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Head-to-Head: Best One-Piece Vanes for 2014

by Jon E. Silks   |  July 15th, 2014 0

vane_test_1Years ago, it was not unusual to get a call or visit from a friend hoping I could help “fix up” a batch of arrows. You know how it goes; you buy a dozen freshly fletched shafts, and within a month it looks like they have endured Armageddon.

Arrows with creased, punctured and missing vanes now fill your quiver. There is no pro shop close by, and you don’t have the equipment to play fletch doctor.

I get far fewer of those calls and visits these days, largely due to a rapid advancement in arrow-vane technology. One of the biggest recent developments has been the rise of one-piece vane solutions that offer a true “plug and play” option for bowhunters who want the ability to quickly and easily fletch their arrows without spending the money for a fletching jig or investing a great deal of time to get the job done.

Although these products vary in style — from compression-fit rubber sleeves to heat-activated shrink tubing to aluminum vane ferrules that attach directly to the rear of the shaft — all are designed to get you shooting in a hurry and make any needed vane repair about as easy as changing a light bulb.

The convenience offered by one-piece vane units is undeniable. Still, all the convenience in the world doesn’t mean a thing if these vanes aren’t accurate. So, with that in mind, we developed a comprehensive series of tests to answer this critical question: how well do they fly?

Our testing includes five of the most popular one-piece vane units available: Bohning Stretch Fletch, New Archery Products SpeedFletch, NAP QuikFletch QuikSpin, NuFletch APE Arrow Tails and Outer Limits Blood Vane.

We tested average weight, Front of Center (FOC) balance point for the test arrow, spin rate, flight characteristics and the ability to group two different broadhead models at
common bowhunting distances of 20 and 45 yards.

All tests were conducted using Beman ICS Hunter Patriot 340 arrows, and all shooting was done using a Mathews Creed XS bow set at a draw length of 29 inches and a draw weight of 65 pounds, equipped with an NAP Apache drop-away rest. The bow was fired mechanically using the all-new Petersen’s BOWHUNTING X-Ring Machine — a one-of-a-kind, computerized shooting platform that greatly enhances the precision and consistency of our testing.

Important Considerations
Before we discuss the individual tests, there are three important considerations to keep in mind when reviewing the results, starting with arrow spine. A properly spined arrow is critical to good arrow flight. Spine is a measure of an arrow shaft’s stiffness, and that stiffness must be properly matched to your bow’s specifications to achieve the most stable arrow flight possible.

Our test arrows were properly matched to our test bow, and you need to make sure your arrows are properly spined for your setup. You also need to know that spine can be directionally inconsistent around the surface of a shaft.

So, if you have an arrow that isn’t flying the way you expect or isn’t grouping with your others, try rotating the nock to line up with a different vane and see if that helps. It may save an arrow or two.

The second key consideration to address is fletching orientation. The three most common options are straight, offset and helical, and each configuration has a different ability to steer, stabilize and correct an arrow’s flight. As with most equipment choices, there are performance tradeoffs to be considered.

Straight vanes offer the best rest clearance and — because they “grab” the least air of the three — maximize speed. However, this lack of drag results in less ability to steer, stabilize or correct the arrow. This is an especially important consideration when shooting fixed-blade broadheads.

At the opposite end of the spectrum is the helical (spiral/twisted) vane orientation. As you would expect, helical vanes create a lot of drag, which slows arrows down more quickly but also maximizes the steering ability of the vanes. Helical vanes also can present more issues with rest clearance, as their twisted shape is not as easy to align away from rest launchers. Finally, the
helical orientation induces a high rate of arrow spin, which is a known stabilizer.

This give and take leads us to the offset vane configuration, a widely used, middle-of-the-road option. Offset vanes (typicaly set at a 2- or 3-degree angle) offer adequate rest clearance along with enough drag to adequately steer arrows and a spin rate that offers decent stabilization.

Finally, any discussion of arrow vanes would be incomplete without considering vane materials and construction methods — directly impacting durability, foul-weather performance and drag (steering ability).

Feather fletching is widely considered the ultimate in control, as it has natural texture and twist that generates spin and drag. Feather fletch is also lightweight. However, it is notably noisy, fragile, expensive and flies poorly when wet. Modern bowhunting vanes are made of various plastics and rubber compounds. Some have smooth surfaces, while others have molded-in textures to increase drag and steering ability.

Vanes are relatively heavy compared to feathers, but on the upside they are generally quieter in flight, inexpensive, weatherproof and durable. Vanes are by far the most popular choice among modern bowhunters.

Vane-unit weight was measured using an Easton Digital Grain Scale, calibrated according to manufacturer specifications. We weighed three units for each brand tested and averaged the results.

