By Jon E. Silks
Equipment testing lies at the very heart of what we do at Petersen's BOWHUNTING, because fully understanding our gear is critical to maximizing success in the field. This year, we decided to take a good, hard look at some of bowhunting's most burning questions and develop unique tests to provide answers.
We'll attempt to answer the age-old question of whether you really can accurately launch an arrow through the "shoot-through" mesh of your ground blind.
Many bowhunters have gotten acquainted with ground-blind hunting during spring gobbler seasons across the country. Unlike deer, turkeys seem to have a fundamental flaw in their defenses, as they fail to associate the big box sitting next to their friends with danger. Lucky us!
Portable ground blinds have become extremely popular for good reason - they are relatively inexpensive, fast and easy to set up, provide some shelter against the elements and, most importantly, effectively conceal archers as they shift into position and draw their bows.
To improve concealment, many blind manufacturers offer models with replaceable mesh that covers the windows. This is generally advertised as shoot-through material that will not alter the impact point of your arrow. But do you believe it? Do you have enough confidence to take your only shot at a once-in-a-lifetime trophy through mesh?
Well, enough of the wondering and guessing; let's get to testing and fact finding!
The cornerstone of our bow-based testing is our exclusive, one-of-a-kind X-Ring Shooting Machine, which is an absolute beast in terms of physical structure, strength and ability. It is also extremely high-tech with its programming, precision adjustments and digital awesomeness. Think Einstein meets the Rock!
For this test, we set up a PSE Dream Season using a string nocking loop, Axion Pulse rest and Easton Full Metal Jacket arrows with 100-grain fieldpoints. The bow had a 28-inch draw length and a 71-pound draw weight, propelling the 457-grain arrows at a speed of 290 fps. The bow was tuned for perfect arrow flight out of the X-Ring machine prior to testing.
For this project, there were two main questions we wanted to answer. First, can mechanical broadheads be shot through ground-blind mesh without causing premature blade deployment?
And second, does shooting through mesh have a negative impact on accuracy with either mechanical or fixed-blade heads?
So, we designed a test to answer each question.
Mechanical Blade Deployment
Testing Specialist Chad Smith constructed an adjustable, freestanding fixture that allowed us to mount a piece of mesh and a sheet of paper approximately three feet down range of the shooting position.
Once set up and our distances were locked in, we shot a bare shaft through paper only (no mesh at this point) to verify correct arrow flight for each of the four types of mechanical broadheads tested - over-the-top, rubber band retention; over-the-top, spring clip retention; rear-deploying, rubber band retention; and rear-deploying, spring clip retention. We used bare shafts so blade position was apparent in the paper. The pass thru hole made by the vanes could possibly hide partially open blades.
Once proper arrow flight was confirmed, the paper was replaced and a strip of mesh material was stapled to the fixture's wood frame. Using the X-Ring Machine, three shots were fired for each broadhead type, with a completely new head used each time. After each shot, the paper was inspected to determine if any of blades opened beyond their pre-deployment diameter.
Not a single blade opened prematurely in any of the mechanical broadhead models. This is not what I expected, and I am guessing many of you are also surprised by these results.
In looking at accuracy, we decided to test with two styles of fixed-blade heads (a 2-blade, cut-on contact design and a 3-blade, replaceable blade design) and two styles of mechanical heads (a 3-blade, over-the-top model and a 2-blade, rear-deploying model).
A target was placed and secured 25 yards from the tip of the drawn arrow. Each of the four broadhead models was then shot several times at the target, without mesh in place, to establish a zero point.
Mesh was then attached to the test fixture and three more shots were fired for each model using a brand new head for each shot. Any variance from the zero point was recorded on the vertical plane (high or low) first, followed by the horizontal position (left or right).
So, now where do you stand on shooting through shoot-through mesh? In short, the data shows that you can confidently shoot through a mesh window and expect to hit what you are aiming at with notable accuracy. That is not to say a problem could not arise; this is the real world, after all.
Keep in mind that the variances recorded at 25 yards were shot from a machine that can drive tacks and essentially place the arrow into the same spot shot after shot after shot. That likely translates into much larger groups when you or I pick up the bow!
However, as a result of this test, I do have much more confidence in the ability of a well-tuned setup to hit its mark when shot through the mesh of a ground blind, regardless of what broadhead I am shooting. That said, I have more confidence in a fixed-blade head shot through mesh only because the possibility- no matter how remote - always exists that a mechanical blade may somehow deploy prematurely.
We ran into a good example of that when we decided to randomly test a few additional broadhead models and one opened prematurely. It was an over-the-top type head and used a band to retain the blades in flight — the rubber band was dry and brittle. Check you rubber bands often and replace them if there is even the slightest sign of wear or drying!
Another random head we tested had a very low profile while in flight, which we would normally consider a big asset for flight dynamics. In this case, however, the head had the worst group in the bunch.
We think it may have something to do with the impact the mesh has on the vanes when only a small hole is opened up by the broadhead. The bigger the closed diameter of the head, the better the clearance for vanes.
I also want to point out a couple other considerations you may want to ponder: the size and stiffness of your vanes or feather fletching. We tested with 2-inch, Blazer-style vanes set at a 2-degree offset. A vane that is relatively stiff, such as the Blazer, will not flex and give as easily when passing through a hole in the mesh, which may negatively impact accuracy.
We found evidence of the vanes folding somewhat as they passed through the mesh by stretching out a piece of the mesh parallel to the floor and then placing the fieldpoint of an arrow down through the hole and then letting the arrow drop to see if it would pass through - would the vanes catch and stop the arrow?
When dropped from a height almost matching the arrow length, the arrow would indeed pass through. However, when dropped from approximately 6 inches or less, the arrows would often catch and stop. That means that at a great enough speed, the integrity of the mesh is forcing the vanes to fold somewhat, indicating at least some physical impact on the arrow.
I do not think it is significant enough with the vanes we used to make a noticeable difference in impact point.
One other general note - no matter which style of broadhead you use, if you plan to shoot through mesh you should practice doing it ahead of time to ensure you are on target.
Practicing from an actual ground blind will also get you calibrated on where your arrow will pass through the blind in relation to your line of sight.