The arrows you carry in your quiver represent the most important choice you’ll make regarding bowhunting success. It’s the arrow, after all, that delivers our deadly broadheads. That makes it our most important piece of archery gear. Archery icon Howard Hill insisted that archers, “Always shoot your best arrow.” This was coined in an era of cedar shafts that required regular auditioning to assure the best shot at game. Modern arrows make accuracy nearly automatic. The trick comes in choosing a shaft that best fits the hunting conditions, range and game animal most confronted.
Sure, one shaft will do it all, just as one hammer will drive all nails, but certainly there are choices that make your shooting and bowhunting endeavors more efficient. The construction-site framer doesn’t choose the same hammer as a cabinetmaker. Choosing the right arrow for the task at hand goes hand-in-hand with our hammer analogy.
According to nearly every demographic survey I’ve observed, some 80- to 90-percent of us hunt whitetail deer extensively. Demanding as the actual hunting can prove, shooting whitetail exposes the shooter to less demanding circumstances overall. Shots are normally intimate (Pope & Young surveys show that the average “trophy” whitetail is shot at less than 21 yards), and on average, whitetail aren’t the most sturdy big game animals we might hunt.
The whitetail hunter still wants an arrow providing reasonable speed at any range. This gives us more forgiveness during and after the shot, the arrow spending less time in contact with the rest–less time for the shooter to negatively influence flight, and less time for string-jumping deer to react to an incoming arrow. Yes, we all understand deer reacting to jarring noise are typically faster than our zippiest arrows. Still, if an arrow arrives on target fast enough to result in only missing our “spot” by four inches instead of six, it can mean the difference between an ineffective back-strap hit and a killing, high-lung hit. We would also like to see decently-flat trajectory when a whitetail steps into an open cornfield well beyond “average” range, yet well within our maximum effective capabilities.
A lighter arrow is always faster than a heavier one, all other factors being equal. The lightest arrows don’t absorb excess bow energy and vibrations as efficiently as heavier arrows. This makes for a noisier shot, a higher-degree of clamor that invites string jumping at ranges most whitetail are taken.
Lastly, penetration is a must, especially when considering wide-cutting mechanical heads popularly used to assure quick recovery of whitetail. Success can also hinge on punching though a shoulder-blade or heavy vertebrae when a shot goes awry or when less-than-ideal shot angles result. We want it all. This all points to middle ground compromises, translating into arrows hovering around the eight to nine grain-per-inch (gpi) range.
Look to highly-popular shafts such as Beman’s ICS Hunter (9.3 gpi in 340), Blackhawk Vapor Pro Series (8.2 gpi in black 4000), Carbon Express Maxima (8.2 gpi in 350), Carbon Tech Whitetail (7.9 gpi in 40/65), Easton ST Epic (9.5 gpi in 340), Gold Tip black or camo XT Hunter (8.2/8.3 gpi in 5575), PSE/Carbon Force Radial X Weave (8.6 gpi in 300) and Carbon Impact Hot Shaft XLT (9.1 gpi in 65/75).
These are shafts tough enough to tackle an elk if asked, speedy enough to confidently tote into mule deer mountains or onto pronghorn prairie.
Speed has its place; don’t let anyone tell you differently. Simply put, faster arrows flatten trajectory. Flatter trajectory provides a wider margin of error should a rangefinder provide a misreading, should the bow arm drop slightly during release.
Speed comes via lighter arrows. “Light” is relative to deflection, but I’d define light as anything lighter than 7.5 gpi in an average usable spine. Carbon Revolution/High Country Archery’s Speed Pro, hits the scales at 5.5 gpi in all grades; the stiffest handling bow weights up to 85 pounds. Their lightweight and high-quality construction make them the fastest arrows in the business.
Carbon Tech’s Cheetah is 6.4 gpi in 45/70 and 7.9 gpi in super-stiff 55/80 spine. Blackhawk’s Vapor Jets are speed demons, at 6.9 gpi in VJ-4000 spine, only 7.2 gpi in super-stiff VJ-5000. Easton’s Light Speed and Gold Tip’s Ultralight also qualify as speed shafts.
