ARROWS & ARROWHEADS
by Eric Vance
I'm often asked by my friends and customers 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 & 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 huge time & 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, & 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 & best
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 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
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 overcomming "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 bullseye. 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 &
effect for the best results - often a matter of trial & 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. Verticle tearing (up or down from the ehtrance
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
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 & clean with fast
"recovery" from paradox - and you experience minimal or no
handshock - 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 aimpoint 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 reek 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. To that
end, feel free to email topics for highlight & discussion to me. I'm
really good at runin' off at the mouth with little provocation! 'Til
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.