona Archery and Easton. Cheap vanes tear or deform easily, wilt in the heat, and change color in direct sunlight.
Feather fletching must be considered a Band-Aid for poor bow tuning, bad arrow rest selection, misaligned broadheads, or other sneaky shooting troubles. Feathers drag the rear of an arrow 50-percent more than plastic vanes, and flatten on contact with bow or rest. Both features enhance marginal broadhead accuracy.
However, feathers are essential with longbows, recurve bows, and older-style compound bows, because bow-handle clearance is doubtful with vanes.
If you simply cannot get broadheads to fly well with plastic vanes, feathers might be the only solution to your problem. But remember. Feathers tend to wilt in wet weather, wear excessively with regular shooting, and rustle loudly in a quiver. In most cases, plastic vanes enhance my deer hunting more than feathers.
Some bowhunters prefer four-fletch. It is true that you cannot mis-nock a four-fletched arrow, because there’s no cock vane to point the wrong way. Four three-inch fletches work well on hunting arrows below 500 grains; four four-inch fletches stabilize broadheads better on arrows over 500 grains. Four-fletch makes fletching-to-rest clearance trickier with some setups, and can be difficult to spiral-fletch to small-diameter carbon shafts. To each his own.
Do fletches need to line up with broadhead blades? Absolutely not. This old wives’ tale has wasted many thousands of bowhunter hours in needless setup time. Think about it. Your hunting arrow rotates through the air as it flies. The fletching is never in the same position as the broadhead was when it passed the same spot a few milli-seconds before. I routinely hunt with three-fletched arrows and four-blade broadheads. Guess what. These projectiles fly great!
Fletching color is a long-standing controversy among deer archers. One school of thought prefers very bright fletching-white, yellow, or day-glow orange. The theory is, you can see your arrow better in flight, and also see where it hits a deer.
This preference for bright fletching is made more common by the fact that almost all deer-hunting videotapes feature easily seen fletching. The reason? Film makers want you, the viewer, to see arrows fly and hit. But this does not mean that bright fletching is necessarily better for serious hunting as well as video work.
Another group of hunters insists on muted fletching-olive drab, brown, black or deep blue. These archers insist that deer can see a wad of bright or light-colored fletching in your quiver, scaring them away. Why wear head-to-toe camo, and then blow it all with a brilliant "flag" attached to your bow or your body?
I agree with both viewpoints-which is why I prefer red fletching. Red is one of the few colors that looks medium-gray to a color-blind deer, yet appears bright to the human eye. Technically speaking, a good bow shot never watches his arrow fly, anyway-he follows through the shot with eyes glued to the target. But he certainly wants to see where the arrow impacts the animal.
I’ve fooled around with white and yellow fletching over the years, covering vanes or feathers with camo bags in a deer stand or simply hoping bucks would not take notice. Camo fletching covers are a nuisance, and deer do see brilliant fletching-even in a tree. Red fletching solves these problems with no fuss or muss.
Don’t take arrow fletching for granted. The wrong setup can scare deer, make noise, and fly terrible. The right setup, by comparison, can be a joy to shoot!
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