Average Vane Weight
Bohning Stretch Fletch:          39.9 grains
NAP QuikFletch QuikSpin:    31.8 grains
NAP SpeedFletch:                    44.4 grains
NuFletch APE Arrow Tails:   109.9 grains*
Outer Limit Blood Vane:        36.6 grains
*Not Including Required Arrow Insert

Front of Center:
FOC is expressed as a percentage, and the higher the number, the farther forward of center an arrow’s balance point is. Increased FOC is associated with more stable arrow flight and greater penetration. This follows the principle that an object propelled through the air will fly better with more mass forward of the true center of overall length.

In fact, if the object has too much weight in the rear, it may actually flip around and fly backwards. For a real-life example of this, find one of those NERF balls with a shaft and vanes sticking out the back and try to throw it vanes first. It will quickly flip around and the ball (heavy) end will lead.

Recommendations for the optimum FOC percentage on arrows generally run from 7-15 percent. Keep in mind that one-piece vane solutions are heavier than three individual vanes, and some add a significant amount of weight to the rear of the arrow, thereby reducing FOC. You can counteract this by using heavier inserts and/or shooting a heavier broadhead.

FOC Percentages*
Bohning Stretch Fletch:           8.7 percent
NAP QuikFletch QuikSpin:     9.7 percent
NAP SpeedFletch:                     8.4 percent
NuFletch APE Arrow Tails:     3.2 percent
Outer Limit Blood Vane:         9.2 percent
*Based on the 29-inch Beman test arrow (301.5 grains) with a 100-grain point.

Spin Rate:
Spin testing was done using a special device that generates a constant wind stream over the surface of the arrow. Air flows in from a compressor, through a filter and is controlled with a regulator before being channeled up over the vanes. A remote optical sensor then reads reflective tape attached to each arrow and records revolutions per minute (rpm) on a tachometer. We determined the final spin rate for each vane unit by averaging the highest recorded rpm value from three arrows.

Arrow Spin Rates
Bohning Stretch Fletch:        2,422 rpm
NAP QuikFletch QuikSpin:     647 rpm
NAP SpeedFletch:                       72 rpm
NuFletch APE Arrow Tails:     227 rpm
Outer Limit Blood Vane:          171 rpm

Flight Characteristics:
We used the Velocitip from Full Flight Technology to record a variety of in-flight data for each vane unit. The Velocitip features an embedded accelerometer and other high-tech electronics that calculated the two measurements we considered most important for this test: drag (a direct measure of aerodynamic performance) and retained energy (how much lethality the arrow retains at impact).

vane_test_2Drag is measured in milliGs or G-force. The higher the number, the greater the drag and the less aerodynamic the arrow. Although vanes with more drag will slow arrows down faster, they also have more ability to steer the shaft and correct flight.

To put the drag results in context, consider that a difference of approximately 400 milliG will cause roughly two inches of additional arrow drop at 50 yards.

Retained Energy is expressed as a percentage and represents the amount of energy the arrow is carrying upon impact relative to the amount of energy it carried when it left the bow.

As you review the test data, take careful note of the correlation among drag, retained energy, spin rate and group size (steering ability).

Drag and Retained Energy Calculations
Model                                        Drag (milliGs)        Retained Energy
Bohning Stretch Fletch:                   2,019                        76.8%
NAP QuikFletch QuikSpin:             1,503                        82.6%
NAP SpeedFletch:                             1,355                        84.0%
NuFletch APE Arrow Tails:             1,309                        83.0%
Outer Limit Blood Vane:                 1,361                         84.2%

Broadhead Grouping:
Last, but certainly not least, we measured the ability of each specialty vane to group 100-grain broadheads at 20 and 45 yards. To eliminate any inconsistencies, we “qualified” each Beman ICS Hunter arrow. In order to qualify for use in testing, an arrow tipped with a 100-grain fieldpoint and machine fletched with 2-inch, offset vanes had to hit a one-inch bull’s-eye at 45 yards.

Next, a Mathews Creed XS was set up with a NAP Apache drop-away arrow rest and tuned to shoot the Beman arrow tipped with a Muzzy Trocar broadhead. Our second test broadhead was the Innerloc Falcon. We started out by paper tuning the bow/arrow combination and then fine-tuned using the walk-back method at 50 yards. Our new Petersen’s BOWHUNTING X-Ring Machine was used for all group and flight testing.

Broadhead Group Size
Model                           Max 20-Yard Group    Max 45-Yard Group
Bohning Stretch Fletch               0.88″                        1.78″
NAP QuikFletch QuikSpin         2.18″                         2.88″
NAP SpeedFletch                         2.19″                         4.25″
NuFletch APE Arrow Tails         1.85″                         4.50″
Outer Limit Blood Vane              1.25″                          1.95″

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