When I think long-range shooting I also think of the straightest, most tightly-matched arrows made. Straightness tolerances quoted in terms of +⁄-.001- to .002-inch and matched weight of .5- to one-grain per dozen–in models such as Carbon Tech’s XP or 3D grades, Gold Tip’s Pro Hunter, Carbon Express’ 3-D Select or Easton A/C/C (though some of these fall outside “light” parameters)–simply give a shooter confidence when a demanding shot is in the making.
When something big and tenacious is at stake, such as a mature bull elk or some African beast likely to hurt you if you anger him without killing him, you want a heavyweight contender in your corner. This also goes for anyone wielding limited Kinetic energy.
Boosting arrow mass, using a higher gpi-rated shaft, automatically gives you more penetration potential, all other factors remaining the same. Note that speed can instantly boost KE numbers, but the faster an object travels the more friction/drag it also exhibits while passing through hide and muscle. Momentum, not net Kinetic energy, is what determines penetra
tion potential. We commonly employ the latter because momentum offers too many variables for quick comparisons. There’s also the factor of lighter, faster shafts sacrificing dependability on big targets that have initiated our wish for deeper penetration. To this end shafts in the 10 gpi-plus range are unbeatable.
The carbon arrow industry seems to be slowly reversing past trends of speed at all costs, heavier offerings becoming more commonplace. I’ll offer products such as Blackhawk Vapor V-maxx (10 to 11 gpi), Carbon Express’ Terminator XP Select (10.6 gpi in 6075), Rebel Hunter (11.3 and 13.7 gpi in 6075 and new 7590) and Heritage (11 and 12 gpi in 250 and 350), Carbon Tech’s Rhino (11.5 gpi in 55/80), and PSE’s Carbon Force Radial X Weave Black Mamba (9.2 gpi in 400 spine) which also include a 10.5 gpi Kinetic energy tube, as prime examples.
Efficiency can also materialize through better energy transfer and less drag through a target medium via more compact, small-diameter carbons. To supply needed stiffness–spine–these shafts by necessity include thicker walls, also providing power-packed mass. Faces in this high-impact revolution include original Easton ST (Slim Technology) Axis series shafts, Beman MFX Carbon (Team Realtree and Classic) and Trophy Ridge’s new carbon offerings. Of note are Easton and Beman shafts, including recessed H.I.T. inserts. The outside diameter of many standard screw-in point ferrules perfectly matches the interior diameter of these shafts, for more precise point-to-shaft mating. Easton ST Axis Realtree provide 10.3 gpi, ST Axis Full Metal Jacket 11.1 gpi in 340 spine, Beman MFX Team Realtree 10.4 gpi, MFX Classic 11.2 gpi in 340 and Trophy Ridge’s Crush 11 gpi in 300.
As carbon arrow technology advances, never-before-seen designs await the archery hunter. I rank Easton’s Axis Full Metal Jacket (FMJ), Carbon Tech’s Panther and Carbon Express’ new Aramid KV or high-end Hunter Series shafts (Maxima, Terminator Lite) as advancements worth exploring for added bowhunting performance. The alloy sheath found on Easton’s FMJ arrows not only serves as rugged protection for the interior carbon fibers, gives the shaft added straightness, but makes shooting more fun by making arrows easier to pull from targets after the shot.
Last year’s CT Panther shafts include a “tru-tapered” design placing more weight up front for better broadhead control, and provide increased arrow clearance at the rear during launch. Spine is controlled by cutting the shaft from front or rear, increasing spine by cutting from the nock end, decreasing it by cutting from the insert end. This allows one shaft to handle draw weights from 40 to 80 pounds.
Carbon Express’ Built-In Weight Forward technology is nothing short of ingenious. The front two thirds of the shaft is constructed to provide increased mass, the rear third not only lighter, but stiffer to further aid in harmonic recovery after launch for shorter settling time and tighter groups with broadheads. The front end is sheathed in proven BuffTuff material that makes it impervious to damage and less susceptible to breakage; like the footed shaft of old but made of space-age carbon (the Aramid including a Kevlar layer; see sidebar for more details). Maxima Hunters serve as a rugged middle-ground option, at eight to 8.9 gpi, Terminator Hunter Lites and Aramid KVs a tad heavier (8.9 to 9.8 gpi, 4560 and 6075 gpi; 8.9 and 9.8 gpi 250 and 350). For 2008, Carbon Express offers a Mathews Edition Maxima Hunter in Mathews’ Lost Camo.
There are more choices than ever, but these choices give you an edge, no matter your bowhunting endeavor.