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Choosing and Using Broadheads at Cabela's

Choosing and Using Broadheads

Author: Chuck Adams

Shooting broadheads and shooting target points are worlds apart. When it comes to gear selection and tuning, you can get away with a lot when using streamlined heads without blades. You can get away with nothing when using broadheads.

With increasing popularity of fast bows, overdraw setups, and very light arrows, good broadhead accuracy has become more difficult to achieve. Severe air pressure against fixed blades at speeds above 250-feet-per-second makes broadheads prone to dart and dive - even on calm days from bows that are reasonably well tuned. In hunting situations, crosswinds often blow, bows sometimes drift out of tune, and consistent shooting form is compromised by cold weather, fatigue, or excitement. The direct result with a fixed-blade head is frustrating, erratic flight.

The need for speed in 3-D archery tournaments and the desire for speed by some bowhunters has painted modern hunting archers into a corner. If they do not opt for heavier and slower shafts with larger, somewhat spiraled fletching for stability, they are forced to use mechanical, open-on-impact broadheads that fly more or less like same-weight field points.

The trouble is, mechanical heads are not perfect. In more than half of the 60 or so animals I have seen shot with mechanical broadheads, some failed to open, failed to penetrate well, or failed to hold up under impact with bone, however, I’m happy to report that the latest mechanical designs from New Archery Products, Barrie Archery, Satellite, Cabela’s, and other top companies now open consistently. Likewise, such heads are stronger than ever before. But at their best, mechanical heads still squander 25- to 50-percent of an arrow’s penetrating energy simply to open up. The butterfly action of these heads plus their long noses combine to create very high penetrating friction. And because blades are not supported at the rear when open, they can fold or snap on impact with bone or even heavy ribs. Compared to fixed-blade broadheads, mechanicals simply are not as strong.

The last five whitetail deer I saw bagged by archers provide a perfect example of what I mean. Three were taken by mechanical heads from bows drawing about 70 pounds. Two deer were bagged with three-blade, conventional heads, also from bows in the 70-pound draw-weight class. One two-blade mechanical head entered on a perfect vertical plane, sliced between ribs on both sides, and exited the deer. Both three-blade mechanicals hit ribs, penetrated less than 10 inches, and ended up with all blades bent or broken.

By comparison, consider the two deer shot by 1-1/8-inch 3-blade conventional heads. Both broadheads cut ribs on both sides, yet penetrated completely through. When recovered in the dirt, both heads were perfectly intact, with blades unbent and unbroken.

All five deer dropped quickly from chest hits, but the two without exit wounds went farther and left almost no blood on the ground. That is not good.


I believe the best-designed mechanical heads are okay for deer-sized animals, provided you refrain from taking sharply angled shots that require especially deep penetration. After all, such heads are accurate, and you cannot kill what you cannot hit. But for larger game like big black bear, caribou, and elk, I strongly discourage the use of mechanical broadheads. Sure, these work on broadside, ribcage shots from extra-powerful bows, but fixed-blade heads penetrate deeper and hold up better in truly large game. Quicker kills and better blood trails result.

From extensive testing, I know that any full-size, fixed-blade broadhead with three or four blades can be made to fly with good hunting accuracy. There are a number of keys to such success.

  • First, use heavier arrows to keep projectile speeds below 260 fps. Use larger helical fletching to rotate the arrow during flight. Lower speed reduces uneven air pressure on broadhead blades, and arrow rotation further stabilizes flight.


  • Second, install broadheads to straight shafts with straight nocks. Crooked arrows never shoot broadheads well.


  • Third, align broadheads with hunting shafts. One way is spinning each complete arrow on its nose like a child’s toy top. If you can see wobble where shaft and broadhead meet, the head is not on straight. A better way, in my experience, is spinning arrows across rollers or v-blocks. If the broadhead ferrule or tip wobbles, the arrow will not fly well. Start with a pile of broadheads and a pile of shafts. Mix-and-match until you have a quiverful of perfect spinners.


  • Fourth, tune your hunting bow exactly. Forget old wives’ tales about broadheads having a "mind of their own". If you tune with a target point of matching weight and balance to your chosen broadhead, and use a precise, step-by-step method like my own Chuck Adams Tuning Kit, you can get broadheads to fly well and achieve point of impact identical to that of target points. This I can guarantee.


The keys to broadhead tuning are using a weight-balanced practice point like the Satellite MatchPoint - never a common steel field point - and tuning exactly. A bow-and-arrow even slightly out of tune will not cut the mustard with a broadhead. Small tuning troubles will make a big difference, ruining groups and sending broadheads left, right, high, or low of target points.

 


Although mechanical broadheads are less touchy than fixed-blade heads, they should also be installed and tuned with care to yield accurate, deep-penetrating flight at high speeds.

Here are general rules for selecting fixed or mechanical broadheads.

  • First, choose heads that provide 10 to 15-percent front-of-center (F. O. C.) arrow balance. For arrows with a total weight over 500 grains, this usually means broadheads weighing 110 to 140 grains. For arrows under 500 grains, heads from 85 to 110 grains work best.


  • Second, shoot a popular, time-tested broadhead brand. This ensures consistent head weight and precision manufacture. Cut-rate broadheads with sloppy tolerances never fly well.


  • Third, use a three-blade or four-blade head for maximum tissue disruption in game. I dislike two-blade heads because they cut a slit rather than a hole. This means less vital damage and less blood loss to the ground.


Marketing studies show that most American hunters shoot fixed, three-blade broadheads. These fly best with average bow tuning and average shooting skill. Four-blade heads can be tricky to tune and shoot, because these have 25-percent more air-deflecting surface area on the blades.

Finally, avoid heads with thin, fragile blades. I prefer fixed heads with blades at least .020-inch thick-preferably .025-inch. The most durable mechanical heads have blades at least .030-inch thick. Remember: Mechanical blades are not supported at the rear.

Top accuracy and performance from broadheads never happens by accident. You must know how to select, install, and fine-tune these special-purpose points.