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Fixed Blade Vs. Mechanical Broadheads — The Debate Rolls On

by Darron McDougal   |  June 7th, 2018 0

In the bowhunting world, an ongoing debate invariably looms. Differences in opinion lead to extensive discussions and even arguments. These squabbles stem from one central topic: fixed-blade versus mechanical broadheads.

This person won’t shoot anything but mechanicals. That person would quit bowhunting before they’d shoot a mechanical. And the disputes aren’t limited merely to mechanical versus fixed-blade broadheads, either. Wars also wage on which brand is best. I believe it’s fair to say that broadheads are the single most debated bowhunting product out there.

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McDougal has taken dozens of big-game animals with mechanical broadheads, including this nice-sized muley buck, all with deadly results. (Photo by Darron McDougal)

The problem: These rampant arguments only work to confuse those who are new to bowhunting. For that reason, I’m going to target this article’s subject matter toward clarifying confusion created by all the widespread arguments. And don’t worry, I’m qualified to address this topic, as I’ve bow-killed dozens of big-game critters ranging from hogs to elk, as well as dozens of turkeys (which I consider, pound for pound, the toughest critters to anchor with a single arrow due to their airborne capabilities and minute kill zones).

Without further ado, let’s make sense of all the nonsense so you can choose a broadhead that aligns with your bowhunting goals.

Fixed Blades
With a fixed-blade broadhead, what you see is what you get — no hidden blades or mechanical workings whatsoever. There is great merit to that. However, the full-sized blade profile can cause minor to severely erratic flight if your bow setup isn’t tuned to a T. I’ve even experienced flight differences from one arrow to another, likely caused by straightness variances.

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Fixed-blade broadheads have more surface area exposed in flight, which can cause erratic flight with poorly-tuned bows or arrows with poor straightness tolerances. Still, with work and dedication, accuracy can be had, as this 70-yard-shot depicts. (Photo by Darron McDougal)

I believe many bowhunters fall for the misconception that if your bow tunes well through paper, it will shoot fixed-blade broadheads like field points. I can confirm this simply isn’t true. I’ve owned numerous bows that could produce bullet-hole paper tears but would toss fixed-blade broadheads unpredictably. You see, the wind resistance created by fixed blades not only magnifies problems with your bow, but also your arrows. And not only are arrow-straightness variances an issue, but so are broadhead-to-insert connections. You must understand that each arrow is slightly different, thus the potential for inconsistent results.

So, when preparing for my annual Idaho elk hunt — Idaho currently prohibits using mechanical broadheads for big game — I shoot and tune arrows with broadheads before choosing five for my quiver. In other words, I won’t shoot an arrow/broadhead combination at an elk that I haven’t shot at a target. To make the cut, all arrows in my quiver must fly true out to 40 yards, and at least three of those must maintain accuracy out to 70 yards. Each year I find that maybe five or six arrows out of two dozen will achieve that standard. When I finish target shooting, I sharpen the blades or replace them, but I don’t swap broadheads to different arrows.

Another point I want to address is that most fixed-blade broadheads feature small cutting diameters. Sometimes you get great blood trails, sometimes you don’t. And, if you accidentally make a marginal hit, a smaller cutting diameter is less forgiving than a larger cutting diameter. I’m not implying that you can become sloppy and take low-percentage shots when hunting with large-diameter mechanical broadheads. No, I just mean that if a marginal hit happens — bowhunt long enough and it will — a large-diameter mechanical broadhead could make the difference between loss and recovery. An extra half-inch could be all it takes to sever an artery.

Of course, a great shot with a good, sharp broadhead kills quickly. One example is the cow elk I shot a few years ago. I shot her through the heart. She bolted 10 yards, stopped and stood there , bewildered at what had happened. I could hear blood gushing out. Moments later, she fell in a heap. My broadhead? A time-tested G5 Striker.

Mechanicals
There are many different mechanical broadhead designs; some good, some poor. The two chief advantages of quality mechanicals over fixed blades are that they generally fly more consistently from arrow to arrow with less tuning (although I still take tuning seriously), and they can pack a large cutting diameter into a small in-flight profile.

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While the author certainly won’t ridicule others for the broadheads they choose to hunt with, he prefers the field-point flight and large cutting diameters provided by mechanical broadheads. (Photo by Darron McDougal)

Besides those two attributes, two more reasons I like mechanical broadheads are that the sharpened blade edges are usually protected and not exposed to dirt, brush and debris. And, a “shock” factor is created on impact as the arrow transfers energy to the animal during blade deployment. This creates more trauma and devastation, ultimately resulting in faster kills. It also maximizes blood flow for an easy-to-follow trail.

A possible downside to mechanicals is their blade-retention systems. In my opinion, most designs haven’t quite reached bulletproof stage, though some are very reliable. The key is to follow the manufacturer’s instructions to a T. If you don’t, even one blade deploying in flight can cause a crash-and-burn launch.

While stalking with an arrow nocked, you also must be sure that the blade-retention system isn’t compromised. For example, a rubber band could easily slide off the blades if caught on brush, allowing them to open. Always guide the tip of your arrow around brush and debris while stalking to avoid premature deployment.

Also, consider that mechanicals with oversize cutting diameters will sacrifice penetration in exchange for tissue damage. This becomes truer in the event of a bone impact. One example is a turkey I killed this past May with a 2.5-inch mechanical broadhead. The tom was facing directly away, and I shot for the base of his tail feathers. With 70 pounds, I normally get full penetration, even with a 2-inch mechanical broadhead. This one hit and broke the hip, but didn’t penetrate very deep. As it was, the bird didn’t travel far, but it leaves me wondering what the result would have been with, say, a 50-pound bow.

Several springs ago, I shot a gobbler with a small fixed-blade broadhead. The arrow entered midship just in front of the spectrum on the broadside bird and passed through instantly. The bird fluttered in a circle, then went airborne into a jungle-thick swamp. I searched for hours, but was unable to locate and retrieve the bird. I captured the shot on video, and there is no question in my mind that the hit was lethal.

Following that experience, I’ve exclusively used mechanical broadheads for turkeys, and I haven’t had to track or search for a wounded bird since.

No Replacement for Shot Placement
While there are pros and cons to both fixed-blade and mechanical broadheads, nothing can substitute for shot placement. I’ve heard every broadhead excuse in the book from folks who didn’t recover game. Ultimately, if you deflate both lungs on any critter, recovery should be reasonably short, regardless of the broadhead you’re using. If you don’t, the recovery could be arduous, or you very well could lose the animal. Simple as that.

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The author made a heart-shot on this large cow elk from 14 yards with a fixed-blade broadhead. The cow traveled only 10 yards after the shot, not knowing she was even hit. It made for a short recovery. (Photo by Rebecca McDougal)

To that end, consider the points we’ve discussed here, then choose a broadhead you’re confident in. No matter what you choose, do everything in your power to make perfect shots. And, unless someone asks, keep your broadhead opinions to yourself. There are enough wars on hunting without us creating more amongst ourselves. You might notice from this article that I favor mechanicals, but I won’t ridicule or criticize someone who uses fixed-blade heads exclusively, especially if they have lots of success stories to back up their stance. Use what works for you.

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